Photograph of the week: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, USA


In 2011 the American Society of Civil Engineers chose the Golden Gate Bridge for inclusion in its Seven Wonders of the Modern World. It’s not a stretch to understand why: not only is this iconic orange span of graceful steel recognized the world over, it is also, quite simply, a marvel of engineering, architectural design, and imagination.

Photograph of the Week: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

As famous as the Golden Gate Bridge is today – an enduring symbol of San Francisco, California, and, indeed, the USA itself – it almost never came to be. Back in 1916, or thereabouts, calls began for a bridge to connect the city of San Francisco to Marin County, California, thereby replacing a cumbersome, treacherous 20-minute ferry crossing. But these calls were mostly met with negativity and naysay. It would be impossible to build experts said. The currents were too strong, they said. The water too deep. The winds too unpredictable and stormy. The fog too thick. It would be too ugly they said, the size of bridge required an eyesore on the stunning location and views. It would be too expensive, they said. All valid points. And yet, where there is a will, combined with equal amounts of imagination and technical know-how, there is a way.

Construction finally began on 5th January 1933. Four years later, ahead of schedule, under budget, and even having survived an earthquake mid-construction, the Golden Gate Bridge was completed on 19th April 1937.

The bridge officially opened to pedestrians on 27th May of that same year. Around 200,000 people lined up to be the first to walk across. The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a telegraph from the White House, announcing to the world that the bridge was open to cars.

Spanning almost two miles across the Golden Gate, the narrow strait where San Francisco Bay opens to meet the Pacific Ocean, at the time the bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with a total length of 2.7km (8,981ft / 1.7 miles). It held that record until New York City’s Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened just under 30 years later in 1964. (As an aside, as of 2019 the Golden Gate Bridge ranks as the 9th longest suspension bridge in the world, with top honours going to Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan, which currently boasts the world’s longest span.)

World records, or lack thereof, notwithstanding, Golden Gate Bridge remains a miracle of modern engineering. Not only did it survive the destructive Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, this bridge has been closed to traffic only a handful of times in its life course due to weather conditions. This thanks, in part, to its striking orange colour.

Originally requested by the US Navy to be painted with black and yellow stripes to ensure visibility of passing ships, ultimately, the bridge was painted ‘International Orange’. Perhaps not the most excitingly named colour for this glowing vermillion icon, but the orange in question does have a poetic background and it performs a number of purely practical tasks. Specially formulated to protect the bridge from the danger of rust from salt spray off the ocean, and from the moisture of the San Francisco fog that frequently rolls in from the Pacific Ocean through the Golden Gate to San Francisco Bay, the colour also compliments the bridge’s natural surroundings, enhances the bridge’s visibility in fog, and, finally, as so eloquently put by Irving Morrow, the Golden Gate’s consulting architect who was responsible for advocating for the colour in the first place, it adds to the overall greatness of the structure: “The Golden Gate Bridge,” he said “is one of the greatest monuments of all time. Its unprecedented size and scale, along with its grace of form and independence of conception, all call for unique and unconventional treatment from every point of view. What has been thus played up in form should not be let down in colour.”

As easily the most photographed bridge in the world, we think everyone can agree he made the right call.

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Comments (8)

  1. Ben says:

    It’s really a sight to behold. I was in San Francisco a few years back and I remember walking around the city, not really sure where the bridge was. And when I finally got there to see it along with Alcatraz, that really solidified my San Francisco experience. You can even get a great view driving in and out from Route 80, just a stunning accomplishment worth seeing by anybody.

  2. Graham says:

    The first time I drove across the Golden Gate I saw very little as I was too busy concentrating on the traffic. Then fairly recently a friend drove me back into the city but visibility was only about 30 yards so I didn’t see much that time either. Maybe third time lucky.

  3. Leo says:

    One of THE world’s most iconic sights. Get a shiver down my spine every time I see it.

  4. Nick Dougill says:

    It’s hard to believe that the bridge was completed under budget and ahead of schedule until you see the completion date – 1937.

    America was still recovering from the Great Depression. Tenders would have been highly competitive and as few men had a job, those on the bridge would have worked hard to keep their job.

    Who knows if Britain heads into recession after Covid-19 then HS2 might be completed under budget and ahead of schedule.

    • Tom Holmes says:

      It’s a thought-provoking piece. There was a lot of opposition to the bridge to start with. Yet we all know the end of the story. It’s an iconic piece of architecture that’s now one of the wonders of the world – and to boot the ferry sounded very dodgy, I wouldn’t have wanted to sail on that!

      It does make you wonder if all the objections to these big infrastructure projects – like the Channel Tunnel once was – are just people being over cautious.

      In 50 years time will the A Luxury Travel Blog photograph of the week be proclaiming that HS2 is one of the new wonders of the world? Or will it be a project that will have gone off the rails?

  5. Jeff G says:

    The fog wasn’t only for the construction. I’ve seen some thick peasouppers since then.

    My real San Francisco highlight was staying at a hotel with a pool on about floor 39 where you swam towards the Golden Gate Bridge, an unforgettable experience.

  6. D. Rosales says:

    Whenever I cross this bridge going to work, it never fails to amaze me. I mean, honestly, it is an example of a marvelous structural design. All the planning and hardwork to make this kind of bridge is spot-on. That’s the main reason why it became famous, different TV shows and movies are always featuring this piece of artwork. Knowing that other experts said that this type of structure is impossible to build, the bridge broke barriers and has been declared an architectural wonder. The building is also a miracle considering that it survived the Loma Prieta earthquake, a type of disaster that the engineers and the architects didn’t see coming but it withstood it anyways. Always a beautiful sight and a great wallpaper!

  7. Alex T says:

    It’s nice to see the word “unprecedented” not used in the context of coronavirus right now! It’s definitely a distinctive one, and it’s hard to imagine the Golden Gate Bridge not existing after how infamous it’s become. I’ve never been but I’ve got a friend that lives up near Wilbur Springs who says it’s as amazing as it sounds. Brilliant photo, very nice shot of the turquoise to sunset sky.

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