OAKLAND -- The old Bay Bridge span's rugged geometric girders will take new shape in public art.

Crews have been dismantling the 77-year-old bridge's 58,000 tons of steel, which will mostly be recycled.

But the Federal Highway Administration requires that the state preserve hundreds of tons of the bridge structure for historical and educational purposes as part of a funding program.

"The idea is to step out to make sure that there's some historical record of the work that was done during the original bridge construction and deconstruction," said Andrew Fremier, deputy executive director at Bay Area Toll Authority. "There is so much interest in getting the steel, so we've had to create a process to evaluate whether people have the capability and to make sure the integrity of the bridge was maintained."

The Oakland Museum of California is developing a plan with transportation officials to get about 600 tons of salvaged steel into the hands of local artists.

"Steel is really expensive. For artists, finding materials is a big hurdle for even getting started on a project," said David Miller, executive director of The Crucible. "So for this much steel to become available is a windfall for Bay Area artists and artisans."

Oakland, especially West Oakland, is a hot bed for industrial art. Artists find haven in the city's many studios, such as The Crucible, American Steel and NIMBY.

"The kind of work that would be made from the steel is exactly the kind of maker art, industrial art that Oakland is really known around the world for," said museum director Lori Fogarty.


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The museum would not commission pieces but just make the steel available to accepted creative works. Fogarty is putting together a small committee of local public art experts to develop criteria for projects.

"Our emphasis are projects that are publicly accessible and really reference the history of the bridge," Fogarty said. "You still would be able to identity that these were elements of the bridge."

The kind of works Fogarty envisions supporting are as varied as the artists, from sculptures, streetscape furniture to materials for a community center.

"This is a way to keep the bridge alive and to preserve its history," she said.

About 200 tons will be incorporated into the design of Gateway Park near the toll booths.

Old bridge causeway foundations will be used to an erect an elevated pier similar to San Francisco's Pier 14, and the lattice work may be recycled as light posts or benches.

Fremier said that he envisions new park space and paths underneath the bridge, similar to Crissy Field, with space for food trucks, gift shops and bike rentals.

"It would be a tourist area that provides an opportunity for families to get out there," he said. "We've all been working to say, 'How can we maximize the opportunity?' You got these beautiful views of San Francisco, the South Bay and the bridge."