SAN FRANCISCO -- Restaurants and hotels with views of the lights are filling up, art critics are arriving from out of town, and locals are picking their spots to view Tuesday's debut of the $8 million Bay Lights project.
When the switch is hit at 9 p.m., the world's largest light sculpture will blaze from the glow of 25,000 LED lights on the west span of the Bay Bridge. Software-generated patterns of light will pulse and shimmer across the 1.8-mile-long stretch between Yerba Buena Island and San Francisco from dusk to 2 a.m. nightly for two years.
Only time will tell if the public embraces New York artist Leo Villareal's project as a bold work of art or a flash in the pan. But the project is making waves here
"We think it's going to draw a lot of people to the San Francisco waterfront," said Duane Stinson, general manager of Sinbad's restaurant on Pier 2. "We've seen the test runs on the lights through our big windows over the bay, and it's really something else."
He said reservations are nearly gone for opening night tables.
Elsewhere, special opening night bay cruises on at least two boats are sold out -- including one aboard the Oakland-based Potomac for $75 per ticket and a $200-per-person gala fundraiser cruise -- and tickets are going fast for other light cruises.
Publicity for the huge project is spurring demand. Stories on the lights have appeared across the country on TV and in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Salon.com and elsewhere. And art critics from around the country are flying in to view the show.
The Embarcadero will be ground zero for celebrations. At 8 p.m., there will be hot chocolate and churros at Pier 7 for those waiting for the lights to come on. And the MarketBar
Nearby Hotel Vitale, which has windows and terraces overlooking the bridge, is nearly booked for Tuesday night when friends and patrons of the privately funded Bay Lights project will gather for a celebration.
"Several of our guests who have seen the light tests have told us they're coming back to stay and see it," said Melony Williams, the hotel's general manager.
She said she believes the light sculpture will have lasting appeal because the lights are pretty and the patterns do not repeat.
So does John Goodwin, an East Bay resident who drove to San Francisco one night to see the lights being tested.
"It was unexpected and mesmerizing. We looked at it easily for 60 minutes, maybe 90," said Goodwin, who works for a regional transportation agency with no direct stake in the privately funded art project.
While the light sculpture will be shown at www.thebaylights.org, art lovers can't see it in person just anywhere along the bay. San Francisco's waterfront -- particularly the Embarcadero -- and parts of Marin County are the best viewing areas.
To avoid a distraction to motorists on the Bay Bridge, the 25,000 lights were installed facing north and placed on the north side of the bridge. Caltrans insisted on that as a safety measure.
That orientation -- plus Yerba Buena Island obscuring views of the
The group has raised $6 million of the $8 million cost of the light sculpture by Villareal, whose software program will control the patterns and intensity of the lights.
Villareal has exhibited light sculptures in many places, including the San Jose Museum of Art. He has a permanent exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Wendy Norris, an arts publicist for Bay Lights, said art writers and critics from around the country are expected for the opening because of the art's setting and Villareal's prominence.
"It's a monumental project like the Christo fence across Marin County in 1976," she said. "What will the public think of it? You don't know until after opening night."
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.
A privately financed light sculpture using 25,000 LED lights affixed to the west span of the Bay Bridge will be turned on at 9 p.m. Tuesday on the opening night of its two-year run.
The event will be shown at www.thebaylights.org starting at 8:30 p.m. with a video about the project and light sculptor Leo Villareal.
The sculpture is oriented to the north side of the bridge, making waterfront areas in San Francisco and Marin counties the best viewing spots.
Regular webcasts of the nightly light display also can be viewed at www.thebaylights.org.