Old Bay Bridge parts recycled in public art piece

‘Signal,’ a 25-foot steel ring, installed on Treasure Island

“Signal,” a sculpture by Tom Loughlin made from pieces of the eastern span of the demolished Bay Bridge, was unveiled on Treasure Island Sept. 22. (Courtesy Tom Loughlin)

Five years ago, 15 artists were chosen to repurpose the rubble of the dismantled eastern Bay Bridge span. The first Bay Area public art project was unveiled on Sunday.

“Signal,” a 25-foot steel ring, was built by San Francisco-based conceptual artist Tom Loughlin with three 12-ton girders and a signal light from the bridge.

“(Signal) is the first project to be implemented from the salvaged steel to be placed within sightlines of the Bay Bridge,” said Jill Manton, director of the San Francisco Arts Commission, in a statement. “Tom’s work… enabl(es) the material to continue its humble service and benefit to the public in this new incarnation.”

The sculpture — on the western edge of Treasure Island near Ninth Street and Avenue of the Palms — is part of the Bay Bridge Steel Program, managed by the Oakland Museum of California and the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee.

As workers dismantled the five broad trusses of the Bay Bridge in 2014, the program collected remains of coveted steel and entrusted local artists, architects and design professionals to use it for public art.

Of over 125 tons of repurposed steel, Loughlin was awarded 36 later that year. But he said it took nearly four years to complete the project.

“Signal” was initially intended as a serpent-shaped construction. However, when Loughlin visited its grounds on Treasure Island he felt the design needed revision.

“It had to be a ring to honor the landscape,” Loughlin said in an interview with The Examiner. “So people could look around and enjoy the sights.”

The artist ensured that the sculpture remained faithful to its origins. The work purposefully evokes the shapes of the dismantled span, he said.

“The other spans of the bridge all have these big graceful suspension sections,” Loughlin said, “but the East Span was unornamented and purpose-built. We had to keep the sculpture geometrical and simple too.”

Loughlin even installed an electrical sound and lighting system to recreate the atmosphere of the bridge. Stepping into the ring, visitors can feel the blare of the span’s original signal lamp and hear the low tones of foghorn-like electric vibrations.

“I hope they will… evoke the natural rhythm of tides and sunrises and weather changes, and our own biological rhythms,” Loughlin said.

The sculpture is on temporary display until 2022 due to expected construction works on the island. Loughlin said he is actively looking to extend its stay in the present location or find it a new home.

“Signal” is the third artwork created in affiliation with the Bay Bridge Steel Program, according to Loughlin. In Joshua Tree National Park, Bay Area artist Mark Bulwinkle installed a majestic “Centennial Art Gate.” In Truckee, a family-operated blacksmith forged a railroad platform with bridge steel.

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