Monday, 03 October 2011 23:00
For almost 75 years, the Golden Gate Bridge has been a regional icon and a national landmark, so celebrating the 75th anniversary of the bridge on May 27, 2012, can’t be just another party. Although many details aren’t yet final, initial plans indicate that it will be much, much more.
To make the anniversary fun, educational, and memorable, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District has teamed up with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, in cooperation with the National Park Service and the Presidio Trust. This collaboration comes in part because “the District has committed to using no toll dollars on the 75th anniversary observances,” according to Public Affairs Director Mary Currie.
The biggest commemorative event will start on Saturday, May 26, the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend. A festival planned for Crissy Field will include “a laid-back day full of family activities focused on education, recreation, and excitement,” according to Currie. “Sunday is the big day, but plans haven’t yet been revealed,” she said, although she did confirm that no bridge walk is planned. Preliminary reports indicate there will be “a spectacular nighttime grand finale” visible from around the Bay and broadcast on the Internet.
Getting ready for a big occasion usually involves some dressing up. For the bridge, this will include a number of improvements to the southeast visitors plaza. The most noticeable of these will be a new Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion to welcome visitors with interpretive exhibits and high-quality merchandise. Currie said, “It will be a real enhancement for our 10 million visitors each year.”
The Conservancy, which was also responsible for the restoration of Crissy Field, has described the pavilion as “our gift to the landmark.” Surrounding the pavilion will be a restructured parking lot, improved landscaping to enhance vistas, and new signage for hikers and bikers using the bridge. The Conservancy’s Veda Banerjee said that “new overlooks and restored trails leading to the bridge are also planned,” and work on all these improvements has already commenced.
Currie described the bridge/trail relationship as a “bridge to national parks” because of the parks on each end of the bridge.
Plans for celebrating the anniversary are also bubbling up around the Bay Area, as 75 community partners will add their own activities, events, and observances to the calendar for the anniversary year. Selected through a call for proposals to the Parks Conservancy, the full list of the partners will be announced in October. It will include civic, cultural, and educational organizations such as the Marin Symphony, the Orchid Society at Fort Mason, and the California Historical Society.
Each partner will be enacting “a tribute honoring the bridge in their own way in their own venue,” as Currie put it, creating 75 different ways in which people will be reminded about the 75th anniversary. These activities will be self-funded by the sponsoring organizations, and most of them will take place before and after the 2012 Memorial Day weekend. There will be an online calendar of the events that are being planned all through the year for both the 75th anniversary of the bridge and then the 40th anniversary of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
It would actually be possible to have planned a series of anniversary events beginning in January 2008, 75 years after the start of construction in 1933, or even earlier. A District timeline (viewable online at www.goldengatebridge.org/research/dates.php) describes the many years of planning which led up to that date, from the first proposal in 1916 and authorization of preliminary exploration in 1919, to the formation of the original Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District in 1928 and the selection of Joseph B. Strauss as the engineer in 1929.
Almost exactly two months after Strauss was chosen came the stock market crash of 1929. Despite this, dedication ceremonies were held in December of 1929 at both ends of the bridge site as the initial test borings were made. At that point, it must have appeared to casual observers that everything came to a halt, but engineers were actually working at full tilt on designs and the new bridge district was obtaining financing. Voters in the six counties of the district — San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, and Del Norte, along with parts of Mendocino and Napa — approved the issue of bridge bonds in November 1930. Those bonds were finally retired 41 years later, having cost $35 million in principal and $39 million in interest, and paid completely by bridge tolls.
Almost two years after the beginning of construction in January 1933, the Marin tower was completed in November 1934, followed by the San Francisco tower. In June 1936 the suspended structure was begun. Photos from this period show sections of roadway hanging from the towers, with the signature main cables already in place. Those sections were joined in November 1936 and paving was completed a month before the bridge was opened. May 27, 1937 was “Pedestrian Day” on the bridge. Vehicular traffic was allowed the following day. Although the four years of construction no doubt seemed very long to many who were waiting for the link between San Francisco and the northern counties, the bridge actually opened ahead of schedule — and under budget.
With approximately six months left before the 75th anniversary weekend in May 2012, plans resemble those photos of the partially completed bridge — the structure of the celebration is clear but there are many details to be filled in, as well as opportunities to become involved. Right now the place to go is www.goldengatebridge75.org, the 75th anniversary Web site, where photographers from around the world are posting bridge photos, and the details of events and committees are being updated regularly. Anniversary plans, along with bridge history and trivia, are also being shared through social media platforms, including a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ggb75) and Twitter feed (@GGB75). In August, as a sort of rolling happy anniversary card, a bus covered with a mural of the bridge by the well-known environmental artist George Sumner began running on Golden Gate Transit routes.
Everyone is invited to this party, and it’s starting now.
Golden Gate Bridge Trivia
Engineer Joseph B. Strauss patented the hybrid cantilever-suspension design of the bridge, receiving Patent #1,453,084 in 1923.
A permit to build the bridge had to be obtained from the federal War Department, owner of the land on both ends of the proposed bridge.
During the ceremony to mark completion of the bridge’s construction, the ceremonial golden rivet disintegrated the moment after it was driven into place.
Although Strauss was the engineer, credit for the Art Deco tower design, the burnt-orange color, and the dramatic lighting belongs to Irving Morrow, a San Francisco architect.
Fog horns on the bridge were on for 170 hours in August 2011, but the record was 216 hours in September 1944.