For as long as anyone can remember, the Golden Gate has been the starring bridge in the Bay Area. But on March 5, with the arrival of an unforgettable art installation, it’s finally time for the Bay Bridge to shine — literally. The Bay Lights is a monumental light show, controlled by computer, that spans the Western side of the suspension bridge. Created by artist Leo Villareal, the luminous sculpture will brighten the San Francisco night sky each evening through 2015. Here are five things you need to know about Bay Lights:
1. The origin. The Bay Lights is meant to commemorate the 75th birthday of the Bay Bridge and to highlight its recently completed construction. Public relations company, Words Pictures Ideas, hired by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), came up with the concept and commissioned Maestro of Light, artist Leo Villareal, to execute the ambitious project.
2. The numbers. Leo Villareal doesn’t mess around with his art installations — this one’s 1.8 miles long and 500 feet high, with 25,000 LEDs. The LEDs have a fiber and a power line backbone that connects to the bridge with 60,000 zip ties. The lights are spaced every 12 inches, and each LED can be adjusted for varying levels of brightness. The show will take place every night from dusk until 2 a.m. for two years, with more than 50 million area witnesses and billions more who’ll watch the spectacle online. The project cost $8 million but is expected to give the local economy a $97 million boost.
3. The construction. It took six months to complete The Bay Lights installation; it began in September 2012. Electricians worked Mondays to Fridays, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., for roughly two months to position the lights; sometimes the workers had to dangle hundreds of feet above the water in harnesses.
4. The artist. Leo Villareal is known all over the world for his intricate light sculptures and site-specific artistic feats. His work has appeared everywhere from the Museum of Modern Art in New York City to the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum in Kagawa, Japan. Villareal studied sculpture at Yale and received his graduate degree from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts’ Interactive Telecommunications Program. To complete The Bay Lights project, Villareal had to climb hard-to-reach areas of the Bay Bridge several times — a task so sensitive that it required him to notify the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
5. Watch. Although The Bay Lights sculpture will be visible from as far away as the Golden Gate Bridge, the best place to watch the light display is along the Embarcadero. The following restaurants have spectacular views of the Bay Bridge: Enjoy top-quality Vietnamese cuisine at The Slanted Door at the Ferry Building. Or, sample oysters at Waterbar and steak at nearby EPIC Roasthouse. If sipping artisanal cocktails is more your thing, La Mar is the perfect place to have a drink while you check out The Bay Lights.
Photos Courtesy of Lucas Saugen