Visionaries on the Wing - Page 4

As the Bay Bridge reopening nears, lost in the hoopla is Frank Lloyd Wright’s forsaken ‘Butterfly’ design—the most beautiful span of all
Visionaries on the wing
Polivka came back in 1958 with a bold, new southern crossing plan. This span, as shown here, reached from San Leandro in the East Bay to the Candlestick Point in San Francisco, wrapping around the S.F. Giants' Candlestick Park with two arms of roadway.

The Butterfly Bridge passed into history—or did it?

In 1988, as plans advanced for rebuilding the damaged eastern span, the Butterfly Bridge fluttered to life.

Famed Bay Area engineer T.Y. Lin, working with Wright prot—gé architect Aaron Green, determined that the Butterfly Wing Bridge was eminently buildable, which some earlier engineers had doubted.

A decade later, when the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland objected to what they saw as a dishwater-dull scheme for the rebuilt Bay Bridge, Oakland architect Leal Charonnat suggested using Wright's scheme instead.

"I could go for that," Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown said. For Wright, who died in 1959, failure to see the Butterfly Bridge built was a disappointment. For Polivka, it was more.

Polivka didn't give up easily, coming back in 1958 with another southern crossing plan. This span, he envisioned, would reach from San Leandro in the East Bay to Candlestick Point, "then wrap the west end around the new [San Francisco baseball] Giants stadium" between two arms of roadway.

Polivka, who died in 1960 at age 73, spent the final decade of his life trying to find work, even on small projects—four-plexes, housing developments—that were well beneath his talents, architect Don Olsen recalls. "The whole thing is really a tragedy."


• See a model of the Butterfly Bridge in action.

• Bridging the Bay is an absorbing website about Bay bridges real and imagined put together by UC Berkeley.


Photos and illustrations: courtesy Aaron Green Associates, San Francisco History Center (S.F. Public Library), University Archives of State University of New York at Buffalo; Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (Museum of Modern Art - Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University), Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (Scottsdale, AZ), Katka Hammond, Pacific Road Builder and Engineering Review