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One man’s trash, a community’s treasure: Locals love the Bulb

A sculpture of a woman greets visitors to the Albany Bulb. (Lauren Sliter)

Proof that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, the Eastshore State Park, or the Albany Bulb, has served as the Bay Area’s creative dumping grounds for over a decade. The Bulb displays a world in which nature and its inhabitants have collided and now creatively coexist with one another.

This 8.5 miles stretch of land, which extends into the San Francisco Bay just north of the Bay Bridge, has a rich history, but has always gone in and out of development as far back as the 1800’s. The land, now recognized as part of the city of Albany, has been developed by Spanish conquests, railroad companies and gold miners.

What is now the Albany Bulb, was once a small dump in the early 1900’s. The landfill closed in 1984, and was all but forgotten until the 1990’s. It was then that a community of homeless people and local artists gathered there and claimed the Albany Bulb for their home, according to The College of Natural Resources at University of California, Berkeley’s website.

Overview of Albany Bulb during a sunset. (Lauren Sliter)

“It became a mecca for artists who created numerous pieces of outdoor ‘folk art’ from found natural objects and human debris,” the website’s report said .

Throughout much of the 1990’s, the collaborative community of homeless and local artists were able to thrive in the Albany Bulb. The most prominent art group, Sniff, began as a group of friends who took it upon themselves to decorate the Bulb. They contributed much of the artwork that can be seen there today.

During the 1990’s, California had begun purchasing land on the shoreline from Richmond to Emeryville, including the Albany Bulb location. By 1999, the City of Albany had evicted most of the homeless population in the park.

Despite City plans in 2002 to renovate the park, adding areas for water and land sports, popular demand has kept the City from removing the artwork and homeless population altogether.

Much of the popular support for maintaining the Bulb’s original form has come from the East Bay dog walking community.

“We mostly still enjoy walking our dogs off-leash on the various paths and the little sand-beach where they have a place to romp, play, and swim,” said Mimi Nielsen, a first year graduate student at Mills, and consistent Bulb-goer. “Only occasionally does someone mention that they have been ticketed by a park ranger for having their dog off-leash there.”

The park is riddled with trails, which lead into the farthest reaches of the brush and along the shoreline, where San Francisco can be seen across the bay. Depending on which trail you choose, you could end up on the outermost rim of the bulbous land mass, where the most outstanding pieces of art meet the bay, or stepping through the front porches of nearly a dozen homeless camps that still reside within the park.

A decorated tree. (Lauren Sliter)

Most of the local community keeps to itself, but their friendly chatter can be heard as you walk through the park.

As for the sculptures along the shore, they couldn’t keep to themselves even if they tried.

Entering the Bulb, the first statue you see is of a giant woman. With open arms, she greets you, ushering you through a maze of odd collections of meticulously twisted metal and drift wood.

Her face is weathered, pieced together with small nails dotting her proud looking face.

She is accompanied by a male figure, nearly as tall as his she is, along with a scrap metal samurai just returned from battle, a seagull carved out of drift wood, a wiry angel with a rose for a face and a dragon with a lingering tale and a stoic rider.

These sculptures line the western edge of the Bulb, as if keeping watch over its inhabitants. They are the glue between humans and nature at the Albany Bulb and the heart of the unique space its visitors love.

“The views are stunning, the waters of the bay are up close and personal, and the freedom for spontaneous interaction with the environment still rules,” Nielson said, who recommends the spot for anyone “interested in urban-nature interfacing.”

Nielson, recommends the spot for adventurers and art lovers, offering only the following advice:

“Just wear good shoes and an open mind!”

Albany Bulb is located on Buchanan St, Albany in the Alameda county of California 94706.

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