Bayview community members hooked a fish too big to throw back. “The Red Fish” was installed in Bayview Gateway Park, located at Third Street and Cargo Way, from 2007 to 2014. The sculpture was removed to make room for the Blue Greenway Project, a 13-mile landscape expansion sponsored by the Port of San Francisco, which stretches from South Park to Bayview-Hunters Point. Recently, art advocates succeeded in liberating the piece from storage and relocating it to India Basin.
William Wareham created the nearly four-ton artwork at the Hunters Point Shipyard in 2006. Wareham was an early member of the Hunters Point artist community, landing at the Shipyard in 1983 and remaining there until he was dislocated by development in 2016.
“Bayview-Hunters Point has a rich history of art and industrious creativity…residents initially commissioned the Fish sculpture for temporary placement at the prominent intersection at Third Street and Cargo Way, a critical geographical link between Potrero Hill/Dogpatch and the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods.” said Revere Street resident Dan Dodt, who serves as president of the Bayview Historical Society (BHS), a public benefit organization formed in 2004 which led efforts to return the artwork to Bayview. “The sculpture remained at the Gateway for seven years and was subsequently removed to support the construction of the Bayview Gateway Park as a portion of the Blue Greenway and Bay Trail extension. Almost immediately after the Fish was put ‘on ice’ a number of Bayview residents organized to retain the sculpture in Bayview as a permanent feature. As William Wareham is an early and original member of the Hunters Point Shipyard Artist Colony at The Point, realizing this continuity for a local, Bayview-base artist and member of the pioneering efforts of the largest art colony in the country is fundamental to the effort.”
After it was removed from its location near the Illinois Street bridges the sculpture was stored at Pier 70, out of public view. “There was no plan for its landing,” said Dodt, who secured letters of support to reinstall the artwork from then District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen, among others. A search for a new, permanent, location was launched.
“It took longer to work its way through the mechanization of City planning than expected,” said Dodt, who emphasized that BHS’ administrative work to support the restoration effort was done pro bono.
Wareham wasn’t involved in efforts to find a new home for the piece but did help move it. “I know people with cranes,” he said. He expressed gratitude that the Port of SF had found a place to store it after it was removed from its original location. “It might have been too tall to fit through the Treasure Island tunnel, so we would have had to go the long way around to move it out here. I’m glad it didn’t get cut up and recycled.”
The sculpture has been reinstalled at 780 Innes Avenue, along an original stretch of San Francisco Bay shoreline, on property owned by Build, Inc., fifteen acres of land planned to be developed as a mix of commercial, residential, and open space.
Half-a-dozen site locations had been considered as homes of the sculpture, each of which proved to be unworkable. The Bayview Opera House is being renovated; the sculpture would have interfered with ongoing construction. India Basin Park’s slopes were sufficiently steep that grading wouldn’t have allowed the artwork to have a solid foundation. At Mendell Plaza it’d have been an obstruction that interfered with the public right of way.
Wareham hasn’t seen the new site except in photographs, but noted that the images reveal that it has, “Far away horizons, indicating lots of space, which is what a lot of my work is about. A lot of my work deals with negative spaces, open spaces. The new, flatter location also allows the silver color to reflect back at the sun, giving it prominence. The tilt at Third and Cargo pushed it forward, giving it a stage like feeling.”
Locating the piece in Bayview is fitting, recalling the area’s former incarnation as a fishing village, and serves as a way to honor early Ohlone, who searched for shellfish, along with other past residents of the area, including 19th century Chinese shrimpers, Scandinavian fisherman and Gulf Coast natives who relocated to the area in the mid-twentieth century and continued the neighborhood’s angling tradition. It’s also meant to call attention to the effects of climate change and how it’s impacted people who depend on seafood as a resource.
Now living on a former dairy farm in Shasta County which has “inspired views of Mount Shasta,” Wareham credited this vision of the sculpture’s significance to Dodt. “I like the idea of reaching into history and acknowledging it and then moving past it and continuing forward.”
An art reception celebrating The Big Fish will be held at Café Alma, 880 Innes Avenue, October 10 from 4 to 6 p.m.