Battered by the Elements, San Francisco’s Bay Bridge Lights Go Dark

At night, they glimmered across the water: Twenty-five thousand tiny LEDs, stretching 1.8 miles across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to Oakland. But this week, after a decade aglow on the city’s horizon, the lights — battered by the Bay Area’s harsh elements — were switched off, at least for now.

The artwork, known as the Bay Lights, was installed in March 2013 as an adornment to the span often overshadowed by the nearby Golden Gate Bridge.

The installation was never meant to last this long, according to its creators. Eventually, they said, the lights began to succumb to the bay’s notorious wind, salt and rain. The expansion and contraction of the cables on the bridge also posed a challenge, they said. Some sections had already gone entirely dark.

“The current set of LEDs that are up there are failing at a rate faster than we could keep up with them,” Ben Davis, the founder of Illuminate, the arts nonprofit responsible for the work, said by phone on Monday. “Rather than let it decay into oblivion, which is not a good look for San Francisco, we’re doing the responsible thing, taking it down.”

So at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Mr. Davis switched the lights off. “There was a collective groan across the city,” he said. “You could hear it from the waterfront.”

But the bridge may not be dark forever. Mr. Davis said his organization was hoping to raise $11 million to refurbish the installation, doubling the number of LEDs, which he said would be custom-engineered. When completed, the display will be visible from farther away, as well as to people crossing the bridge. So far, the organization has drawn pledges of more than $6 million.

Mr. Davis said the refurbishment, which he expects to take eight to 10 months, would begin once there was $10 million committed to the project. The last $1 million, he said, will be sought via crowdfunding.

Though some have expressed concern about the light sculpture’s environmental impact, Mr. Davis said it had undergone rigorous analysis to ensure the new version would be safe for wildlife as well as for the people using it. “The power usage on these LEDs,” he added, “is very, very slim.”

Leo Villareal, the artist who designed the Bay Lights, said that he was optimistic the organization would raise enough money to reinstall the light sculpture, which, he said, was inspired by the patterns of the water and the fog surrounding the bridge.

Watching it go dark on Sunday, Mr. Villareal added, was “bittersweet.”

“There’s a certain sadness to not have that be part of the landscape,” he said. “It’s really become part of the fabric of San Francisco.”

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