Sunday 27 May 2012

There's a Silver Moon on the Golden Gate

Photo of Golden Gate Bridge on opening day in 1937 courtesy

At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.*

*An excerpt from "The Mighty Task is Done" by Joseph Strauss.

On May 27, 1927, the Golden Gate Bridge officially opened when President Roosevelt pushed a button in Washington D.C. on the other side of the continent.  A motorcade of cars rumbled across the bridge, filled with dignitaries like the mayor of the city of San Francisco.  All told, 200,000 people crossed the bridge that day on foot or on rollerskates.  "There's a Silver Moon on the Golden Gate" was played.  The next day, the bridge officially opened to car traffic with a toll of 50 cents per car and $1.00 for a round trip. 

Back in the 1800's, San Franciscans had to take a 27-minute ferry ride to cross the bay to the neighbouring cities of Berkley and Oakland.  City planners thought that a bridge might help the growth of the city.  Joseph Strauss, an engineer who designed a bridge to cross the Bering Strait for his university thesis, was hired to lead the construction of the bridge.  Financiers were lined up to cover the $35 million dollar expense.  However, the plan was delayed after the Stock Market crashed in 1929.  Within a year, funding was arranged through a series of bonds. 

Construction began on the bridge, named after the Golden Gate Strait, in January of 1933.  The structure, the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time, would be 1.7 miles long, 90 feet wide and 746 feet high.  The steel required for the bridge would weigh 83,000 tons and the two main suspension cables would weigh 11,000 tons each.  The steel arrived with an orange paint on it to protect it from corrosion; it was agreed that the colour fit in with the surrounding red hills and so it stayed orange.  Strauss was a stickler for safety during its four-year construction, using a special net which saved many workers from falling; however, at one point the net gave way and ten workers fell to their deaths.  Even so, this was a "good" safety record compared to other bridge construction records.  When the bridge was finally completed in 1937, Joseph Strauss, a poet in his spare time, composed a poem called "The Mighty Task is Done".

The Golden Gate Bridge's legendary beauty has not only inspired poets, but also movie directors.  Alfred Hitchcock chose the bridge for a key scene in his film "Vertigo" starring Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart.  The bridge is the setting for "Dark Passage" starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  The man of steel flies over the bridge of steel in "Superman" starring Christopher Reeve.  It is also featured in "Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home" starring William Shatner. 

Today, daily traffic on the bridge totals 127,000 vehicles while yearly traffic totals 40 million.  The toll has been raised to $5.  The bridge remains San Francisco's most recognizable landmark. 

Photo of Golden Gate Bridge today courtesy

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