The Albany Bulb: Fighting for Expression, Housing,
and the right to Community Continuity

by Vee Rodrigues

Since at least the 1970s, the Albany Bulb has been an outdoor guerrilla art museum and homeless community in the San Francisco Bay Area, adjacent to Berkeley. The Bulb is a peninsula, jutting out into the Bay itself, directly across from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. It is located on the unceded land of the indigenous Coast Miwok and Ohlone people.

The Albany Bulb's site is a former garbage dump which became overgrown with trees and shrubbery. There were massive outdoor art sculptures made out of trash from the landfill; these included a small cement ‘castle’, a skate ramp/orchestra pit, and a community library. All built by individual community members with no external funding. All of these photos are of friends and family; the black and white photos were taken around 2007, and the color photos around 2010.

I spent much of my young life in this park. I once encountered people setting up a 10 foot long Narwhal replica who were having trouble keeping it upright on wooden pegs. The Albany Bulb has brutal ocean winds, as it sits across from the Golden Gate strait which opens directly into the Pacific Ocean. I asked if they needed any help, and they jokingly said “Yeah, if you see someone with a bunch of cement, let us know!”

Deeper in the park that same day, I found another group of people with a cement mixer making a skate ramp/orchestra pit – “This part of the park is a natural bowl and has great acoustics!” A bizarre coincidence – but the spirit of community art activated our hive minds, and the Narwhal stood strong!

With increasing gentrification, the formerly industrial, racially mixed, low/median income area, now houses some of the most expensive real estate in the world. In 2013, the city of Albany decided that it would turn the Albany Bulb into an official, city sanctioned park. This involved evicting the 50 homeless people who lived there and destroying all the art and structures.

This was to make it "friendlier" and "safer" for the recent wealthier, whiter, arrivals. These folks like taking their dogs for walks there, but don't like to be confronted with the fact that there's a massive housing affordability problem in the Bay Area that they help to exacerbate. These same folks often express a love for artistic events like Burning Man and ‘street art’, but seemingly only if it’s in an obscenely overpriced gallery, or commissioned on the wall of a vegan cafe.

There was organizing to prevent the destruction of the Albany Bulb for the rights of the people living there to remain, or for the city to provide stable, long term housing for the residents.

Vee in their natural habitat.

Neither goal was achieved. There was police and vigilante violence against organizers and the homeless folks (including the police killing the dogs of Bulb residents), ‘mysterious’ fires that burned down homes, the ‘library’, and other structures. There have been proposals for a shopping center and hotel to be built on the site, but it seems that it will remain a public park for the time being.

Some of the giant sculptures still remain, and people still return to the Albany Bulb to make unsanctioned art projects. The Albany Bulb continues to stand as our community's testament to the power and pleasure of truly public art, and to our history of fighting for the rights of the homeless and marginalized.

For more information, you can view "Where Do You Go When It Rains?", a movie about the Albany Bulb created by a former homeless resident. Available here.

Vee Rodrigues

Author They/Them

Artist and self proclaimed Super Freak, Vee Rodrigues was born and raised on Ohlone land in Oakland, California. They are a queer, disabled chicanx activist, and their passions lie in exploring the joy and pain their communities experience. Vee has been living on unceded Wurundjeri land since 2013.

After two pirate radio shows in California, they have recently launched their third audio program, “Felony Frequency”; a podcast on mental health, disability, race, class and intersectional social justice, from a rat bag’s perspective. You can see more of their photography and other visual art on their social media linked below.

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