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The Golden Gate's Long History

The Golden Gate Bridge shown from Land's End trail in San Francisco, Monday, May 24, 2010. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)


When the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937, it was a story of ‘Man harnessing Nature’ for the greater glory of both. Then the world’s longest suspension span, a feat of engineering several times over, it took 21 years to build and came in under budget. It has hovered ever since like a feather above a vast surge of water pouring into the Pacific. Beautiful and orange, it looks today like it was built yesterday. And somehow, in a world that can seem too jaded for wonder, it still harnesses our dreams. 

This hour, On Point: The Life and Times of America’s Greatest Bridge. 

- Jane Clayson 


Kevin Starr, author of “Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America’s Greatest Bridge.” You can read an excerpt. He is a San Francisco native and a professor at the University of Southern California. He’s author of the multi-volume history”Americans and the California Dream.”

Frank Dean, acting superintendent for Golden Gate National Recreation Area, he’s worked as a ranger on Alcatraz and was the Assistant Superintendent at Point Reyes National Seashore.

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  • Hal from East Boston

    In a Boston store window 10 or 15 years ago was a large photo of the bridge with just one pier finished. Coming out of the harbor right next to it was a ship under full sail, a perfect juxtaposition of two ages, one of them, the Age of Sail, coming to its close. In the 1930′s, this vessel would have been one of the very last of the old square-riggers, so many of which came to San Francisco by way of Cape Horn and supplied the town during the Gold Rush.

  • BHA

    Good thing they do decent maintenance. Hopefully the bridge will stand for many more decades.

    A bridge between VT and NY (Crown Point) was blown up last fall because it was discovered to be too unsafe to use and too far gone to repair. It lasted 80 years. They are going to spend almost $80M to replace it with a bridge expected to last – 80 years. What a waste. The Brooklyn bridge is 127 years old and as far as I know is not near collapse.

  • Valerie in Chicago

    As a displaced native-born San Franciscan still stuck in the midwest after 25 years, just the sight of it lifts my heart and brings back all my wonderful childhood memories. To me it is the most iconic of American symbols, representing more than just the “best of the west”. Thank you for presenting a whole program on my most favorit site in the world!

  • T Daly

    Program said the bridge was privately financed – It was not

    Bridge was finance by bonds issue by public agencies
    Golden Gate Bridge Facts – Important Dates

    * May 25, 1923: The California state legislature passes a law creating the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District
    * August 27, 1930: Joseph B. Strauss submits final plans
    * November 4, 1930: $35 million bond issue approved by the six counties in the District, by a vote of 145,667 to 46.954

  • Suzanne in Nashville

    When I was a kid we were able to spend two summers in Marin County while my Dad was on sabbatical and teaching at Golden Gate Seminary. We came to love the City so much, but the bridge became my family’s favorite part and an icon to represent that wonderful time. My brother and I rode bikes across it when we were 11 and 15 and walked it, too. What a great, windy adventure. We were on the bridge once when a large Navy ship headed out to sea under us as the sailors saluted, lined up all around the edge of the ship. My brother has a better memory of these things (and will probably call in to correct me and add to this) and he became our family historian and biggest lover of the “the bridge,” which is all we had to call it because we knew what we meant. He even made a replica of it using toothpicks, which I would bet is still in my parents’ attic. Thanks for this show today!

  • Christina

    I used to live in SF and heard a story once – don’t know if it’s true – that when the bridge was being built, the painters painting the bridge at the top would paint the heads of the seagulls “Golden Gate” orange. For awhile, bird lovers of the area thought there was a new variety of seagull.

  • Valerie

    I’d always heard that the large naval ships (aircraft carriers,etc.) need to wait for low tide before passing under the bridge. Is this true, and was there any forethought on the part of the bridge’s designers re: future shipping traffice and access??

  • Betsy Huang

    I don’t know if this had been mentioned on the program today, but the symbolic significance of the Golden Gate for immigrants who arrive by way of San Francisco rivals that of the Statue of Liberty for those who arrive by way of New York.

  • Suzanne Segerstrom

    My great-grandfather, Charles Segerstrom, donated the “golden rivet” that finished the Golden Gate. Family stories about the rivet vary – one says that the rivet, being gold, disintegrated when it was installed at the ceremony; another says that it had to be covered with a plaque to keep people from “digging for gold” in the bridge. Does your guest have any more definitive information about the golden rivet? I saw the plaque in the bridge as a child, but I think it has been removed since then.

  • Mary

    There have been movies made as well as news reports that the goden Gate Bridge is a popular site for people committing suicide or attemtpting it. Please comment

  • john

    as one who came to live in boston from ireland some 24 years ago …
    i always wished to visit THE GOLDEN GATE ..this i did not do ..
    but the other day a got a beautiful description of it both pictorial and verbal from a sister and her family visiting from ireland ..
    her description made me nostalgic for my youth,,the youth i chose to spend in boston,THE TOBIN NOT BAD EH? OK TO JUMP FROM ANYWAY|

  • John Burroughs

    I’m an east coast person but visit the San Francisco area 3 or 4 times a year. One of my activities is always to walk across the bridge rain or shine. It’s a wonderful piece of engineering in a spectacular location.

  • Bill

    What happened in 1987 that ‘almost caused a disaster’?

  • chester gilbert

    I worked on the GGB twice in 1984. I was an Ironworker apprentice and member of SF local 377 one of 2 selected by to do a 6 month internship to do maintenance work. I climbed over, under and inside the bridge usually in the fog and cold.
    After leaving I was hired by the companies contracted to rebuild the bridge in the Fall ’84.
    I removed the ceremonial rivet from an area south of the SF Tower.And wonder whatever happened to that rivet>


  • Chester Gilbert

    The picture posted as showing SF must be reversed. The camera position does not support feet, only the wings of birds.

  • John Rindlaub

    I was believing the guest as he spoke until he said they wore leather hard hats, at which point he lost his credibility, as I once read that, while the workers on the Bay Bridge used the old leather-style hats, the workers on the Golden Gate used the first metal hard hats.

  • Paul Egan

    Oftentimes when the subject consists of trendy psychological cotton candy discussed by the most inarticulate members of the post-literate generations, I wince and squirm until I obtain relief by tuning out. Such though was not the case yesterday and today with the tributes to Mitch Miller and to the conception and effectuation of the Golden Gate Bridge, both of which were edifying in considerable measure.
    Although not a Miller enthusiast, I recognize him as a significant element in an americana which bore relationship to all the cultural expressions which had preceded him, before that assemblage had fallen into the abyss.
    Mr. Starr, the historian, needs no approval of his equating the particles necessary to realization of the Bridge, i.e., the marshalling of public opinion and the securing of public approbation confirmed by legislators and bankers, with the embodiment of architecture and engineering. Yes, as the jingoistic song emerging at America’s active entry into World War II was entitled one hope’s that Mr. Starr is correct in believing in that sentiment’s continued existence, even if in dormancy.
    Even though Mr. Starr’s attention in this brief book is necessarily limited to one extraordinary public work, no one should overlook that this was but one of the several taking place during the 1930s as part of the Rooseveltian economic recovery, another coming readily to mind being the gigantic power and irrigation projects brought about in the Northwest.

  • Paul Egan

    The title of the referenced song:

  • http://www.beccar.wordpress.com Eugenia Renskoff

    Hi, When I was growing up in San Francisco, we would go on the Golden Gate Bridge all the time. I still love it and miss it very much. Eugenia Renskoff

  • Roy Merritt

    I remember in 1971 when I was in the army going through Treasure Island and then over the Golden Gate Bridge on into SF and eventually out to Travis AFB returning to SE Asia. It was a bright sunny day and I remember looking off to Alcatraz and the rest of the Bay and marveling at the beauty of the area and the allure of the beckoning city. On Treasure Island the military police came on board the bus and if a passenger was in the military demanded to see their i.d. and papers if on leave, I suppose in an effort to capture AWOL G.I.s. Also once we were on the bridge I remember I was surprised that it had two levels for the traffic. It was a enjoyable time in my life.

  • Tvdude

    The rivet was lost (never installed) - a steel one replaced it.

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