The Golden Gate Bridge is recognized across the world as an icon of substance and beauty, and with good reason. Joseph B. Strauss’ modern wonder of engineering is as much a sculpture — with its art deco accouterments and tremendous towers that seem to disappear into the heavens — as it is an essential means of travel.
Set amid a breathtaking natural backdrop, the Golden Gate Bridge lures in an estimated 10 million visitors each year with its understated elegance that reflects Irving Morrow’s unique architectural vision of 1930s San Francisco. Now, upon its 70th anniversary — it opened for vehicular traffic on May 28, 1937 — what exactly continues to give the bridge its certain mystique?
“There’s no one answer,” says Mary Currie, public affairs director of the Golden Gate Bridge. “Certainly, the sheer magnitude of its beauty as an environmental sculpture is part of it. But I also think it’s because it’s seen as a symbol of West Coast ingenuity and progress. It was built in the Great Depression by the people, and since day one there has been this strong public ownership of it.”
“The bridge’s design is unlike any other bridge I’ve seen before,” says Darrin Alfred, assistant curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Alfred explains that when Morrow was designing the bridge, he used art deco motifs such as vertical fluting to capture light in such a way that it would cast an array of dramatic shadows, which changed people’s perspective of the structure and gave it an interactive appeal.
With the windswept Marin Headlands to the north and the urban landscape of San Francisco to the south, the Golden Gate Bridge is also revered for its seamless environmental placement and color selection.
Morrow’s choice of the vermillion paint known as international orange blends effortlessly against the coastal backdrop, as opposed to the dull gray and striped yellow and black colors that were once considered.
Denis Mulligan, chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, says the bridge’s fit with the environment and the spectacular views it offers are what make it such a success.
Beyond the design and natural surroundings, the Golden Gate Bridge is distinctly San Franciscan simply because of the connection locals have with it. It’s more than a beautiful structure — it’s an experience.
“It’s not uncommon for people to have this emotional connection with the bridge. I think it’s part of the experience, which is different every time. Just last week I was driving in a convertible and looking up at the spires and it was totally sunny. I looked back at The City and five minutes later the fog was starting to roll in and it was just spectacular. It was such a unique and spellbinding experience,” says Joe D’Alessandro, president of San Francisco’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Secrets of the span: Golden Gate Bridge facts and figures
WHY THE NAME GOLDEN GATE?
The Golden Gate Strait is the entrance to the Bay from the Pacific Ocean. It is generally accepted that the strait was named Chrysopylae, or Golden Gate, by John C. Fremont, captain, Topographical Engineers of the U.S. Army, circa 1846. It reminded him of a harbor in Istanbul named Chrysoceras, or Golden Horn.
WHY IS THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE PAINTED INTERNATIONAL ORANGE?
The Golden Gate Bridge has always been painted orange vermilion, deemed international orange. Rejecting carbon black and steel gray, consulting architect Irving Morrow selected the distinctive orange color because it blends well with the span’s natural setting, as it is a warm color consistent with the warm colors of landmasses in the surrounding area and distinct from the cool colors of the sky and sea. It also provides enhanced visibility for passing ships. If the U.S. Navy had its way, the bridge might have been painted in black and yellow stripes to assure even greater visibility for passing ships.
CAN I PAINT MY LIVING ROOM THE SAME COLOR AS THE BRIDGE?
Sure. Your paint store can mix it with the following information: The PMS code is 173, and the CMYK colors are: C = Cyan: 0 percent, M = Magenta: 69 percent, Y = Yellow: 100 percent, K = Black: 6 percent
HOW OFTEN IS THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE PAINTED?
Many misconceptions exist about how often the bridge is painted. Some say once every seven years, others say from end-to-end each year. Actually, the bridge now requires routine touch-up painting on an ongoing basis.
WHAT WOULD IT COST TO BUILD THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE TODAY?
About $1.2 billion in 2003 dollars
WHERE WAS THE STEEL FABRICATED?
The fabricated steel used in construction was manufactured by Bethlehem Steel in plants in Trenton, N.J., and Sparrows Point, Md., and in plants in three Pennsylvania towns: Bethlehem, Pottstown and Steelton.
HOW MANY RIVETS ARE THERE IN EACH GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE TOWER?
HOW MANY IRONWORKERS AND PAINTERS MAINTAIN THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE?
Seventeen ironworkers and 38 painters battle wind, sea air and fog, often suspended high above the Golden Gate, to repair corroding steel and paint the bridge.
WHAT’S THE HALFWAY-TO-HELL CLUB?
The most conspicuous precaution during construction was the safety net, suspended under the floor of the bridge from end to end. During construction, the net saved the lives of 19 men who became known as the “Halfway-to-Hell Club.”
HOW MANY VEHICLES HAVE CROSSED THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE?
As of June 2005, 1,779,032,891 vehicles had crossed the Golden Gate Bridge (includes northbound and southbound) since its opening in 1937.
– Source: Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District
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