Bay Bridge Steel Soon to Return to the Public — As Art

The old East span of the Bay Bridge may now live only in memory — but some 450 tons of its steel beams will carry on — as public art.

Over the last week, artists representing 14 art projects turned out at a Caltrans yard in Oakland — which sits in view of where the old span was replaced by a sleek new one — to claim their allotment of the bridge’s salvaged steel.

Artist Katy Boynton anxiously rocked on her heels, tipping back her hard hat to watch a crane lower large rust-colored beams onto a truck. Boynton was one of the artists awarded the steel through an application program administered through the Oakland Museum of California.

“I really take a lot of heartfelt pride in knowing that this metal has such historic value,” Boynton said above the din of the crane, “that so many people drove across.”

The program required artists receiving steel to build public projects — and provide their own trucks to haul it away. Boynton plans to build a metal wind chime for San Francisco’s Pier 3 that will pay tribute to the statue of Pacifica that stood at the Treasure Island World’s Fair.

Boynton has visited the stored steel numerous visits during the last year — anxiously awaiting the day when she would finally get to haul it home and start work.

“Every time i would come for a visit to look at the steel and make some decisions,” Boynton said, “I always felt like I was going to the adoption agency but couldn’t bring my babies home. So today is adoption day.”

The adoptions were occurring at a rampant pace on Friday. As one truck hauled off a load of steel, another took its place. Leslie Pritchett of the Oakland Museum of California barked into a radio summoning more trucks and directing workers to the segregated piles of materials.

“I assure you to the awardees this does not look like junk,” Pritchett said gesturing toward a pile of rusty beams. “It looks like gold.”

Pritchett said the beams getting distributed ranged in weight from a thousand pounds to twelve tons. Artist Tom Loughlin went for the top of the scale in picking out four twelve-ton pieces for the sound sculpture he plans to build for Treasure Island — which has allotted $50 million for public art. Each beam required its own big rig to haul it away.

“The way I’m wired I wanted the biggest, heaviest, most unwieldy pieces,” Loughlin said. “And I wanted to shape them into something I’d imagined.”

In addition to the large steel beams, the salvage included recognizable pieces such as the lights that sat atop the bridge’s towers. Pritchett said the various pieces would go to projects across the Bay Area and as far away as Truckee and Joshua Tree.

“The idea is just to carry the legacy of the bridge forward in new and really exciting and interesting ways,” Pritchett said.

Boynton hopped up and down and high-fived a friend as the last beam was loaded onto her truck and began its slow rumble toward her studio in the American Steel Building in West Oakland.

“It’s all packed up,” Boynton shouted. “Now the fun stuff begins.”

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