Golden Gate Bridge Turns 75
May 29, 2012

Golden Gate Bridge Turns 75

Brett Smith for

San Franciscans culminated the anniversary celebration of the Golden Gate Bridge Sunday night the way we typically celebrate 75-year-olds, with a cascading fireworks display and a barrage of air guitar-ready riffs.

Thousands of people flocked to the American icon to mark the diamond anniversary and take part in the celebration, which included a 20-minute pyrotechnics display and musical montage.

The weekend-long celebrations kicked off on Friday with a series of speakers that included House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., whose district includes San Francisco.

"I want to celebrate what this bridge has given us, what it means to the city, the state and the nation,” Pelosi said. “We are possessive of it in this area, but it is a national treasure that is recognized around the world."

Embattled California governor Jerry Brown, who is proposing a series of hearty cuts to the state budget, also spoke during Friday´s event.

"When this bridge was built, there was higher unemployment than there is today, and a lot of people were much poorer than they are today," Brown said. "When they couldn't afford it, they built a great monument of courage, and that's what this is. ... If we are never bold, we will never get things done."

Sunday´s party attracted revelers in boats on the water as well as people who lined the shores of the Golden Gate Strait. The festivities included a number of events with several stages of live music, food booths and numerous exhibits. One of the more popular attractions was a vintage car show on Crissy Field, located just southeast of the bridge. The show served as a reminder of bridge's raison d´etre:  facilitating traffic between San Francisco and Marin.

The bridge opened in 1937 after first being proposed in a 1916 San Francisco Bulletin article by former engineering student James Wilkins. That proposal was brought to the attention of prolific engineer Joseph Strauss, who designed and championed the project that he said could be built for around $17 million.

After many negotiations and delays, including the 1929 stock market crash that negatively impacted funding, construction on the bridge began in 1933. The project took four years to complete, cost $35 million, and took the lives of 11 men. Since it opened, over 1.2 million vehicles have crossed the 1.7 mile span.

The weekend also saw an event marking a darker side to the American beauty. Members of the Bridge Rail Foundation erected a display of 1,558 shoes to commemorate the known deaths caused by suicide jumpers leaping off the bridge. The problem was popularized by the 2006 documentary “The Bridge”, which clandestinely captured more than 20 suicides by bridge jumpers.

The documentary, which was inspired by a story in the New Yorker, filmed people struggling with severe depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorders, in attempt to explain why people with suicidal tendencies were drawn to the Golden Gate Bridge. The film´s director Eric Steel secretly fixed cameras on the bridge for all of 2004 and captured many people taking their own lives.

Many people have been arguing for suicide prevention barriers, which have yet to be installed.