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Any Goldsworthy Wooden Spire at Sunset
Any Goldsworthy Wooden Spire at Sunset
Any Goldsworthy Wooden Spire at Sunset

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A Thousand Hostile Sneers

Proposed Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, Calif. by Joseph Strauss in 1921
First design drawing of Golden Gate Bridge by Joseph Strauss in 1921

“Launched midst a thousand hopes and fears; Damned by a thousand hostile sneers,” – Joseph B. Strauss, chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge in a poem he wrote to mark its completion in 1937. He died less than a year later.

It is nearly impossible to imagine San Francisco without the iconic orange span of the Golden Gate Bridge. It attracts more than 10 million visitors and at least that many Instagram selfies a year, and is a huge reason visitors flock to the Presidio.

However, it took nearly two decades of work to win public and governmental support for a bridge spanning the Golden Gate Strait. When engineer Joseph Strauss’ initial design for the bridge was revealed in 1922, local press derided it as ugly. Strauss was eventually persuaded to accept a more graceful design by consulting engineers Leon S. Moisseiff, Charles Alton Ellis, and O.H. Ammann, with architect Irving Morrow responsible for the Art Deco design of the towers.

Many local citizens worried the bridge would mar the natural beauty of the Golden Gate. Shipbuilders and ferry operators did not want a roadway to compete against their profitable businesses. The Army did not want civilians coming through the Presidio base and traveling to the military base on the other side. The Navy worried a collapsed Golden Gate span could block access to the Bay in war time, and that the bridge would interfere with ship traffic.

By 1924, the War Department recognized the growing need for a bridge and issued an initial permit for construction. It took a further six years, and steadily increasing lines for the vehicle ferries between San Francisco and Marin counties, to convince the public to financially support the project. In 1930 a $35 million bond measure was approved by voters in six Bay Area counties.

The military was not yet fully comfortable with the bridge and insisted that the color scheme be highly visible in foggy conditions. The Navy wanted it it to be painted with black and yellow stripes to ensure visibility by passing ships. The Army Air Corps was partial to red and white stripes to make the bridge more noticeable from the air. The famous International Orange color was originally used as a primer, but Morrow decided that he preferred it because it was visible in the fog, complemented the surrounding landscape and contrasted well with the blues of the bay and the sky.

Finally opened in May 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge is now considered one of the most beautiful bridges in the world, and inseparable in the public imagination from the city of San Francisco.