Lola Silvestri — Lola Culleton at the time — was 16 years old when the Golden Gate Bridge opened. She was attending the now-defunct Polytechnic High School, across from Kezar Stadium, and a school holiday had been declared for the opening of the new bridge.
A self-described popular and outgoing student, Silvestri lived with her parents and two brothers in the Outer Sunset. She jumped at the chance to participate in Pedestrian Day on May 27, 1937, when 150,000 to 200,000 people walked across the bridge the day before it opened to automobile traffic. Today, the ebullient, computer-literate, and active 91-year-old has vivid memories of that special day, which she shared with us.
What do you remember the most about that day?
My friend Betty Kruger’s dad thought it was very important for his family, as well as me, to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on opening day. We lived in the Sunset District, so he drove us.
Although some say it was a warm and sunny day, I remember that it was very windy and chilly. When the ceremonies — which included lots of music — ended, away we went [to the walk]. It was very exciting.
Men were all in hats, suits and ties, and the older ladies — like our moms — were in coats and hats. Our attire that day was heavy sweaters and saddle shoes with anklets.
You have said you knew that this was an important piece of history. Was there any one part of the walk that you remember the most?
Yes. Being kids, we chatted with everyone along the way. When we were about two-thirds across, we noticed a man standing at the side and we stopped to chat. He told us he had helped build the bridge and showed us the spot in the cement portion where he had cemented a coin. What fun it would be if it were still there! But I am sure the bridge has been repainted and it is long gone.
It was a very exciting day, as we knew it would wind up being a very important piece of history and we were going to be a part of it. And here I am today, going on 91 and reliving all those wonderful memories. As you can probably tell, I still have no problem chatting!
After high school, having no desire to go on to college, Lola took jobs with companies such as W & J Sloane and Montgomery Ward. She met Larry Silvestri at a skating rink in Santa Rosa. They were married in 1941. Larry received an ice hockey scholarship from UC Berkeley and turned pro in 1945. The Silvestris were married 70 years, until Larry passed away last November at the age of 91.
With two children, seven grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, and eight great-great-grandchildren, Lola has a good audience for her memories from that historic day 75 years ago.
It’s easy to imagine Lola marching across the same bridge we cross today, stopping to talk to strangers and making friends along the way.