The Golden Gate At 75
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 revisit this engineering masterpiece, which links San Francisco with Marin County.
Making a couple of days of it, 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.
The bridge was completed in May of 1937 during the Great Depression, when government money for a project like this was simply unavailable.
But 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.
The bond measure was passed in 1930 for $35 million, at a much lower cost than predicted, with Strauss as its chief engineer.
This year, many San Francisco 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 California.
The culminating event will take place on Memorial Day weekend, when the Golden Gate Festival on the San Francisco waterfront debuts with everything from historic boats to music and dance.
Anniversary fireworks are planned for 9:30 p.m. on May 27.
The entire list of events can be found at www.goldengatebridge75.org/partners.
A number of improvements are also being made to the bridge area, including a “green screen” photo area, where visitors will be able to picture themselves in publically inaccessible bridge locations, and the first-ever night tours.
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).
And since the bridge links San Francisco with Sausalito, it’s nice to look back at the San Francisco skyline from the observation point near Sausalito.
Another way to appreciate the bridge is on a ferry cruise with the Red and White Fleet anchored at Fisherman’s Wharf. (www.redandwhite.com)
And then there’s the wonderful Marina neighborhood within sight of the bridge. This is where you can watch people flying kites at Crissy Field and where my wife and I like walking along Chestnut Street — home to clothing boutiques and eateries.
On a recent visit, we stayed at the Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf on North Point Street. (www.fishermanswharf.hyatt.com)
The hotel is a convenient walk from Fisherman’s Wharf and an easy drive to the Marina district.
As we usually like to do, my wife and I strolled along Chestnut Street, checking out places like Laline, the chic Israeli beauty product company, and Luca’s Delicatessen, an old-fashioned Italian place.
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 the landmark Palace of Fine Arts, built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition and now home to the Exploratorium Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception.
There’s also a vastly different experience I’d recommend: the zany musical theater 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. (www.beachblanketbabylon.com)
The show plays at the Club Fugazi cabaret on Beach Blanket Babylon Blvd. in North Beach, the city’s Italian neighborhood.
The show also has a Golden Gate Bridge connection, with a character wearing a San Francisco skyline headpiece featuring the iconic bridge towers.
“One of the reasons the show is still running,” Silver said, “is because it’s ever-changing. … We take things right from the headlines.”
What you get in the show, which features Snow White on a search for love, is zany, anything-goes musical numbers brilliantly performed by many well-known “personalities” dressed up in memorable vertical hair pieces.
One moment it may be Elvis Presley, another moment Hillary 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 also writes the skits with the show’s director, Kenny Mazlow.
Her late husband, she said, 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. The 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 life. 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 years.”
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’s visitor plaza.
When the bridge was completed, Strauss 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.