HISTORY OF THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
This week we celebrate the 82nd 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 place where it is located is called the Golden Gate Strait. The “Golden Gate” refers to San Francisco Bay as the gateway to the gold fields 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 International Highway 101 (and Pacific Coast Highway 1). 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 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), Fantastic Four (2005), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), and Godzilla (2014).
The fact that Star Trek‘s United Federation of Planets’ Starfleet Academy is (will be) located in San Francisco, the bridge appears in Star Trek IV, Star Trek VI, Deep Space 9, Star Trek Generations, Star Trek (reboot), and Star Trek Into Darkness.
May the Golden Gate Bridge live long and prosper.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian