Bay Bridge Oral History Project
About the Project
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About The Project

The Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, launched a new oral history series on the history of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in May 2012. At that time, ROHO entered into an agreement with the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) to conduct approximately 15 oral histories, totaling approximately 30 hours of interviews, on the history of the Bay Bridge, the San Francisco Bay, and bridges in the surrounding region.

Photo of Bay Bridge painter, 1936, courtesy of The Bancroft Library

This project was a collaboration between ROHO, OMCA, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA), and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). This project was designed to fulfill the historical mitigation requirements associated with the dismantling of the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The series coincided with, and contributed to, the research phase and design phase of an exhibit at OMCA on the social and environmental history of the San Francisco Bay.

This project provides a new set of resources widely accessible to students, scholars, and the public interested in the San Francisco Bay. Interviews focused on the men and women who spent a good portion of their careers working on the bridge, whether as painters or engineers, toll-takers or architects, labor or management. Beyond the human dimension of the bridges, these structures also connect geographic spaces, providing conceptual linkages between cultures, environments, and political discourses. This oral history project, then, explored the role of the iconic bridges in shaping the identity of the region, as well as their place in architectural, environmental, labor, and political history. This project enhances the historical understanding of the San Francisco Bay and the natural and built environment that helps define the region.

The Bay Bridge Oral History Project launched with an investigation of the history of the bay and the architectural, social, and political history of the bridges that span the waters of the region. Planning meetings attended by representatives of ROHO, OMCA, Caltrans, BATA, and MTC began in mid-2011. In these meetings, representatives of the various groups discussed the topics that should be covered in the interviews as well as the kind of people who should be interviewed. Although there were no known individuals who worked on the construction of the Bay Bridge (1934-36) still living, a foremost goal of the project was document the construction of the bridge and its early years, especially before the bridge was altered in 1959 with the removal of rail tracks on the lower deck. Beyond that initial goal, interviews were sought with individuals who would be able to share unique experiences related to the bridges from a variety of personal and professional vantage points: from laborers involved in maintenance of the bridge through bridge engineers who worked on the design on the new eastern span. The primary focus of this project was to dig deeper into the complex history of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and its changing relationship to human communities and the environment.

The project interview staff at ROHO consisted of Sam Redman, PhD, and Martin Meeker, PhD. The project interviewers were assisted by David Dunham, technical specialist, and Julie Allen, editor.


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