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Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

When one thinks about the many iconic American landmarks, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is no doubt one of the most recognized. The Depression-era bridge’s soaring towers, sweeping cables and bright red-orange color are well-known across the globe, playing a significant role in the San Francisco landscape for 75 years.

The Golden Gate Bridge has been dubbed one of the world’s most beautiful and most photographed bridges by a long list of notable resources and was declared by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World – a tribute to the 20th century’s greatest civil engineering feats.

To commemorate the bridge’s 75th anniversary this May, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, in conjunction with the National Park Service and the Presidio Trust, are hosting a year-long anniversary celebration featuring exhibits, lectures, performances, contests and more. The list of festivities in 2012 comprises the 75 Tributes to the Bridge, a Community Partners Program, which brings a number of organizations together to honor the engineering marvel that is the Golden Gate Bridge.

For its 50th anniversary in 1987, the District closed off the bridge to automobile traffic for several hours and welcomed approximately 300,000 pedestrians to walk across the span as a reenactment of the original Pedestrian Day, May 27, 1937. While the 75th anniversary celebration will not include a Bridge Walk, it will feature an assortment of exciting events.

The cornerstone of the festivities is the Golden Gate Festival centered at Crissy Field on the anniversary weekend of May 26-27, 2012. The two-day diamond jubilee will recall the story of the Golden Gate Bridge and provide a forum for the entire community to celebrate, complete with displays of artifacts and memorabilia, as well as a surprise grand finale.

Golden Gate History

Another special element of the 75th anniversary is the transformation of the visitors’ experience. For the first time ever, through Park Conservancy “Leaving a Legacy” gift to the bridge, the south side visitor plaza will see major changes, which are underway now and funded through private sources. Project plans include the addition of a new, 3,500-square-foot Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion with interpretive displays, memorabilia and merchandise, as well as updated gathering spaces, new guided walking tours, outdoor exhibits, new overlooks on the west side and improved signage, trails and parking. In addition, the historic Round House (currently home to the gift shop) will be transformed into program space and the Bridge Café will undergo various updates.

The year 2012 is certainly the “Year of the Golden Gate Bridge” in San Francisco. For details and updates regarding the 75th Anniversary celebrations, visit www.goldengatebridge75.org or follow on Facebook and Twitter @GGB75.


The 1.7-mile-long suspension bridge, which is encompassed on each side by the beautiful Golden Gate National Parks, opened to motorists on May 28, 1937, to the delight of many who advocated for its creation. Previously, the only short route between Marin County and San Francisco was the ferry service, which began as early as 1820. With a growing regional population and increased use of automobiles, the need for an easier link was necessary.

While the idea for a connector bridge over the Golden Gate Strait (the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean) was not a new one, a 1916 proposal published in the San Francisco Bulletin sparked major interest. The article caught the attention of San Francisco City Engineer Michael M. O’Shaughnessy. Although World War I put a damper on any plans for constructing a bridge, the thought never traveled far from O’Shaughnessy’s mind.

It was just a couple of years later, in August 1919, that City officials formally asked O’Shaughnessy to explore the options for a bridge. Most engineers that O’Shaughnessy consulted were not so optimistic about the feasibility of a bridge over the Golden Gate Strait, estimating prices to soar well over $100 million. But not everyone thought it was a costly impossibility. One ambitious engineer came forward with a plan that not only would achieve a formidable bridge across the strait, but achieve a formidable bridge for much less than $100+ million. This bold engineer was Joseph Baermann Strauss.

Golden Gate Construction

O’Shaughnessy asked Strauss to put together a more detailed plan for the bridge. Strauss worked tirelessly on his vision, submitting his preliminary sketches for a symmetrical cantilever-suspension hybrid bridge to the City on June 28, 1921. It took O’Shaughnessy and the City approximately one and a half years to release the design to the public. During this waiting period, Strauss invested much time promoting the idea and design of the bridge throughout northern California. This paid off because once the design became public knowledge in December 1922, there was little opposition – except for the San Francisco press who called the design “ugly.”

On January 13, 1923, the Bridging the Golden Gate Association was formed to oversee the promotion of the bridge. Working with California Legislation, the association spearheaded the idea of creating a special district of the State of California – the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District – to manage the planning, financing, design and construction of the bridge. While many counties opted out, San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Del Norte and parts of Napa and Mendocino counties ultimately voted to form the Bridge and Highway District. After dealing with heated opposition from ferry companies and other special interest groups, Bridge supporters prevailed, and on December 4, 1928, a special district, comprised of six member counties, was incorporated by legislature as the sole entity responsible for the final design, construction and financing of a bridge.

Joseph B. Strauss was named the project’s chief engineer in 1929. Strauss continued his promotion of the span and the need for voters to support the bond election to see it built. In November 1930, voters passed a $35 million bond issue to fund the bridge’s construction (which, at this time, was estimated to cost $27 million). But the bridge’s future remained uncertain as the district found itself dealing with litigation brought on by businessmen, professionals, taxpayers, investment banks and other entities that opposed its construction. After more than two years in the courts, the district prevailed, and after finalizing plans, construction on the suspension bridge began on January 5, 1933.

The groundbreaking ceremony, which was held on February 26, 1933, at nearby Crissy Field, welcomed more than 100,000 people and lasted several hours. Included were a parade, a Navy plane formation overhead, an 80-foot-long replica bridge, speeches from Governor Rolph, San Francisco Mayor Rossi and District Board President Filmer, and the reading of a congratulatory telegram from President Herbert Hoover.

Golden Gate Bridge

It took just over four years to build the Golden Gate Bridge. The last of the bridge roadway was officially finished on April 19, 1937. The newly opened Golden Gate Bridge totaled 1.7 miles or 8,981 feet in length; the main span (the section between the two 746-foot-tall towers) at 4,200 feet was the longest ever to be built. Today the bridge ranks 9th in the world when it comes to the length of the main span.

Opening festivities for the new marvel began May 27th, lasting for an entire week. Fiesta Week, as it was known, began at 6 a.m. that first day with the opening of the bridge exclusively to pedestrians. It is said that approximately 15,000 people an hour passed through the turnstiles to get on the bridge – with an estimated total of 200,000 participants that day. Other activities included a nightly pageant at Crissy Field, parades, fireworks, contests and plenty of entertainment.

The Art Deco-style bridge quickly became a landmark not only for San Francisco, but the world. It is regarded among one of the world’s most beautiful bridges and a top tourist destination, bringing in millions of visitors each year.

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