Oakland Museum Show Captures the Glory and Danger of Building the Bay’s Bridges

Men head home early after a death during construction of the Bay Bridge. Photo: Peter Stackpole, Quitting Time, 1935.
Men head home early after a death during construction of the Bay Bridge.. Photo: Peter Stackpole, “Quitting Time,” 1935.

As Caltrans continues to work on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, the Oakland Museum of California is looking back at the beginning of both bridges that span the Bay, as well as the men who helped build them.

The exhibit features black-and-white images from photographer Peter Stackpole of the building of the Bay and Golden Gate bridges. The vivid photos started Stackpole on a brilliant career working for Life and other magazines, but the show’s curator, Drew Johnson, told KQED’s Cy Musiker it was partially just luck that Stackpole was able to get such breathtaking shots.

And so he was hanging around, basically around by the Embarcadero watching the piers go up. And a bridge worker noticed him and must have sensed what he was thinking or something because he said, ‘Hey kid, why don’t you come out with us, you’ll get some good pictures.’ And Peter said, ‘That was the invitation I was waiting for.’

Peter Stackpole, Catwalk and Marin Tower, 1936.
Peter Stackpole, “Catwalk and Marin Tower,” 1936.

Musiker got a preview of the show from Johnson, who also talked about the stories behind the photos. Here they discuss “Quitting Time” featured at the top of this page.

Peter Stackpole, Wrapped Cable, Golden Gate Bridge, 1936.
Peter Stackpole, “Wrapped Cable, Golden Gate Bridge,” 1936.

Musiker: [“Quitting Time”] is an amazing picture. I’ve kind of got chills looking at it. Tell me why.

Johnson: At first glance, you think this is just some tired looking men on a boat heading back to shore from the towers in the background.

Johnson: The title is “Quitting Time,” so you’re thinking, ‘Well, they’re just going home at the end of the day,’ but in fact, they’re going home early because there’s been a fatality on the bridge. And there were 28 fatalities on the construction of the Bay Bridge. And then if you read Peter’s comment, it mentions that one of the men in the photograph that you’re looking at actually was a fatality later on.

The show started Saturday and runs until Jan. 26, 2014 at Oakland Museum of California.

Peter Stackpole, Waiting on Catwalk, 1935.
Peter Stackpole, “Waiting on Catwalk,” 1935.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor