Nightly News   |  March 06, 2013

Bay Bridge transformed after years in the shadows

For 75 years the Golden Gate Bridge got all of the attention in the San Francisco bay area, but now – thanks to artist Leo Villareal – the Bay Bridge is resplendent, awash in 25,000 white bulbs. NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez reports.

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>>> finally tonight, san francisco is beautiful pretty much any day from any angle. and the golden gate bridge is really the symbol that has come to define the place. but then there's that other, much larger bridge, the bay bridge , that's been kind of an industrial-looking little brother all these years. well, it just entered a new era. our report tonight from nbc's gabe gutierrez.

>> 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!

>> reporter: this was no ordinary countdown. it was the end of 75 years in the shadows.

>> beautiful!

>> oh, wow!

>> reporter: last night, san francisco 's bay bridge transformed into what's being billed as the world's largest l.e.d. light sculpture.

>> it's beautiful!

>> yeah, it's really well-done.

>> they're gorgeous, amazing, kind of breathtaking.

>> reporter: the bay bridge opened to much fanfare in 1936 .

>> it was recognized as an engineering marvel and an amazing american feat as we were coming through the great depression.

>> reporter: but six months later, the flashier golden gate bridge came along with its red-painted steel, and it swiped all the attention. ever since, though, it carries more than twice as much annual traffic. the bay bridge has wallowed in drab obscurity. known as little more than a bad place to be in an earthquake.

>> the upper deck collapsing.

>> reporter: to finally change that, enter artistlio vilareal. for his latest project called the bay lights, he is using 25,000 white bulbs, controlled on his laptop.

>> the inspiration comes from all the kinetic activity found around the bridge, the movement of water, traffic.

>> reporter: the cost to install and operate the display over the next two years is an estimated $8 million, paid for by private donors here in the bay area . at chia brasserie, it was a full house . the manager hopes the added exposure lights up his business.

>> bringing some tourists into the area. it's just -- the potential is endless, really.

>> reporter: in a city that prides itself on bright ideas, this one stands out. gabe gutierrez, nbc news, san francisco .