Four generations of Bay Area bridge builders remembered

August 30, 2013 8:25:35 PM PDT
They're the first family of Bay Area bridge builders. Claiming four generations, the Zampa's have been watching the transition from the old to new Bay Bridge as closely as anyone. The family has come full circle. Late patriarch Albert Zampa was an ironworker on the bridges in the 1920s, while his great grandson worked on the new Bay Bridge.

In the 1920s when Al Zampa first went to work on the old Carquinez Bridge, he was just a young man from Crockett looking for a good job.

"At 27 he started on the first Carquinez Bridge, working there, just doing anything, and then got into the structural steel part and loved it," said his son, Dick Zampa.

When Al and his fellow ironworkers worked on the Carquinez in 1927, they were untethered, untied to the structure in any way.

"What was the old rule of thumb, uh, I don't know who quoted it, but for every million dollars you lose a person," Dick said.

After the Carquinez Bridge, Al went to Oakland to work on the Bay Bridge. Soon after, he joined a crew that was building the area's signature span -- the Golden Gate. It's a move that almost cost him his life.

"They had the net but they allowed it to sag into the dirt so when he hit, he hit the full force," Dick said. "He went into St. Luke's Hospital and that's where they formed that Halfway to Hell Club, the people that fell and lived."

Bridge building and ironworking were not only Al Zampa's passions, they became his legacy; passed on to three generations of Zampa men that followed.

That includes great grandson Johnny Zampa, who worked on the new Bay Bridge.

"For a lot of people it's not glamorous but it's what I love, and what we love," said Al's grandson, Don Zampa.

Al Zampa died in 2000 at the age of 95, six weeks after the groundbreaking for the new Carquinez Bridge named in his honor, and two years before construction began on the new Bay Bridge.

Laura: "Are you going to miss the Bay Bridge?"
Dick: "Ah, not really. I mean, it's just part of what we do."
Laura: "Are you going to be sorry to see it come down?"
Don: "Nah, we're ready for a new one. That new one is beautiful. I think it's time."

They think Al would agree.


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