Historic Significance?

OK, so there’s this (and thanks, Beth for alerting me to it and for organizing the outing to go check it out.)

For those of you who didn’t bother to follow the link, it’s to the Oakland Museum of California’s current exhibit “Above and Below: Stories From Our Changing Bay”. As you might have gathered from the title, it’s about the natural and human history of San Francisco Bay. As one might expect, the Bay Bridge is a prominent part of the exhibit (though oddly*, there doesn’t seem to be a single word about the Bolt Botch). Some parts of the exhibit are stronger than others–I thought the parts regarding the Native American influence on the Bay seemed somewhat perfunctory, for example–but on the whole, it’s worth visiting if you’re in the area. Aside from the Bay Bridge portion, I was particularly taken by the job they did with the influence and aftereffects of the U.S. Navy’s presence.

* Of course I’m being sarcastic here. Text does have a few disadvantages…

Oddly enough, while the Museum houses the original Bay Bridge troll, it’s not displayed in the exhibit. The original troll is displayed as part of the standing California history exhibit; “Above and Below” has to make do with a copy, though it is displayed on an actual chunk of the bridge (the original troll has a copy of a chunk of the bridge).

One of the things Beth found interesting about the exhibit and the thing she knew would interest me as well is that, according to one of the videos on the OMCA site, the exhibit was partially funded by Caltrans “as part of the mitigation that Caltrans is doing for the destruction of the eastern span of the old Bay Bridge.”

It turns out that under the California Environmental Quality Act (and similar federal laws), if someone is conducting a project that will “adversely affect a historical resource”, they must conduct mitigation activities to minimize the loss of the historic or cultural value of the resource. “But wait,” I hear you ask, “was the old East Span a historic monument?” As far as I can tell, it wasn’t, but that turns out to be irrelevant. As long as the structure has some historic value, the law applies. Given it’s status as the largest and most expensive bridge ever built as of it’s completion in 1936, its long years of service to the Bay Area, and its role in the Loma Prieta earthquake, a finding of historical significance was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

So Caltrans contributed funds for a museum exhibit, school curriculum, and related online resources. I’m guessing that the funds came from the same source as the rest of the Bay Bridge replacement dollars: bridge tolls and tax revenue. I can’t find a cost for the exhibit, but I presume that it was in the high six or low seven digits. If one takes the long view that the exhibit materials will be retained after it closes and reused in future exhibits at OMCA or elsewhere, I believe it was money well spent, but I would be interested to know how the cost compares to that of, say, building a seismic saddle to replace useless galvanized steel bolts…

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