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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