450 Tons of Old Bay Bridge Steel to Get New Life as Public Art

By Steve Rubenstein via SFGate

They were giving away what’s left of the old Bay Bridge in Oakland on Friday, as long as you wanted a lot of it and didn’t have anything against rust.

On top of that, you had to be an artist and not just any kind of artist but the kind of artist with a flatbed truck.

The free steel is in the form of large beams and struts from the dismantled eastern half of the Bay Bridge. Most of the old bridge has already been shipped off to scrapyards in Asia. But Caltrans held back a few choice pieces — about 450 tons worth — with the idea of giving them to sculptors who promise to turn them into public works of art.

And Friday was pickup day for the artists at the Caltrans yard at the eastern end of the bridge. Two artists, each with a truck, showed up and both were excited as anyone getting tons of free stuff could be.

“I love metal,” said conceptual artist Katy Boynton of San Francisco, who said her concept for her 33 tons of it was to remove the rust, paint it gray and install it next year at Pier 3 in San Francisco to separate a parking lot from a pedestrian walkway. Art is where you find it, she said, and sometimes you find it in parking lots.

“We’re utilizing the metal for public safety,” Boynton said.

More tons of her free steel will go to make a giant wind chime that, she said, will tinkle in a strong breeze. And she has also pledged to install a bunch of signs telling passersby on the San Francisco waterfront that the parking lot barriers and the wind chime used to be part of that big bridge over there — the gray one, not the orange one.

Last December, Boyton got the good news that she had been picked from among 50 applicants to get the steel. No one had ever given her that much of anything before, especially not the government.

“Oh my God,” she said. “What a surprise. What a great present. I’m happy as can be.”

Also happy as can be was artist Tom Loughlin, who dropped by with a truck to pick up three giant trusses — 36 tons worth. He plans to cut them up into 14 large wedges and reassemble them into a 25-foot-wide Stonehenge-like thing as part of the renovation of Treasure Island.

He’s pretty sure the 14 wedges will fit together to make the Stonehenge. He made a model of it on his kitchen table, using bits of paper which, he acknowledged, are lighter and smaller than the 36 tons of steel he picked up Friday.

“I think I got the geometry right,” Loughlin said. “I’m hoping for the best. Anyway, I’ve got a great new thing to play with.”

Caltrans said toll payers on the bridge, who were the ones who had actually bought the steel way back when, were getting a good deal by giving it away to artists instead of selling it for scrap, at $160 a ton. Senior Caltrans engineer Darryl Schram said it would be “rewarding” for the public to see the old bridge turn up around the Bay Area in the form of arty things like barriers, benches, sculptures and Stonehenges.

“And it’s a relief to see it go,” he added, in the manner of any homeowner cleaning out a garage full of junk, as Loughlin’s truck full of steel rolled away from the Caltrans yard and off to its new life.

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