San Francisco native William Fries comes from a long line of philanthropists. His mother and father were both well known in the City by the Bay—his mother a famous beauty, and both parents known for their civic pride and generosity. I’m continuing their legacy, says Bill, and we concur. His most recent act of generosity adds both personal meaning and civic connectivity to the Exploratorium’s new waterfront site on the Embarcadero.
The Exploratorium’s new campus at Piers 15 and 17 sparked Bill’s imagination long before construction began. I’ve always been passionate about the richness and diversity of the natural environment in our fair city, he says. I remember fishing on the bay with my father—so it’s part of our family’s history, and the city’s history, as well.
In honor of that shared history, a new pedestrian bridge, situated between Piers 15 and 17 at the Exploratorium’s new campus, has been made possible by Bill’s generosity. The bridge will span a swath of San Francisco Bay that was previously covered by a 1950s-era parking lot. Most telling, however, may be the fact that the plaque that will grace the new structure pays tribute to his family: his mother, Helen Baddeley, his father, Frank H. Fries, Sr., and his younger brother, Frank H. Fries, Jr., along with himself, William Fries II.
The new footbridge is one of a pair spanning open-water areas that will make up part of the public-access plazas and promenades at the Exploratorium’s new site. Bill’s bridge will not only provide the public with unobstructed views out to San Francisco Bay and Treasure Island, it will also allow visitors to feel how literally the museum’s new campus teeters between a world-class city and the largest bay in the state.
The museum’s new location appealed to me most of all, says Bill, because I know it’s going to be one of the must-sees in this new world. A self-professed supporter of the sciences and an advocate of the aggressive sustainability goals of the new campus, Bill’s support for the project is evident on many fronts. I just think it’s terrific what they’re doing. And they didn’t have to push me at all to contribute, he laughs, though I may have had to push some people out of the way.
Bill is asked how he thinks his family would feel if they could be here today, to see the bridge dedicated to them—a bridge that, in the years to come, will echo with the footsteps of native San Franciscans and visitors from all over the world. For a moment, Bill seems to be fighting back tears. Then he recovers, saying, I think they would be very proud.