San Francisco Bridges—Building the Golden Gate Bridge: 1933 - 1937

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The People Vote

In spite of the stock market crash of 1929 and rising unemployment, the voters in six Northern California counties approved a bond issue in 1930 to build the bridge. The amount was $35 million. It was a vote of confidence in the future. The counties were: Del Norte, Napa, Marin, Mendocino, San Francisco, and Sonoma. The six counties now form the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District. Work on the bridge began on January 5, 1933.

 

The San Francisco Pier

The south pier had to be built 1,100 feet from land in water 65 feet deep. Strong tides, gale force winds and fog caused delays. A freighter rammed the trestle just after it had been completed. Following repairs a storm carried away an 800 foot section. The design of the bridge saved old Fort Point, but not without opposition. A faction wanted it destroyed claiming it spoiled the view of the bridge. The fort is now a popular attraction.

The Finished Pier, January 15, 1935

To provide a base for the erection of the tower more than 125 thousand cubic yards of concrete went into the south pier. The footings extended 20 feet into bedrock. The passenger ship is the SS Yale. It offered overnight service between San Francisco and Los Angeles. After leaving the bay it was usually a rough trip down the coast.

San Francisco Tower

At each end of the bridge an anchorage was built to receive the two cables. The anchorage was 150 feet long, weighed 60,000 tons and had to resist a cable pull of 62 million pounds. The San Francisco tower is being erected by the same traveling cranes used on the now completed Marin Tower. The steel was fabricated in Pennsylvania and shipped through the Panama Canal.

Marin Construction

Each of the two towers rise 746 feet above the water. The Marin Tower was built almost on land and had none of the problems of the offshore San Francisco tower. The rugged Marin hills are shown being graded for the Waldo approach. Both sides of the bridge went through military property.

Spinning the Cables

Spinning carriages moving at 650 feet per minute, carried 27,572 wires along a length of 7,650 feet. Each cable would be compressed to a diameter of 36 inches. Wire ropes would be hung from them to hold the roadway. A section of cable is on display at the toll plaza parking lot.

The Roadway

Working from each tower, traveling cranes laid down the steel decking that formed the roadway. The first concrete was poured January 19, 1937. Note the safety net beneath the decking. Its use saved the lives of 19 men who had fallen from the bridge. It would be involved in a tragedy a few months before the bridge opened.

The Bridge Builders

The safety net that stretched the length of the bridge gave the workers a sense of protection and enabled them to move about more freely. It could not prevent the tragedy of February 17, 1937. Just three months before opening day, a scaffold beneath the roadway broke loose, ripping through the net, plunging it into the water. Ten men on the scaffold fell to their deaths. A plaque at the San Francisco Tower honors their memory and that of another worker who had been killed earlier.

Opening Day, May 27, 1937

When the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened six months earlier thousands of people poured onto the bridge holding up auto traffic for hours. Wisely the directors of the Golden Gate Bridge had a special day just for pedestrians and an estimated 200,000 people came. That evening there was spectacular production, "The Span of Gold", a musical pageant of California history.

A Day to Remember

The weather at the Golden Gate was typical for San Francisco in May: foggy, windy and cold, but that didn't bother anyone. They would always remember they had walked across the Golden Gate Bridge on opening day. You were encouraged to wear a costume or the Official Hat with its tassels. But it was the Depression. If you couldn't afford the hat, a bandana would do just fine.

Building the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge: 1933 - 1936