Random facts about the Golden Gate Bridge on its 75th anniversary
This weekend marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. The city of San Francisco will celebrate the occasion with a waterfront festival featuring, music, dance, fireworks, and other celebratory displays.
Here’s some random facts about this iconic landmark:
Its name: Until the 1840’s, the strait between the San Francisco peninsula and the Marin Headlands was called the “Boca del Puerto de San Francisco” (mouth of the port of San Francisco). On July 1, 1846, Army Captain John C. Fremont looked at the strait, and said “it is a golden gate to trade with the Orient”.
The Golden Gate name first appeared in Fremont’s “Geographical Memoir”, presented to the U.S. Senate on June 5, 1848. He wrote, “to this Gate I gave the name of “Chrysopylae” or “Golden Gate” for the same reasons that the harbor of Byzantium was called Chrysoceras, or Golden Horn.” He later dropped the Greek word, Chrysopylae, and the entrance to San Francisco Bay would be now known as The Golden Gate Strait.
The bridge is obviously not gold colored. It’s painted International Orange (orange vermilion), which has a deep reddish tone to it. Architect Irving Morrow chose the color because it blended in well with the span’s natural setting. It also provides enhanced visibility for passing ships.
Statistics: Construction on the bridge began in 1933. It cost $35 million to build, and opened to pedestrians on May 27, 1937. The next day, it was officially opened for vehicles. The toll was 50 cents one way, $1 for round trip and 5 cents surcharge if there were more than 3 passengers. The distance between the bridge’s two towers is 4,200 feet (1,280 meters). The Golden Gate Bridge was the longest single span in the world from 1937 until 1964, when New York City’s Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened. Japan’s Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge is currently the longest, at 6,532 feet (1,991 meters).
The Golden Gate Bridge’s total length, including approaches, is 1.7 miles (2,737 meters). The bridge’s two towers stand 746 feet (227 meters) above the surface of the water, and 500 feet (152 meters) from the roadway. Two main cables pass over the tops of the towers, anchored in concrete at each end. The cables are made up of 27, 572 individual strands of steel wire. The bridge is 90 feet (27 meters) wide, with the sidewalk being 10 feet (3 meters)at its width.
Golden Gate Bridge Grand Opening 1937
Movies: The Golden Gate Bridge has been featured in several films. A few notable examples include Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller “Vertigo”, in which Madeleine (Kim Novak) tried to commit suicide by jumping into San Francisco Bay, just below the Golden Gate Bridge. In 1978’s “Superman:The Movie”, The Man of Steel (Christopher Reeve) rescued a school bus about to drop from the bridge. Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) rode across the bridge in a bus in one scene of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”.
During filming of the James Bond movie “A View to a Kill” in September 1984, the Golden Gate Bridge Board of Directors allowed a British movie company to shoot a scene on one of the bridge’s main cables (at a height of more than 700 feet above water, as mentioned above). The scene was to be the fight between Bond (Roger Moore) and villain Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) on the bridge’s north tower. The villain would lose the battle, and fall to his death from the main cable. The producers wanted to drop a dummy from the north tower to the roadway. The Golden Gate Bridge Board of Directors said no way. "With all the problems we have with suicides on this Bridge, I think this is a bum idea," said Board Director and San Francisco Supervisor Quentin Kopp.
Scene from Vertigo, 1958
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, 1986
50th Anniversary-1987: On Sunday, May 24, 1987, the Golden Gate Bridge was closed for four hours (from 6 AM to 10 AM) to commemorate its 50th anniversary. During that time, pedestrians were allowed to walk across the span, in the roadway,just like the bridge’s opening day in 1937. The event was dubbed “Bridgewalk ’87.An estimated 300,000 people were on the bridge at one time. I was one of them. A few of my Golden Gate Bridge 50th Anniversary pictures are shown below. Actually, you couldn’t really walk on the bridge with so many people there. Basically you moved a few steps at a time. There were too many people on the bridge at one time, and the bridge began to sway a little bit. The normally arched upward roadway flattened at one point, due to the weight of the 300,000 people. That was one scary moment. Officials closed the bridge, so an estimated half million more people waiting to walk across didn’t get the opportunity to do so. Finally, the crowd thinned out a bit at the Marin side of the bridge. Golden Golden Gate Bridge officials decided there would be no pedestrians walking there during this weekend's 75th anniversary festivities.
Golden Gate Bridge 50th Anniversary
Protests: In recent decades, the Golden Gate Bridge has been the sight of several protests.In 1967, San Francisco stripper/topless star Yvonne D’Angers, nicknamed “The Persian Lamb”, chained herself to the bridge to protest her threatened deportation to Iran. On January 31, 1989, 80 AIDS activists blocked the bridge during rush hour morning traffic. This was the first time a protest had ever shut down the Golden Gate Bridge. Demonstrations against the U.S.’s involvement in the first Persian Gulf war briefly closed the bridge in 1991.
In 1996, ex-“Cheers” star and film actor Woody Harrelson and eight others tied up traffic for more than five hours on the bridge. The group had climbed the bridge’s main cable and south tower with a banner protesting the logging of ancient redwoods in Humboldt County. Authorities had to close the lanes of the bridge to get Harrelson and the others down before arresting them. In 2007 San Francisco police and CHP officers closed the bridge's walkway to pedestrians and bicyclists as a preemptive measure. CodePink, a women’s peace and social justice group, had planned to march across the bridge to protest the second Iraq war. Police arrested 10 CodePink members after a three-hour standoff that backed up traffic.
And while not a protest, in 2009, the CHP stopped a horseback rider who was crossing the bridge’s sidewalk. Horses are prohibited from crossing the bridge’s sidewalk because of safety concerns.
Sources: Golden Gate Bridge Research Library,Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, http://goldengatebridge.org,, 2006-2012.
"Golden Gate Bridge Facts" by Betsy Malloy, California Travel, About.com, http://gocalifornia.about.com/cs/sanfrancisco/a/ggbridge.htm.
"San Francisco: miision to metropolis", Second Edition, by Oscar Lewis, Howell-North Books, San Diego, CA, 1980.
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