HISTORY OF THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
This week we celebrate the 83rd anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. On May 27, 1937, the bridge opened to traffic after taking over five years to build. I remember asking my father when I was young:
“Why isn’t the Golden Gate Bridge golden?”
He didn’t have an answer, other than his observation that it was expensive to paint.
What he didn’t know is that the steel for the bridge, which came from Bethlehem Steel foundries in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, originally came coated with a red led primer. Color studies by consulting architect Irving Morrow arrived upon what’s now become known as Golden Gate Bridge International Orange, a unique “red terra cotta” version of the International Orange standard. But there were other competitors, as pictured above. “Warm grey” was a distant second choice. If you like the color, you can obtain it from Sherwin Williams, the supplier as “Firewood” (color code SW 6328).
There is a reason the Golden Gate Bridge is not golden: the area is not named after the bridge, the bridge is named after the area. The place where it is located is called the Golden Gate Strait. The “Golden Gate” refers to San Francisco Bay as the gateway to the goldfields where gold was discovered in North-central California at Sutter’s Mill on January 24, 1848, resulting in a gold rush in 1849 (hence, the name of the San Francisco 49ers sports team.)
The mile-long expanse is the main north-south bridge connecting San Francisco to Marin County in Northern California, along U.S. Route 101 (in some places called El Camino Real). It is the most photographed bridge in the world. When it opened in 1937, it was the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world. It’s the logo on my home page of billpetro.com.
History of Construction
To replace the ferry service between San Francisco and Marin County, a bridge was proposed, but it was though to cost an estimated $100 million — about $2.3 billion today — and was not thought feasible. Joseph Strauss, engineer, and poet proposed that it could be built for $17 million. Local city authorities approved, pending input from others on the design. It would take over a decade for Strauss to gain support and funding. Railroads opposed it as they owned the ferry concession, while the automobile industry supported it. While he was known as chief engineer, much credit goes to Charles Alton Ellis, though his work was not honored until 2012.
The Bay Area computer and networking company Cisco, which I used to work for, gets its name from San Francisco and its logo from the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Golden Gate Bridge is a famous landmark for films, from 1941’s Maltese Falcon to Vertigo in 1958, to the James Bond View to a Kill in 1985. A favorite motif in several of these movies is cars and buses being stranded amidst destruction: Superman (1978), The Abyss (1989), Fantastic Four (2005), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), and Godzilla (2014).
The fact that Star Trek‘s United Federation of Planets’ Starfleet Academy is located in San Francisco — or at least will be in the 23rd century — means that the Golden Gate Bridge appears in several of the films and television.
Notable TV shows: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek Generations, Enterprise, the new Picard, and the recent Star Trek: Discovery.
Indeed, on a plaque on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise reads that the ship was constructed in the San Francisco Shipyards, like its nautical predecessors.
May the Golden Gate Bridge live long and prosper.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian