San Francisco's "other" bridge gets its chance to shine

(CBS News) SAN FRANCISCO -- The lights moving poetically across the nearly two-mile span of the Oakland San Francisco Bay Bridge are the creation of artist Leo Villareal. On Monday night, he put the finishing touches on the software program that transforms the bridge into a light sculpture.

Artist Leo Villareal
Artist Leo Villareal
CBS News

"This is a unique opportunity," Villareal says. "Fifty million people will see this piece over two years, so that's a tremendous audience. It's something anyone can see and engage with."

Electricians spent four months in the wind and the cold installing 25,000 LED lights, each individually programmed through a fiber optic network.

Villareal then began sculpting the light into patterns he says will never look exactly the same.

"Well, using software, there are sequences which will be displayed in a random order and for a random amount of time," he says. "One might recognize a certain passage, but never in the same order for the same amount of time."

Villareal says many aspects of the bridge's environment inspired his work.

"All the motion that factors into my inspiration for creating the patterns," he says. "So water, birds -- it's abstract and open-ended, but you can see what the roots of the inspiration are in the sequences."

For 75 years, the Bay Bridge has been San Francisco's "other" bridge, always in the shadow of its famous and elegant neighbor the Golden Gate. Villareal's job was to make people notice a bridge that has long been ignored.

"It's not a rivalry, I just think San Francisco's so beautiful, it adds a little weight to this side of the equation," he says.

The project cost $8 million to create. But the LEDs are so efficient, it costs just $15 a night to turn a work-a-day bridge into a work of art.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.