Sunday, May 27, 2012

75 Years Since Opening the Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge opened 75 years ago on Sunday. Building the Golden Gate was a larger than life engineering project undertaken against dangerous odds at the cost of 11 lives.

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most astonishing and admired man-made wonders of the world. However, the bridge was not at first welcomed by many with open arms.

Ferry operators and environmentalists had opposed it at the time of its construction, and many engineers doubted such a structure over a treacherous Pacific Ocean strait could be built at all. Even the military doubted it, they worried a collapsed Golden Gate span could block access to the Bay during war time.

According to historians, some San Franciscans even fought against it because they thought a bridge might actually ruin the view, but look at the magnificent view it gives now.

Yet building the Golden Gate Bridge, at an estimated cost of $1.2 billion in current dollars, was an extremely difficult task. While the idea had taken hold in the1920s, by the time ground was broken the Depression had left many people desperatly seeking for jobs.

"Launched midst a thousand hopes and fears; Damned by a thousand hostile sneers," was how the head engineer for the bridge, Joseph Strauss, described the bridge in a poem he wrote to mark its completion in 1937. He than died less than a year later.

Even the bridge's arresting dark orange color was an accident, first used as a primer while designers decided what to paint it. The Navy had argued for black with yellow stripes, to ensure it could be seen in a strait hostile to mariners, with dense fog, heavy winds and strong ocean swells.

In the end, bridge authorities decided they liked the color - known as International Orange - and stuck with it.

Construction began in 1933, 14 years after Strauss was first approached. Bank of America archivist David Mendoza said it took a personal appeal from Strauss to Amadeo Giannini, founder of the then-San Francisco-based bank, to secure funding.

Celebrations for the 50th anniversary became infamous for the frightful swaying of the bridge under the weight of 300,000 people. This time round, the bridge will be closed to cars and pedestrians during a fireworks show that will cap a day of festivities along the bay waterfront on Sunday.

Beyond the revelry and Tributes, the bridge's dark side will lurk in the background: An estimated 1,400 people have jumped off the bridge to end their own lives, a grim reality brought to the attention of many people with a 2006 documentary film, "The Bridge," by Eric Steel. The filmmaker secretly captured more than 20 suicides from the bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District is now studying the costs and feasibility of draping nets along it to catch any jumpers, a twist on the nets deployed during construction, which saved the lives of 22 workers.

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