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.
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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