February 2005

Bay Bridge Follies
Letters to the Editor
New Ship Sails to Sausalito–Opportunities for All!
Mare Island Welcome Center is Now Open in Historic Mansion
Dispatch from the Dogpatch… A SeAm Between
In Richmond Today
Crab Fest Fever
Afterguard’s Broiled
Salmon Afloat
Bay Crossings Gardens
“Food from the Heart” at the Ferry Building Marketplace
Giant Storms in LA Affect Bay Area
WTA Pages…Ferry Rewards
Minds Meet at Underwater Forum on California’s Ocean Future
Bay Ghost Phenomenon
Bay Crossings Calendar
New Horizons at Webster Street’s Arts & Crafts Campus
Love, Lust, and Heartbreak

Bay CrossingsJournal

Bay Bridge Follies
Selected Readings in Venality, Hubris, and Incompetence


Surely, matters could not possibly be screwier than they are just now in the matter of the Bay Bridge rehab. While the bridge totters in urgent need of rehabilitation, our “leaders” wallow in he-said, she-said, telling us, “Who, me worry?” and “It is not my job.”

Who’s supposedly in charge of making sure the Main Street of the Bay Area doesn’t drop into the soup? That would be Sunne Wright McPeak, director of California’s largest government agency, Business, Transportation and Housing. McPeak’s resume is less-than-stentorian: washout Contra Costa burgomaster and most recently head of the policy-for-hire “think tank” Bay Area Council.

Cynics suggest that Ms. McPeak’s appointment had more to do with putting talk of the Governor’s fanny-pinching on movie sets to rest than merit and predictably enough, Ms. McPeak has made a thorough bumble of the Bay Bridge problem.

Her first idea when cost overruns threatened a work stoppage? Kick aside a vote of the people designating toll dollars for public transit.

The measure in question–Regional Measure 2–was developed by McPeak herself while at the Bay Area Council. Her flip-flop was a transparently craven toady to Schwarzenegger advisors aiming to evade the State’s first-line responsibility for bridge repairs and slough it off onto the Bay Area. Can’t wait ’til you move back home, Sunne.
But a brew of venality, hubris, and incompetence has always characterized Bay Bridge dealings. Consider the following excerpts from outstanding local histories on the matter of the Bay Bridge.

From Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California
by Kevin Starr, Oxford University Press © 1966

No American city is more fortunately, or more unfortunately, sited than San Francisco…Since the 1860s a rail line had linked San Francisco with the city of San Jose at the southern end of the bay, but only its ferryboats linked San Francisco with the rest of the nation...ferries were carrying an average of 4.5 million vehicles back and forth across the bay by 1930, a figure which doubled by 1937. Ferryboats, which averaged 30 miles per hour in 1925, were revved to average 45 miles per hour by 1930 to serve the increased traffic.

(Editor’s note: Carl Nolte, dean of San Francisco Chronicle writers, harrumphs that he would like to see a 45-mile-per-hour ferry.)

Miraculously, no commuter had ever lost his or her life on these ferryboats, with the exception of the odd suicide…On the evening of 17 February 1928, the ferryboat Peralta, its water ballast improperly handled, plunged into a swell off Yerba Buena Island, sweeping more than 30 passengers into the chilly waters of the bay. Five of them drowned.

(Inauspiciously enough, the ferry currently serving Alameda and Oakland is also named the Peralta.)

Proponents of a bridge between San Francisco and Oakland maximized (the event) in their public relations campaign. Credit for originating the idea of bridging San Francisco and Oakland most likely belongs to William Walker, editor of the San Francisco Herald, who first proposed the idea in 1851. In August, 1853, Tom McGuire, an impresario in gold rush San Francisco, featured at San Francisco Hall on Washington Street near Montgomery a pageant entitled “The Past, Present and Future of San Francisco.” One scenic backdrop, designed by a certain doctor D.G. Robinson, depicted a spectacular suspension bridge soaring across San Francisco Bay between Telegraph Hill and Mount Diablo.

In 1869, Joshua Norton, the self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, who lived as a revered street character in San Francisco, resplendent in a military frock coat and other regalia, called for his subjects to construct a bridge between the two cities.

(Plans for the Bay Bridge gathered steam in the early 1900s as part of what was known as the Greater San Francisco Movement, which included the goal of uniting the Bay Area into something akin to the borough system of New York City. The Bay Bridge was also linked with plans to dam the Hetch Hetchy.)

In late March of 1928, Mayor Rolph of San Francisco and United States Senator Hiram Johnson testified before Congress regarding the necessity of a bridge from Rincon Point in San Francisco to Oakland via Yerba Buena Island. What was needed was a direct connection linking San Francisco-Oakland and the emergent suburban regions in the East Bay. Pointing to the growth that would come once the Hetch Hetchy project was complete, Mayor Rolph argued that only a bridge between San Francisco and Oakland could handle the expected growth. San Francisco city engineer Michael O’Shaughnessy and harbor pilot captain George Harrison described the growing congestion on the bay and predicted that the recent drowning of five passengers from the Peralta was only the first of many predictable disasters.

The California State Legislature created the California Bridge Authority, authorizing to own and operate a bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. Federal funding (and) state bonds were approved (sufficient to make) the structure arguably the most expensive single public works project to that point in American history. Many claimed it to be, all things considered, the most expensive public work project in the history of the human race.

(Aesthetics were never a controlling concern with the Bay Bridge, then or now.)
A no-nonsense battleship gray structure, combining suspension, cantilever and a truss system with two decks, the top for automobile traffic, the bottom for trucks and Key System trains, has never overwhelmed its viewers as an aesthetic statement. As engineer in charge of design, Glen Woodruff tackled the problem of devising this overlong bridge with efficient practicality. San Francisco architect Timothy Pflueger was invited to chair a committee of consulting architects, but one strains to see any element of Pflueger’s styling genius in even the suspension half of the structure, which he did work on as a designer.

As straightforward civil servants, responsible to the Department of Public Works in Sacramento, neither design engineer Woodruff nor chief engineer Charles Henry Purcell had either the budget or the inclination to commission Pflueger, or any of the fine architects practicing in the Bay area, to stylize the 518-foot-high suspension towers, as Gordon Kaufman was asked to stylize Hoover Dam. In terms of design and style, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge bespoke the engineering aesthetic of public works, and the Toll Bridge Authority, rather than the aesthetic proclivities of San Francisco.

From Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earth Ruin
by Gary Brechin, Univeristy of California Press © 1999

(The Great San Francisco Association and its goals were central to the ideology behind building the Bay Bridge.)
  (Mayor) Phelan and his associates also looked to New York City for a model, for in 1898, Manhattan’s leaders persuaded four adjacent jurisdictions to join it in a conurbation second in size only to London.

The Greater San Francisco

Association grew out of the California Promotion Committee and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. Even conservatives such as Michael de Young conceded that a publicly owned Hetch Hetchy would make for a Greater San Francisco that would, in turn, command Greater California. At the end of 1907, the Merchants’ Association Review published a bird’s-eye view of “the Bay Bason and the Greater San Francisco,” a vision of the “future site of a proposed imperial city,” while the Chronicle simultaneously published a similar view as the frontispiece of an elaborate “Greater San Francisco Edition” promising wondrous prosperity once Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda were brought under San Francisco’s benevolent aegis.
Unfortunately for those who wanted Greater San Francisco, Oakland had too long suffered from its neighbor’s condescension. The Sacramento Union noted that “San Francisco has pursued for many years a policy of belittling Oakland, yet wonders now why the big city across the bay should object to the submergence of its identity by consolidation.”

Oakland’s leaders had their own dreams of glory, for their city was growing with an assured influx of energy and had plans to annex its neighbors into a Greater Oakland. They saw no reason why Oakland, with its excellent port and rail connections, should not be the future hub of the Pacific, and they determined to scuttle the consolidation measure that their San Francisco counterparts placed on the state ballot for the fall of 1912.

So successful was their public relations campaign that on election day, California voters defeated the measure in all but three counties. In various guises and names, Greater San Francisco perennially returns, though never again with the chance for success that it had early in the twentieth century. The failure to consolidate the chief cities of the Bay Area may well have marked the end of San Francisco’s attempt at Pacific hegemony, for the leaders of Los Angeles had an equally grandiose vision and a seemingly limitless supply of power necessary to achieve it.

From O’er The Bay: “Song Of The Oakland Bridge”
Words by Charles Jackey , Music by Pro. John Phoenix, L.L.Dr.
Dedicated to M.L. Winn, Esq., the earliest Pie-oneer of the Pacific Coast with copious explanations by the Author
Squibob Press, Inc., © 1990 Richard D. Reynolds

(In 1856, a Lt. George Horatio Derby, a Massachusetts-born Army engineer who wrote numerous sketches under the name of John Phoenix, or Squibbob, wrote a comic sketch called “O’er the Bay, or the Song of the Oakland Bridge” in which he described the perils and discomforts of crossing the Bay by barge.”)

We have been favored with the perusal of the new song “O’er the Bay,” or “The Song of the Oakland Bridge,” the words of which are by Charles Jackey, and the music by our talented fellow-townsman, John Phoenix, Esq., and by the kindness of the latter gentleman are enabled to present our readers with the following copy, several days in advance of the Press.

This wonderful production, Professor Phoenix assures us, admits of a “Choriouse” ad libitum; which may be affected by repeating the last two lines as often as may be considered necessary, with variations to suit–the air being purposely rendered capable of the most incredible number of changes. The song may be had at LeCount’s (after it is published), beautifully lithographed, and with a vignette by Nahl, giving a most touching and pathetic view of the Pile Driver, and the Steam Ferryboat, lying stuck in the mud in the distance. Price $1, or 14 copies for 50 cents.


The poet calls on people of energy to commence immediately the building of the Oakland Bridge, and suggests that the hydraulic characters that raise houses in such mysterious manner should assist in pumping out the Bay as a preparatory step.

Descriptive of some of the usual disagreeable incidents of the passage to Oakland in the ferryboat, on which the author once paid four bits for a passage and two bits for a bottle of execrable soda water.


  Men of might be up and doing, Right
Drive the piles, the mud so blue in,
’Cross the Bay–
Men of suction, help ’em do it,

That’s the way.
There’s a horse about to kick,
There’s a man that’s taken sick,
There’s a boy that holloas Wo!
Here’s a nose about to blow,
There’s an hourly steamboat
sticking on the way–
Men of Clinton and of Oakland–
In the Bay.
The poet pictures the families of San Francisco seeking the pleasures of rural retirement, and the wealthy merchant enjoying a drive on the completion of the bridge.

He urges the commencement of the work and calls on our richest bankers (who are hereby requested to pardon the liberty taken with their names) to assist therein.
He alludes with a sigh to pecuniary liability.


  Once that welcome route is opened,
Who shall say
What happy families will move across
the Bay–
What fat old merchant there shall drive
In his chay
Drive the piles, lay the plank,
Pump the Bay dry, here’s the crank;
Help us Palmer, help us Cook,
Build the bridge “by hook or crook,”
Till o’er it rattle buggy, dog-cart, dray,
(With but a trifling toll of fifty cents
to pay)
To Alameda and to Oakland,
O’er the Bay.
The poet shows the advantage of the bridge in the pursuit of fugitives from justice.

“In the door” is an expression from Hearn’s History of Monte implying that he has him securely.
A beautiful picture is presented here–the Sheriff returning in luxurious ease with his prisoner, while the honest fishermen earn their living by leaning o’er the railing of the Bridge and catching the fragrant “porgie.”
It is a melancholy thing that such a song as this should have an end, but, alas! “sich is life.”

  Lo! A loafer’s going to vanish
Some fine day,
With a carpet-bag he’s bolter,
making way;

Lo! the Sheriff puts out after,
O’er the Bay–
He pays the toll–an awful bore–
And gets the loafer “in the door”;
And o’er the bridge he brings him back,
Or per adventure takes a hack,
(For a snug sum the City had to pay,)
While fishermen catch “porgies”
in the Bay
To sell in Clinton or in Oakland,
O’er the way.