Beginning in 1963, the bulb was a landfill owned by the City of Albany. The landfill operated as a dumping site for construction debris until 1984, when the community worked to establish the area as a public park – but the space was closed off in 1987, stuck in a series of lawsuits. Since then, the bulb has fallen out of the city’s control, with the expansive size and lack of accessibility making it difficult for police to patrol. As a result, the bulb has acquired a homeless population over the years, which the City of Albany has tried in varying degrees to remove. After a mass eviction in 1999, a film called Bum’s Paradise was created, inspired by the bulb. Later, in 2013, one of the bulb’s former residents created a film about the bulb himself, called Where Do YOU Go When It Rains?.
This rampant homelessness has contributed to the bulb’s reputation for anarchy, combined with the presence of people looking to avoid getting caught with illegal substances, spray painters looking for something to paint, and other people looking for a place to let their dogs run free. As far as wildlife is concerned, there are a number of geese, ducks, and other animals inhabiting the bulb, in addition to palm trees and blackberry bushes.
In spite of this seeming chaos, or perhaps because of it, there is a creative spirit that thrives on the island. A variety of artistic works have been contributed to the island, including sculptures and graffiti art. The art includes driftwood sculptures, a dragon, a sea witch, a concrete television, and a graffittied concrete shelter called The Castle. In past years, there was a thriving ‘Landfill Library,’ filled with around 300 books that were free to borrow or even keep. The library burned down at the beginning of 2014. There have been a number of informal cultural events hosted on the bulb as well, including a series of concerts and even a production of The Tempest.
Today, there is talk of turning the bulb into part of the adjacent McLaughlin Eastshore State park, which would include clearing the park of its artworks and homeless residents, as well as enforcing the requirement to have dogs on leashes. If you want to explore the bulb as it is, in all its chaotic character, you may need to act fast. Visit the bulb to take a hike along the Albany Waterfront Trail, and bring your dog if you are so inclined. As you explore the island, look out for its remaining artworks, many of which are on the north side of the island. Come in the evening for a chance to catch a spectacular sunset view overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and various parts of the bay.