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Roll Out the Trolls: A Changing of the Guard on the Bay Bridge East Span

Measuring 2 feet tall and wielding a spud wrench, the senior troll sports spiraling goat horns, a gaping muzzle, a dragon tongue-beard and webbed feet that are suggestive of a great mythological creature.
Karin Betts

The surprise appearance of the famous Bay Bridge troll was celebrated as a highlight of the Labor Day opening ceremonies for the new East Span. But only after the guests had retired and the sun had set did a second troll appear on site. The arrival was perfectly timed — after all, trolls are intolerant of sun.

Shrouded in mystery and a few carefully-placed coats, the new troll arrived on the back of an innocuous pickup truck and was unveiled in a warehouse at the bridge construction staging area, where project employees gathered after hours to celebrate a job well done. After this fittingly unglamorous introduction (trolls are renowned for their unbecoming appearance), the new troll was whisked away in a dramatic effort to secure him to the bridge just before it opened to traffic at 10:15 p.m.

On hand to ensure that this important finishing touch was properly executed were representatives of the American Bridge/Fluor Joint Venture (ABF) that built the new bridge’s signature self-anchored suspension span. Transporting the new troll via the pickup truck, ABF Project Director Brian Petersen, Deputy Project Director Peter van der Waart and Contracts Manager Brandon Yee promised to honor troll tradition by placing the figure in a hidden location, shielded from drivers and from the fatal sunlight. Word has it that after a short stint on the new East Span, the new troll would be removed for weatherproofing, and then reinstalled in a more permanent location.

Standing at two feet, two inches high and weighing 75 pounds, the junior troll is somewhat larger and heavier than his 2-foot-tall predecessor. But a family resemblance is visible in their musculature, long tongues and gaping mouths. Junior’s tongue sticks out almost as far as his beard itself, flaunting trolls’ notorious disregard for protocol. Like his predecessor, he is unclothed. Otherwise, he looks remarkably human despite his goat-like ears, curlicue feet and petite horns.

While the original troll carried a spud wrench, the newcomer wields an ironworker’s mallet and torch. “The torch was non-negotiable,” said Yee, who says ABF wanted to pay tribute to the ironworkers. The tool was also an appropriate choice given trolls’ unmatched reputation for metalworking, as recorded in Scandinavian legend.

ABF's Brian Petersen commissioned the design from Michael Bondi Metal Design in Richmond, Calif. — the same wrought iron workshop where Bill Roan created the original Bay Bridge troll. “This time I asked my guys to do a collaborative design,” Bondi said. Their first sketch looked something like a dancing elf, and later evolved into the strong but slender figure unveiled at the warehouse. In keeping with the troll tradition, the steel statue was forged by hand and signed by its makers: Michael Bondi, Humberto Somayoa, Freddy Rodreiez, Alfonso Vasquez, Felipe Vasquez and Socrates Vasquez. Two of these men, Bondi and Felipe Vasquez, were also there when the first troll was forged in 1989.

The original troll was conceived in 1989 in the wake of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which caused a 50-foot section of the old East Span’s upper deck to collapse. Roan created the statue to honor the workers who repaired the old bridge, and to protect it from future damage. “The troll was on that old bridge for 24 years. And that bridge stood until we could open the new one. So is there causation? I can’t disprove that hypothesis,” said Andrew Fremier, deputy executive director of the Bay Area Toll Authority, which has been helping to guide design and construction of the new East Span through its role as a member of the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee. Fremier’s team was responsible for issuing the widely cited Bay Bridge troll white paper, which explains that these creatures were traditionally renowned as tenacious guardians of objects and places with a penchant for collecting treasures. Titled “For Whom the Troll Dwells,” the report concluded that the new Bay Bridge should have a new troll as a “possible extra measure of safety.”

Bay Area citizens who delighted in Roan’s original statue had two reactions to the news that the original statue would be replaced. They were comforted to know that the new Bay Bridge would have a troll. But they also wondered: What was fated for the original troll? The pioneering figure was rescued from the old East Span just after it closed to traffic for the last time. Greg Allen of MCM Construction — which has been involved in building the East Span connecttion to Yerba Buena Island — escorted the creature to land to await his official appearance at the opening ceremony. Also at the ceremony was Elyse Remenowsky, whose July speech to the Bay Area Toll Authority persuaded the agency to consider “what will happen to our benignant bridge creature.”

For now, the old troll has gone into hiding until he can return to a safe and permanent home. During demolition, his favorite ledge will be preserved and relocated to shore, where the troll will resume residency in his usual niche. The senior troll and this special steel deck section may even find a place of prominence in the new regional park planned for the foot of the Bay Bridge in Oakland. Wherever he ends up, the original Bay Bridge troll will stand as a memorial to the old East Span, and to everyone whose efforts kept it standing strong for 24 years after the earthquake.

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