U.S. Rep Nancy Pelosi speaks during the 'Gifts to the Bridge' dedication ceremony at the Golden Gate Bridge on May 25

U.S. Rep Nancy Pelosi speaks during the 'Gifts to the Bridge' dedication ceremony at the Golden Gate Bridge on May 25

New Golden Gate Bridge visitor center unveiled for 75th anniversary

Orange — in the form of hats, scarves, clothing, shoes, earrings, sunglasses, nail polish and even lipstick — was the color of choice worn by many of the 400 guests attending a Golden Gate Bridge ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning.

The festivities unveiling new visitor facilities at the bridge also kicked off a weekend of celebrations marking the crossing's 75th anniversary.

Local, state and federal dignitaries — including San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — gathered at the bridge's southeast plaza, where newly constructed and renovated buildings were wrapped like presents in wide silver ribbons with bows.

Among the crowd was nonagenarian Gus Villalta, of Los Banos, who grew up in San Francisco and worked on the bridge's south tower as a teenager.

The guests of honor also included descendants of the men who built the bridge almost eight decades ago, such as Lucinda Hithcock Cone and Christine Steele Cone, granddaughters of Russell Cone, who supervised construction on the bridge through its completion in 1937.

The 1.7-mile-long Golden Gate Bridge was a structure that people said couldn't be built.

Brown and others spoke of the determination to build such an iconic structure.

Just one year into the Great Depression, in 1930, voters passed a $35 million bond measure to finance the bridge. Although the bridge was constructed in four years and five months, the last of its construction bonds were retired on July 1, 1971. Bridge tolls financed nearly all of the $35 million in principal and approximately $39 million in interest.

 “When we couldn't afford it, we built great monuments, which were great expressions of courage,” Brown said.

The bridge's legacy lives on, Pelosi said, thanks to federal stimulus dollars provided by President Obama as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“No matter how daunting and overwhelming an obstacle, America always invests in big and bold infrastructure,” she said.

Some of that money is paying for the new Presidio Parkway, the San Francisco approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, which Pelosi said is “enhancing what this bridge means to us and what it does for us.”

“This is a bridge we always want to strengthen,” she said.

Mayor Ed Lee noted that the bridge has continued to serve as “a symbol for progress, for growth and for continued innovation.”

All three elected officials — Lee, Brown and Pelosi — presented bridge officials with proclamations at the local, state and federal level declaring today be observed in the bridge's name.

The event concluded with the official opening of several bridge plaza buildings, some old — such as the renovated historic Roundhouse — and some new, such as the Bridge Pavilion Welcome Center.

Friday's event was only the beginning of the celebrations of the span's 75th birthday.

Sunday, tens of thousands of spectators are expected to gather along the city's northern shore between Fort Point and Marina Green.

Wayfinding towers and white tents had already been erected Friday in advance of the Golden Gate Festival, a 12-hour celebration that will feature music, art and dance and will culminate in a fireworks extravaganza.

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