SAN FRANCISCO – That icon of all icons, the Golden Gate Bridge, is celebrating
its 75th anniversary this year, so I happily used the occasion to re-visit this
engineering masterpiece, which links San Francisco to Marin
Making a couple of days of it with my wife, I combined the visit
with things to see and do within easy range of the famous span, whose unique
“International Orange” color glimmers in the western sun.
But first some
historical background about the bridge, whose art deco fluting hearkens back to
The bridge was completed in May of 1937 in the darkest of
economic times – the Great Depression – when government money for a project like
this was simply unavailable.
Joseph P. Strauss, a daring Jewish bridge
engineer with a talent for poetry, kept up a steady drum beat for the project
until it was finally funded by a successful bond measure.
“It was from
the get-go the ‘people’s bridge,’” said Mary Currie, public affairs director of
the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District.
successful bond measure was passed in 1930 and, in the end, the bridge was built
for $35 million, a much lower cost than predicted, with Strauss as its chief
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This year, Bay Area organizations will stage 75 tributes to the
bridge, with everything from a Pacific orchid exhibition and gala sponsored by
the San Francisco Orchid Society to a “Swinging on the Golden Gate Bridge Ball”
with bridge-era music, sponsored by the Art Deco Society of
In addition, there will be bridge-themed events at Fort Mason
Center, Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park,
Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39.
The culminating event will take place on
Memorial Day weekend, May 26-27, 2012, when the Golden Gate Festival along the
San Francisco waterfront features a historic watercraft parade, music and dance
stages, art installations, history and educational presentations, a display of
cars from 1937 to the present and bridge-related activities on Crissy Field and
the Marina Green. Anniversary fireworks are planned for 9:30 p.m. on May
The entire list of events can be found at
A NUMBER of improvements are
also being made to the bridge area, including the building of a new bridge
pavilion with a museum store; renovation of the historic Round House for visitor
education; upgrades to the artdeco Bridge Café, including a new menu; a “green
screen” photo area where visitors will be able to picture themselves in dramatic
and publically-inaccessible bridge locations; new, personally-guided bridge
tours, including the first-ever night tours with the latest in audio technology;
and enhancements to the bridge plaza and the adjacent national parklands, trails
and overlooks within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
A visit to
the bridge can mean many things – from the simple joy of seeing the massive span
to walking its length from end to end (just under two miles).
the bridge links San Francisco with Sausalito in Marin County, it’s always
pleasant to look back at the San Francisco skyline from the observation point
near Sausalito, whose location on the edge of the bay is well worth a stop for
an ice cream or maybe something more.
Visitors can also enjoy Alcatraz
Island, Lands End (a good spot for bridge photos) and the Presidio army base,
with its forests and trails.
Another way to appreciate the bridge is on a
ferry cruise with the Red and White Fleet, which is anchored at Fisherman’s
Wharf. Daytime and twilight cruises pass under the bridge itself, and the
evening cruise includes entertainment and a buffet.
AND THEN there’s the
wonderful Marina neighborhood, filled with classy mansions in sight of the
bridge. This is where you can watch people flying kites at Crissy Field and
where my wife and I have spent many afternoons walking along Chestnut Street –
home to clothing boutiques and eateries.
A web of wires hovering above
the thoroughfare accommodates the city’s electric buses, which can take you to
Chinatown and beyond to Union Square shopping.
On our recent visit, we
stayed at the Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf, a well-appointed hotel on North Point
Street with Knuckles at the Wharf Restaurant. The hotel is a convenient walk
from Fisherman’s Wharf and an easy drive to the Marina district.
usually like to do, we strolled up and down Chestnut Street, checking out places
like Laline, the chic Israeli beauty product company; Luca’s Delicatessen, an
old-fashioned Italian place at the bottom of a tall, beigecolored apartment
building; and the Marina Market, with fruits and vegetables displayed in
A great place for breakfast on Chestnut Street is
Bechelli’s, a vintage diner with a semi-circular counter and cozy booths next
door to the art deco Presidio movie house.
From here you can walk to San
Francisco’s landmark Palace of Fine Arts on a small lake off residential Lyon
Street, a perfect place to take a quiet stroll by the water.
1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the palace houses the
Exploratorium Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception.
There’s also a
vastly different experience I’d recommend to anyone coming to San Francisco for
the first time: the zany musical theatre extravaganza called “Beach Blanket
Babylon,” created by the late Steve Silver in 1974 and still going strong,
thanks to the dedication of his wife, Jo Schuman Silver, the show’s producer.
The show plays at the Club Fugazi cabaret on Beach Blanket Babylon Blvd. in
North Beach, the city’s Italian neighborhood which is home to many Italian
restaurants and the legendary City Lights Bookstore.
The show also has a
Golden Gate Bridge connection, when one of the characters wears a San Francisco
skyline headpiece with the iconic bridge towers on it. We met Silver in the
lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the Embarcadero, where a large model of the
San Francisco skyline headpiece from the show is part of the hotel’s San
Francisco icon display through March 31.
“One of the reasons the show is
still running,” Silver later told me, “is because it’s ever-changing…We take
things right from the headlines. If something happens in a newspaper or on
television today, and I thought it was relevant and our customers would care
about it, then it would be in the show tonight.” What you get in the show, which
features Snow White on a search for love, is a zany, anything-goes group of
musical numbers brilliantly performed by many well-known “personalities” all
dressed up in memorable vertical hair pieces.
One moment it may be Elvis
Presley, another moment Hilary or Bill Clinton, and still another Sarah Palin or
Rick Perry – no one is safe.
Snow White even meets a Jewish matchmaker,
which is enough to have you rolling on the floor.
A New York native,
Silver writes the skits with the show’s director, Kenny Mazlow.
me that her late husband, who grew up in San Francisco, never explained how he
did the show – “it kind of came out of his back pocket.” But she and the crew
keep it going because they “run it exactly as if Steve was here.”
show is indescribable,” she said. “You can’t really describe exactly what it is.
We tell people ‘You’re just going to have the most wonderful 90 minutes of your
If you came in upset or depressed, it will all go away during that
show and you’ll feel great afterwards.’ We’ve been telling people that for 38
And for 75 years, the Golden Gate Bridge, too, has been winning
people’s hearts, thanks to pioneers like Strauss, whose statue stands in the
bridge visitor plaza.
When the bridge was completed, he honored it with a
poem called “The Mighty Task Is Done,” and while the task may indeed be done,
visitors will continue to appreciate the bridge for a long time to
come.George Medovoy covers travel at www.postcardsforyou.com
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