■ Using recycled materials, Benician Frellsen Powell constructs exact replicas of the iconic Golden Gate span
By David Ryan Palmer
IT’S AN ICON KNOWN AROUND THE WORLD. When anyone thinks of the Bay Area, they inevitably think of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Frellsen Powell, 66 “but not a day over 16,” remembers the first time he saw it.
“I was in the Navy, aboard the Coral Sea in the ’60s and ’70s,” he said Thursday at his Benicia home.
“The first time we pulled out on the Coral Sea — my God, you just get out there and under that thing, and it was amazing.”
Powell told himself then that he would build a model of the famous bridge.
But as happens all too often with lofty ambitions, real life intervened.
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FORTY YEARS LATER, Powell was reminded of his vow on a trip to Benicia’s Post Office.
“I was at the old Post Office in Benicia, and this poster of the bridge blew over at me and landed face-up on my shoes,” he said.
Then and there, he was inspired to finally create his version of the iconic landmark.
He got started on his birthday last year, Sept. 17, and dedicated as many as 18 hours a day to the project using scrap pieces of wood and metal.
“Most of it is driftwood that I pick up wandering the beaches of Benicia and Vallejo,” Powell said.
“There are also metal rivets and fasteners, and I used masonry twine for the vertical cables.”
About five months later, in February, the Golden Gate Bridge — resplendent in its famous orange vermilion — was finished.
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DRIVING DOWN MILITARY EAST, locals can sometimes catch a glimpse of the 11-foot, 6-and-a-half-inch-long, 3-foot-tall model as it sits atop Powell’s mobile home near East Seventh Street.
Powell seems almost embarrassed by all the attention the model has brought him.
“I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” he said.
“I took it up on the roof so I could get it up over the fences and other roofs for a photo. I chased a cloud for three days and three nights!
“Painters can just paint a sunset at midnight if they want to, but us photographers, we have to wait and work for it.”
The effort must have sparked something inside Powell because after finishing the bridge, he wanted to do more.
He has finished a second replica of the famed span and is in the process of building another — though after that Powell said he’s going to take a break from all the bridge building.
“I’ve got some summer gardening to do,” he said.
It may be his baby but Powell is looking for a home for the bridge on his roof; he’s not adverse to selling it. He just doesn’t have the room in his modest place for such a large model.
Interested buyers can reach him at 707-745-5825.
“It’s been sitting on top of my fridge and cabinets, which is why I had to take it to the roof for a picture,” he said.
“The final resting place of this thing is that it should be suspended from the ceiling or up off the ground somehow,” he said.
“I spent a long time on it — and the other two — and now it’s time to do something else.”