Cal Class Creates Self-Guided Interactive Tour of Albany Bulb

ALBANY – Every place has stories to tell, even a former junkyard turned into a park, as evidenced by a self-guided interactive tour of the Albany Bulb which debuted in April.

A bench pictured at Albany Bulb illustrates the shift to containerization at the Port of Oakland in the 1960s, which revolutionized global freight transportation. Students taking a spring class at UC Berkeley’s Future Stories Lab created a self-guided interactive tour of the Albany Bulb titled “Monument to Extraction: Walking California History at Albany Bulb.” (Chris Treadway / for Bay Area News Group)

The tour, known as “Monument to Extraction: Walking California History at the Albany Bulb” (, is the creation of students taking a spring course in UC Berkeley’s Future Stories Lab, taught by Susan Moffat. A former construction debris dump site may seem an unlikely candidate for an interpretive visit. The students found ample material, however, by scratching below the surface and looking around the man-made spit of land that stretches across San Francisco Bay north of Golden Gate Fields racetrack.

“The point is to imagine the future history,” Moffat said. “We want to tell the stories in particular of the East Bay and the Bay Area in general (related to larger and more personal contexts).”

The 12 students – nine undergraduates and three graduates – researched and created the multimedia tour this year from late January to early April. The tour incorporates little-known historical information about the site belonging to the city itself, its relationship to the history of neighboring areas and those of its panoramic view, linking them to immigration, development and social movements, between other components. The audio narration that guides visitors on the 2.5 km tour is enhanced by small, ephemeral works of art at each stop and mosaics that add “augmented reality” through historical photos or other imagery to view on a smartphone application.

“It was a semester, and they worked really fast,” Moffat said. “I’m really proud of them. They had so many pieces to put together and they rose to the challenge.

An art installation by Albany Bulb is dedicated to the Richmond Pressed Brick Mill, one of the many historic industries on the East Bay shoreline. (Chris Treadway / for Bay Area News Group)

The extraction theme was not chosen at random. This project is part of the worldwide series of environmental art exhibitions “Extraction: Art on the Edge of the Abyss” created around the world (, “which seeks to bring about societal change by exposing and questioning the negative social and environmental consequences of industrialized natural resource extraction”.

Stops in the Albany exhibit examine topics ranging from the deadly 19th-century dynamite-making to the oil refining that continues nearby today, immigration, food processing, construction of ‘highways and other areas.

“Everything, if it doesn’t grow out of the ground, comes from mining,” Moffat said. “We were looking at the hardware in the bulb itself and things like the Richmond Oil Refinery that you can see from there.”

As the founder of the community group Love the Bulb (, which “celebrates and protects the creative spirit” of the place, Moffat knows the history of the site and its surroundings well and has led many walks to share it.

“Some of the things I cover in my walks,” she said. “But the students came out and dug up information that I didn’t know. They added new layers of knowledge that they shared.

During an April beta test of a self-guided interactive tour of the Albany Bulb, attendees and tour creators discuss strengths and areas that could be improved. (Chris Treadway / for Bay Area News Group)

The bulb is owned and managed by the city, and discussions about integrating the site with the adjacent McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, managed by the East Bay Regional Park District, appear to have stalled. The city is including the light bulb in the main parks planning process that will take place this summer.

The light bulb has been known for years for the temporary and ever-changing works of art within it that are created from debris and garbage, from when a large homeless community moved in. installed on the site. Its artistry sets the Bulb apart from the waterfront state parks that stretch from Oakland to Richmond. The artistic installations of the tour were carried out in the same spirit.

“It’s kind of light bulb culture, people always do things for other people,” Moffat said. “It was a learning experience for the students about collaborative bulb culture. They had to figure out how to tell stories in public by making ephemeral art. I told the students, ‘Not everything you do is going to last forever. You’re going to have to let it go. “

Moffat fears losing this aspect of the site because it is part of the more standardized vision of regional parks.

“All of the interpretive signs that are there right now are about plants and animals, and that’s good, but there are other stories to tell,” she said.

Facilities in parks are “generally more permanent, like an interpretive sign, which can be informative but has limited content and not interactive,” Moffat said. “It doesn’t change much over time. It is better to have a lot of different stories about one place rather than just one story, because there isn’t a single correct story.

As Albany updates the city’s parks master plan, Moffat urges people to speak out for including the light bulb in planning, saying, “I think it deserves to be. took into consideration”.

The response to the tour has been positive, she said.

“I hope people come out and see it,” Moffat said. “The sculptures may or may not be there, but the audio tour will be online.”

She also hopes to see new tours in the future, whether created by her class or by others inspired to tell another story.

“There are so many other stories,” Moffat said. “Climate change, natural history, the history of Bulbe art, the people who lived there. The point is not just the story of the light bulb but really the whole world.

Chris Treadway is a former journalist, columnist and editor of the Bay Area News Group, specializing in community news and local history.

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