The Bay Lights, which went dark on the Bay Bridge in March a few years earlier than was promised due to corrosion and deterioration of the LEDs, will return again according to the founder of Illuminate, the nonprofit behind the original installation.
The original Bay Lights installation, by LED artist Leo Villareal, went up in March 2013, much to the delight of many locals and tourists alike. The lights, which were installed only the northern faces of the cables of the western span of the Bay Bridge, were programmed to shimmer in various patterns, and it turned the Golden Gate's often forgotten gray sister into a nighttime beauty herself.
The lights had to be taken down for a previously planned bridge repainting project in 2015, but sturdier, supposedly more weather-resistant versions were funded and installed in early 2016 — in time for San Francisco to host Super Bowl 50. That iteration of the Bay Lights was given a ten-year lifespan, with a ten-year maintenance contract, but they didn't quite last that long. The sea air around the Bay and a few batterings from winter storms left them in sorry shape by this past March.
A campaign has been underway ever since, led by Illuminate founder Ben Davis, and as he tells the Business Times this week, he's been feeling "pressure and anxiety from all sides" to get the reinstallation underway — no doubt some of that pressure coming from city leaders, who probably would have liked to see the lights shimmering again in time for the APEC summit to arrive in November.
That isn't happening, as the installation process is said to take eight months, and it's not yet fully funded.
This new iteration of the Bay Lights is going to be installed on both sides of the cables, so it will be visible from both the north and south sides of the bridge. And Davis has promised an even sturdier version that won't wear out in another seven years.
The $11 million campaign has reached the $8 million mark, Davis says. "It’s really go time for this project," he tells the Business Times. "If you start to look at some of the pressure points, it would be very smart for San Francisco to have this money in place by Thanksgiving."
The goal is now to reach $10 million to get the re-installation underway. That $2 million could include just one or two deep-pocketed gifts totaling $1 million, and another million is coming from crowd-funded small donations — of which they've already collected $493,000.
While the project has been a mostly well-loved feature since its debut, it has had some detractors as well who would prefer that, maybe, something more interesting could take its place.
Notably, Chronicle design critic John King has likened it to "a 1.8-mile-long screen saver," and "a pleasant gimmick in a setting that doesn’t need gimmicks and hype."
Photo: Jeff Fan