Begun in 1933 in the depths of the Depression, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge put hundreds of men to work on two six-hour shifts, morning and night, for three years and seven months, to finish two months ahead of schedule on November 12, 1936, at a cost of $78,000,000. Declared a masterpiece of functional engineering, the eight and one-half mile span became the longest bridge of its kind in the world.
(photograph 1 and cross-section diagram of the Bay Bridge)
Yerba Buena island linked the two bridge crossings, as engineers tunneled through solid rock to create the world's largest diameter bore tunnel, excavating to a width of 65.5 feet and a height of 52.8 feet. The rock spoils helped to form Treasure Island, site of the 1939 World's Fair, and later the United States Navy base.
The bridge was designed to carry two levels of traffic, automobiles on the top level, and trucks and fast electric trains on the lower level. The trains carried passengers to cities throughout the East Bay and as far north as Chico, 128 miles away. But trains could not compete with the freeways, and last ran in 1958. The tracks were then removed to make room for more auto traffic.
Dubbed "Moran's Island," after Daniel Moran, expert on deep-water footing, the prodigious anchorage between San Francisco and Yerba Buena Island is not solid but instead is composed of steel cylinders encased in concrete. The world's largest pneumatic timber caisson, measuring 97 by 192 feet, was towed to the center of the west crossing and sunk by releasing compressed air; concrete was then poured in the space between the cylinders. The resulting pier is the equivalent of a 40-story building covering half a city block. The massive anchorage for the twin suspension bridges was built on a rocky ridge 220 feet below. This ancient underwater rock formation determined the route of the Bay Bridge to its San Francisco origins, anchored on the rock of Rincon Hill.
At age 78, Wally Ortez remembers when he got his job working as a rigger, building the Bay Bridge in 1933. "Listen, I was so damn lucky to get a job with a paycheck and so proud to say I was building that bridge, that I had to do something. So at lunch I would run as fast as I could right down the middle of that cat walk - from where I was, up to the next tower and back again. It was like running on a hammock, but 540 feet over the bay. I was only 19, I had more guts than sense.
On November 12, 1936, as searchlights celebrated the opening of the Bay Bridge, no one would have believed that the great spans would break, But on October 18, 1989, a 7.1 earthquake severed a span and closed the bridge. After repairing the damage, workmen riveted a traditional iron bridge troll to the mended joint to protect the bridge from future catastrophe. Invisible to commuters but shown at the top of this pylon, the troll is a symbol of the mighty bridge and those workers who built and repaired it.
(on the back of the pylon)
Men who gave their lives in the course of the Bay Bridge construction
Louis R. Knight, age 24, rigger, died November 25, 1933 · William H. Morotzke, carpenter, died December 8, 1933 · E.S. Hill, caulker, died December 10, 1933 · Lloyd H. Evans, diver, died December 14, 1933 · Harold Schwates, construction worker, died April 21, 1934 · George J. Weikert, bridgeman, died September 18, 1934 · Donald McEachern, bridgeman, died October 25, 1934 · Bernard Hauffman, electrician's helper, died November 12, 1934 · R.L. Poole, rigger, died December 5, 1934 · Adolph Silversen, carpenter, died January 21, 1935 · Christy Thompson, carpenter, died March 6, 1935 · Henry Dennington, bridgeman, died June 5, 1935 · Arthur Lamoreaux, bridgeman, died June 17, 1935 · Michael Edward Markey, bridgeman, died July 2, 1935 · Walter Vanderburg, bridgeman, died September 16, 1935 · Marion Tavares, concrete laborer, died November 6, 1935 · Ed Correll, foreman painter, died December 5, 1935 · Paul Shelton, bridgeman, died March 28, 1936 · Charles Bazzili, bridgeman, died April 9, 1936 · Roy C. Bishop, rigger, died April 21, 1936 · Paul Gurley, bridgeman, died June 3, 1936 · George Zink, carpenter, died June 7, 1936 · W. Aguado, bridgeman, died July 10, 1936