San Francisco was one of those places I knew I’d be fond of, but boy, I fell hard for this vibrant ville on California’s coast. I loved it all, the sound of the street cars, the tour of Alcatraz, hangin’ with the hippies on Haight and Ashbury, latin food in the Mission, the Italian cafes in North Beach, watching the ferries at The Embarcadero and the Museum of Modern Art. What’s not to admire about this city? You can walk and walk and enjoy jaw dropping views around every corner and on top of every hill. And, ever present in many of those vast vistas is that San Francisco icon, the Golden Gate Bridge.
My heart beat a little faster when I first laid eyes on the statuesque expanse of steel and wire. I know that’s a little dramatic but I have a thing for bridges. They’re such amazing feats of engineering and the Golden Gate Bridge is one that opponents said could never be built. Chief engineer, Joseph Strauss, wouldn’t listen and 77 years ago this week, Strauss’ dream became a reality. And it wasn’t just his dream. Local citizens put up their own properties as collateral to ensure the successful completion of the Golden Gate Bridge.
On May 27th, 1937, the ribbon was cut and for the first time, some 200,000 pedestrians trod upon one of the most beautiful and most photographed structures in the world. That day was the official opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. The next day, San Francisco Chronicle reporter, Wills O’Brien wrote, “A necklace of surpassing beauty was placed about the lovely throat of San Francisco yesterday.” Car traffic was allowed the day after, on May 28th at noon.
Here’s a video of the opening:
When I had my first chance to walk across, I had a plan. I reached in my pocket, scrolled through the songs on my iPod until I found the tune I had downloaded specifically for the moment. With a wide smile on my face and butterflies in my stomach, I sauntered all the way across that bridge listening to Tony Bennett singing that most famous tribute to the city by the bay. (I thought Bennett wrote “I Left My Heart in San Francisco". Turns out, it was originally written in New York, by George Cory and Douglass Cross).
I walked all the way over and all the way back. It wasn’t a short stroll. The Golden Gate Bridge is 2,737 metres long. This beauty took 4 years to build. It has 130,000 km of wire in its main cables and is 227 metres high. I always thought the bridge was red. In fact, it’s orange and more specifically a colour called orange vermillion, or 'International Orange'. The colour was chosen to blend in with the warm hues of the land and also to provide good visibility for passing ships. Whatever the reason, when you look up at those bright towers of steel against a blue sky, well, it’s worth a few photos for sure. On my first visit, and there were many, I took hundreds. I must have been up there for 2 hours. I even sat for while, at the half way point, just staring out at the bay.
It occurred to me that my length of time on the bridge may have been making passing motorists a little nervous. I noticed help phones stationed at various points along the walkway. As I came down, I saw signs for missing people. It was one of those reality checks you’re never quite expecting when you’re in the middle of a blissful holiday. I quickly understood that while I may have seen this bridge as a symbol of strength and determination, there were many who saw this magnificent construction as the means to an end, their end. Sadly, of an estimated 2000 jumps, there have only been 34 people who have survived the plunge. On a brighter note, some of those people have gone on to become important spokespeople and advocates for mental health.
The history and the present day story of the Golden Gate Bridge is a fascinating one. Here are a couple of links to find out more:
San Francisco is a city I’d visit again in a heartbeat or maybe just a beat. As Tony Bennett sang, my heart is still there somewhere, on a warm sunny day, looking out at the city from the inspiring and gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge.
If you’d like to see some of the photos I took, please find them in the photo gallery.
Until next time, rove on.