The Golden Gate Bridge is turning 75 this year. And what a historic span it’s been. Big, bold and orange, the bridge is a beloved symbol of San Francisco and one of the most instantly recognizable landmarks in the world.
But for all its photogenic qualities, the bridge is a uniquely accessible icon.
You can drive across, walk across, bike across, sail beneath it, or even scream over it in a daring display of aerial acrobatics.
The public also can celebrate the bridge’s three-quarters of a century by taking part in many events scheduled from now through the fall, including art exhibits, film screenings, tours and talks. The biggest celebration takes place on the anniversary of its opening date, May 27.
In addition, organizers are inviting the public to share personal stories and photos of the bridge online at goldengatebridge75.org/celebrate/share-stories-photos.
“Everybody has a unique experience of the bridge,” says Mary Currie, public affairs director for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. Hers came as a 14-year-old on a family vacation from the East Coast. “I remember being completely mesmerized and just incredibly blown away and amazed at the size and magnitude of the bridge. I don’t know what that grace and beauty is that draws you in, but it draws you in.”
Here are some details on activities, events and history related to the Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th birthday.
Sure, it’s pretty, with elegant, brilliantly orange arms above the aqua shimmer of the San Francisco Bay. But this is no remote Mona Lisa of a landmark. Part of the appeal of the Golden Gate Bridge lies in how fully it can be experienced.
If you want to walk across, you may want to take mass transit, as there’s not much parking nearby. To get to the bridge from downtown, you can take either Golden Gate Transit or Muni buses. More information on transit options can be found at goldengatebridge.org/visitors/directions.
Once at the bridge, pedestrians can access the East Sidewalk (the one facing San Francisco) from approximately sunrise to sunset. This sidewalk is for bikes and pedestrians, which means a certain amount of cooperation is required. The West Sidewalk, is for bikes only.
A number of companies in San Francisco offer bike rentals and/or organized tours. Visitors can ride across the bridge to the seaside town of Sausalito and then return by ferry.
The bridge is not named for its color, but for the Golden Gate Strait, which is the entrance by water to San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. The bridge was painted orange partly for aesthetic reasons and partly to increase visibility in the fog.
When it opened, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, a status it retained until the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened in New York City in 1964.
Two billion-plus vehicles have made the trip between San Francisco and Marin County since 1937.
The bridge has only been closed three times due to weather, but it is often partly shrouded in fog, and its fog horns can sound for hours during the area’s foggy, summer season.
The bridge was unscathed by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which was centered 60 miles away, but it is being retrofitted to protect it from future quakes.
The Golden Gate Bridge has been in many movies. It served as a picturesque backdrop for Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak’s tensely romantic first meeting in “Vertigo” in 1958 and was nearly decimated by a falling Romulan drill-of-death in 2009’s “Star Trek.”
It also made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine for a 1976 story about San Francisco-based rockers.
Numerous film screenings, tours, exhibits and other activities are being conducted around San Francisco this year to mark the bridge’s birthday. A calendar of events can be found at www.goldengate-bridge75.org.
The biggest public celebration is scheduled for next Sunday, with events at multiple venues along a four-mile stretch of waterfront.
One tragic aspect of Golden Gate history: Hundreds of people have leapt to their deaths from the bridge. The Bridge Rail Foundation, which is devoted to stopping the suicides, is staging an exhibit using more than 1,500 pairs of shoes to represent lives lost.
Debate on how to prevent suicides has been ongoing since the first death the year the bridge opened. Fencing has been proposed but never built. The bridge’s Board of Directors has approved putting a steel net below the bridge, but funding has yet to be arranged.
For more information on the Golden Gate Bridge 75th celebration, visit www.goldengatebridge75.org.