Holiday Season Reading Suggestion: Tom Paiva’s Bay Bridge — The New East Span

Photographer Tom Paiva has richly documented the latest chapter in the history of spanning California’s East Bay.

In the late 1920s, economic and social changes in the Bay Area, including the increasing popularity of automobiles, prompted the California legislature to establish the California Toll Bridge Authority and charged it with connecting San Francisco and Alameda County. The groundbreaking ceremony for the longest bridge in the world at that time took place on July 9, 1933, and presaged a nearly three-and-a-half-year project at a cost of $77 million. When it opened on November 12, 1936, the Bay Bridge caused “the greatest traffic jam in the history of San Francisco.” During its first year of operation, the Bay Bridge was crossed by nine million vehicles.

The 50th anniversary of the completion of the Bay Bridge, which actually includes both a suspension bridge and a truss bridge, took place in 1986. Three years later, the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the East Span, even though the epicenter of the 7.1 earthquake lay nearly 90 miles south. After 53 years and many millions of vehicles safely transported, the bridge was showing its age, prompting plans to create a more enduring structure.

In 2002, the 11-year construction project on the new Bay Bridge began, involving a complete retrofit of the suspension bridge and the replacement of the truss bridge with the world’s longest self-anchored suspension span. Photographer Tom Paiva, on an aerial assignment in the Bay Area, happened upon the initial phase of the project and knew that he had to become part of it Assigning himself the task of recording the creation and the construction of this monumental structure from his vantage point, Paiva believed that his unique vision would offer a valuable, yet complementary, view of the $6 billion enterprise. His quest was to contribute a lasting document that would honor the visionaries—past and present—who could imagine and create these imposing, yet beautiful, man-made spans.

With Bay Bridge: The New East Span, Tom Paiva has produced a masterful body of work, documenting one of the most daunting, and finally triumphant, engineering feats of our generation. This beautifully produced, oversized monograph pays fitting homage to its subject, and all of those who were involved in its creation.