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While Caltrans spokesmen are busy talking about the new span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge that will open Sept. 3, a small group of inquiring minds want to know what will become of the Bay Bridge Troll once the old bridge is dismantled?

The verdict may still be out — send it to a museum along with a portion of the old bridge or remove the troll and install it on the new span. Caltrans spokesman Bob Haus had only this to say Tuesday: “Stay tuned.  We’ll have more about the troll in a day or so.”

For those who haven’t heard the story, here it is.

Since 1989, a small iron sculpture (14 or 18 inches tall, depending on the source) has lived beneath the upper deck of the eastern span, created by East Bay blacksmiths as a talisman against natural disasters like that year’s 6.9 earthquake that shook San Francisco and the East Bay.

The troll has become legendary, especially among people who enjoy the image of a tiny iron troll living beneath the bridge, its mouth open as if breathing fire and its hands holding a long wrench that is welded to one of the bridge’s bolts.

It was designed by blacksmith Bill Roan of Oakland who reportedly modeled him on the troll who lived beneath the bridge in the Norwegian fairy tale, “Three Billy Goats Gruff.” The little guy was welded into place as workers finished repairing the section of the bridge that collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake.

When the new bridge span opens next week, crews will begin to dismantle the existing bridge, including the girder with the troll attached. Fans have been lobbying to save the little guardian, even creating a Save the Bay Bridge Troll Facebook page that carries this story about his origins, as told by Oakland blacksmith Michael Bondi. Road Warrior wasn’t able to reach Bill Roan or Michael Bondi to verify their stories:

In 1989, I had a Artist Blacksmith shop in Oakland in the Old Phoenix Iron Works. I shared a large shop space with Stoltz Metals, a large Steel Fabrication Company.

The building was very close to the Cypress structure and the bridge, so when the bridge collapsed Stoltz Metals was contacted by GO Supply (George Osher) and Rigging International about building and staging some of the repair parts. Howard Stoltz and I got to inspect the broken section just a few days after the collapse.

I happened to be sitting in Howard’s office during one of these meeting with Caltrans when George and others and I suggested that what the bridge needed was a protector, like a gargoyle on a cathedral that I could make out of forged steel.

We talked about for a while, and they all said it sounded like a great Idea. I had in mind a gargoyle type creature possibly with a open mouth to spew rain water, similar to ones I had seen in Europe. I also was thinking of a political character (Govern Deukmejian).

But I went out to my shop and told my crew (I had at least 4 employees at the time, all who did Blacksmithing, Art Jones, Frank Trousil, Bill Roan and Felipe Vasquez) we had a chance to do something fun and anyone who had a good idea should speak up.

So it kicked around for a few days, and then Bill Roan came into my office and asked if I remembered the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff and the troll that lived under the bridge. We talked about it, and I told him it was a great idea and he should design it.

He came up with a design, and I insisted that everyone in the shop had to make a part or work on it. In the end, I had discussions with Stoltz and Caltrans rep and George about how we should locate it so no one would see it and cause traffic problems. I also designed it to fit a bolt pattern so no one could say we compromised any welds.

It was placed on the last section of the bridge to be put in, and no one who had not been to Stoltz knew or saw it till the morning it went up. Once on the bridge the iron workers loved it and they welded it to the bolts so it could not be removed.

There was one reporter on the scene (Paula Drake KCBS). She saw it, and the next thing I knew it was all over the news. It started a debate with the director of Caltrans about it being there, but as we all know it stayed.

Its future is foggy, but I would like to be sure its history is clear. The concept and idea to put a guardian on the bridge was mine, the design was Bill Roan’s and it was a good one. It was made by everyone working for me at the time, a collaborative effort just like the bridge repair.

I also was not paid any money for the troll. It was a gift from me and my business to the city. I was asked by George Osher to make a second troll for Rigging International to put in their office, and I believe Bill made that troll on his own time in the shop. I had George pay him directly as a reward for a great design.

It has been a long time, but I am pretty sure the facts are right. If you talked to Bill, he should confirm this. We are still friends but don’t see each other much, and he doesn’t do a lot of smithing anymore.

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Follow the Road Warrior on Twitter @PDRoadWarrior.

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1 Comment

  1. Joe

    From a 2011 article where, in the comments section, Bill Roan supposedly responds to Mike Bondi:

    For 22 years Mike Bondi has spun his revisionist history of the Bridge Troll, in a quest for self promotion and to minimize my role in the Trolls creation. True, I worked for Michael Bondi metals from 1986-1989 and I’ve been carving gargoyles since 1978. He paid his artists low wages in exchange we were able to use the shop after hours to make art and promote our art careers. Also true, He did come from some type of meeting in Howard Stoltz’s office. But Mike wanted to put a sculpture that I was creating on my own time after hours called, “San Andreas the Earthquake God” on to the bridge. http://s1087.photobucket.com/albums/j474/biologybill/?action=view¤t=SanAndreastheearthquakeGod002-1.jpg I said, “No”. So Mike threw his arms in the air and said, “Forget the whole idea”. There was no meeting with my coworkers to come up with an idea, nor have I ever asked for an OK on any of my sculpture designs. It was Howard Stoltz, his partner Dick Vogel and their crew who would approach me after hours and ask if I was going to make one of my gargoyles for the bridge. It wasn’t until the last week of repair work that Howard came to me and said, “If you’re going to make something for the bridge you better hurry up, we are starting to work on the last section”. I had seen how hard the Stoltz guys were working, 10-12 hour shifts, and two shifts a day. It was physically taking a toll on these men and my heart went out to their hard work and dedication to get the job done. That evening I went to the library, but could find nothing on the mythology of earthquakes. But I remembered a childhood favorite “Billy Goats Gruff”. So three nights before the last span was to be put up I started working on a troll. I worked solely after hours, on my own time. The first night the Stoltz guys came by to see what I was doing, they were very excited and word got around. The second night Bondi decided he was going to get into the act and he wanted to make a second figure for the south side of the bridge so the bridge would be protected from earthquakes coming from the North or South. He was going to make an “Egg Headed Engineer”, holding a slide ruler, with a caricature of Governor Deukmejian. His intention was to insult the engineers and Governor who he felt were responsible for the bridge collapse. Bondi tried twice to forge a simple egg shape and failed. He threw down the parts in disgust and went home. The next morning Bondi approached me to say that he wanted all his workers to get a chance to work on the Troll, because it would mean so much to them. Most of the body parts were already forged, so I had shop Foreman Art Jones make the spud wrench and I heated up the head, held a punch in its mouth and had Frank Trousil strike the punch twice. We threw the hot parts under the table to cool and went back to work. Combined work time 15 minutes. The last night I was told that the Cal Trans inspector was concerned about welding the figure to the bridge. The troll had to be bolted to the span so that it could be taken off if there was any flack. The Stoltz shop foreman Craig showed me where it would be attached and I tack welded the body parts together. Then took it back and finished assembling the troll. The next morning Art Jones said I should stamp my name on it. After I had stamped William Roan Artist I handed the hammer to Bondi and said he should put the shop name on the other washer. To my great surprise he put a copy right symbol next to his name. The Troll was attached to the last span and the Stoltz guys prepared to get their picture taken with the Troll. The guys called me over to join them. There were no pictures taken of the Bondi workers and the Troll. Howard Stoltz came to me later that day to say that Paula Drake from Talk radio was on the bridge when the last section arrived. She was so excited when she saw the 14 inch figure, that she started calling everyone. The news media was trying to come up with a way to finish the bridge repair story and the Troll was the perfect foil. By the time the Troll story got to New York they were calling back to find out who the bridge rigger was that was going to lift this 40 foot sculpture onto the bridge. Then things started to get weird. News crews were coming to Bondi’s shop to get interviews. Mike told me he would do all the talking and I would be introduced as the artist. They didn’t want anything to do with Bondi and he was pissed. In the following days, Mike began to tell reporters that he was the creator of the Troll. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/05/17/garden/currents-earthquakes-be-gone.html His justification was the 15 minutes the Bondi crew worked on the piece. He said, “Anything that comes out of my shop, belongs to me”. I was told that someone got a copy right on the word “Bridge Troll” and Bondi was in negotiations to start producing Bridge Trolls as collector items. This was absolutely crazy and I had to end it. So when Bondi told me he wanted me to create a second Bridge Troll to give to the Main Contractor for free, I knew this would never end unless I charged a high enough price that no one would want to pay. Bondi didn’t give me the generous commission as he contends, but because I’m the only one who could sculpt the figure. In retaliation Bondi demanded that I start paying him a 50% surcharge for anything I sold at the Virginia Breier Galley. I refused and so the shop became off limits to everyone after hours. I am the designer and creator of the Bay Bridge Troll. When I passed the figure into the hands of the Stolz ironworkers, it became the property of our community and I hope they will ultimately determine its fate. The intent of the Bridge troll was near to make a quick profit off a tragic disaster that killed people, destroyed buildings and superstructures. The creation of the Bay Bridge Troll was intended to be a secret symbol to honor and praise the hard working and selfless Union of Iron and Bridge workers, Cal Trans and the greater community which pulled together to get our region back on its feet and functioning again. That dear reader, is the rest of the story. William Roan

    https://www.baycitizen.org/news/transportation/bay-bridge-troll-faces-eviction/

    August 28th, 2013 8:37 am

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