Three quarters of a century can change a lot, but they can also hide a lot, adding a gloss of fame and affection for what was a very controversial project. That’s the case for the Golden Gate Bridge, the iconic link between Marin and San Francisco that is the most famous visual shorthand for illustrating the city by the bay. Today, it ranks with the Statue of Liberty, Washington Monument, Sears Tower, and the St. Louis Arch as beloved symbols of specific cities and even representatives of the spirit of the country at large.
Considering its modern fame, how many people know that the 1920s saw a vigorous debate within the Bay Area over whether the bridge should be built at all? Kevin Starr’s 2010 book, Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America’s Greatest Bridge, showed that many of the city’s business elite were opposed to the bridge. If they had had their way, we might be passing the time this month with quiet and calm, rather than commemorating the completion of the bridge in 1937.
Today, the fame of the bridge stretches far and wide, and a broad range of San Francisco organizations have pitched in to organize activities for everyone. So we present here highlights from a month of special events that will bring back to life the story of the bridge and remind everyone why it was so controversial — and why it has become a landmark. Don’t just plan to join the celebrations on the final weekend of the month; almost every day of May has something you can take part in to observe this anniversary.
Look at this
The bridge’s construction was very well chronicled in various media forms, so this month you have many opportunities to see close-up images of the bridge’s planning, construction and use. The San Francisco Public Library is hosting Bridging Minds: San Francisco Reads, 1933–1937, now through July 14, an exhibition of first editions, photos, and more, featuring bestselling books from the time of the bridge’s construction (daily, call for times, San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin Street, 415-557-4400, www.sfpl.org).
Through October 14, the California Historical Society presents A Wild Flight of the Imagination: The Story of the Golden Gate Bridge, displaying rare artwork, photos, film, and historic bridge artifacts; it features the work of Ansel Adams, Chesley Bonestell, Dorothea Lange, Carl Adolf Von Perbandt, and many others (Tuesday–Sunday, noon–5 p.m., California Historical Society, 678 Mission Street, $5, 415-357-1848, www.californiahistoricalsociety.org).
The de Young and Legion of Honor will bring out their collections of bridge imagery from May 5–June 3 for its logically titled Imagery of the Golden Gate Bridge (Tuesday–Sunday 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m., Friday 9:30 a.m.–8:45 p.m., de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, check website for cost, 415-750-3600, www.famsf.org). And on May 26–27, Ghirardelli Square will feature a panel display depicting the story of the bridge (Saturday 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point Street, 415-775-5500, www.ghirardellisq.com).
Interpreting the bridge
Artists have explored the bridge in their works for decades, and now you can see their work brought together for easy comparison with the real thing. The George Krevsky Gallery, for example, is featuring Artistic Visions of the Golden Gate Bridge, an exhibition running from May 2–31 and displaying depictions of the bridge in media ranging from photos to sculpture to paintings (Tuesday–Saturday 11 a.m.–5:30 p.m., George Krevsky Gallery, 77 Geary Street, 2nd Floor, 415-397-9748, www.georgekrevskygallery.com). SFMOMA brings together the works of Bay Area artists for Local Bridge Interpretations, an exhibition running from May 26–June 30 (Tuesday–Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., SFMOMA Artists Gallery, Fort Mason, Building A, 415-441-4777, www.sfmoma.org).
From May 2–31, the Jewish Community Center’s Show Us Your Golden Gate Art Show shows off the winning pieces from an April contest for children and teenagers using any medium available (daily, call for times, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California Street, 415-292-1200, www.jccsf.org). From May 11–13, the Old Mint will host the work of the finalists in another student art competition, My Vision of My Favorite Bridge (11 a.m.–4 p.m., Old Mint, 88 Fifth Street, 415-537-1105, www.sfhistory.org).
The bridge on screen
Not only is the Golden Gate Bridge the portal to the Pacific Ocean (or the entryway to the United States, depending on your direction), it is a beautiful structure that is irresistible to filmmakers. Through December 21, you can catch a 28-minute film Building of the Golden Gate. Produced by the Bethlehem Steel Company, the film naturally skews toward the workers and the steel used in the building project (Friday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Fort Point National Historic Site, 415-556-1693, www.nps.gov).
If your idea of movies is less documentary and more Hollywood, then head downtown to the Main Library on May 16 for a presentation by Jim Van Buskirk, author of Celluloid San Francisco. In On Location: The Golden Gate Bridge on the Silver Screen, Van Buskirk will present a collection of film clips featuring the bridge (6 p.m.–8 p.m., San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin Street, 415-557-4400, www.sfpl.org). And at 6 p.m. on May 26, the Walt Disney Family Museum will host a viewing on the Main Post Lawn in the Presidio (across from 103 Montgomery Street) of the 1955 film It Came from Beneath the Sea, which incorporates the Golden Gate Bridge in its B-movie scenes.
It wouldn’t be a celebration if there weren’t opportunities to see dances and even kick up your own heels. On May 23, you can catch Kathryn Roszak’s Danse Lumiere performing BridgeDance, which incorporates dance, oral histories, poetry, and stories about the bridge (12:30 p.m., Union Square, 510-233-5550, www.dlkdance.com). May 5 is your day to get dressed up in the formal attire of the 1920s, ’30s or ’40s and attend the Art Deco Preservation Ball, where you’ll be able to celebrate amid bridge-themed music and displays of artwork (6:30 p.m.–midnight, Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus Avenue, $100, 415-982-3326, www.artdecosociety.org).
You have plenty of chances to hear experts explore the history and politics of the bridge. Start off on May 8 with Paul Giroux, chairman of the Golden Gate Bridge celebration for the American Society of Civic Engineers, who will discuss the bridge’s construction, backed up by historic photographs and animation in Building the Golden Gate Bridge (7:30 p.m., Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California Street, 415-537-1105, www.sfhistory.org).
On May 24 you could take in NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences, which will explore the science and the colors of the bridge (6 p.m.–10 p.m., California Academy of Science, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, $10–12, 415-379-8000, www.calacademy.org). Or you could head downtown for The Golden Gate Bridge at 75: What Makes an Icon, a panel discussion in which California’s state librarian emeritus, Kevin Starr, will be joined by Chevron Corporation’s historian John Harper and other experts to explore the history and fame of the bridge (6 p.m., The Commonwealth Club, 595 Market Street, $7–$20, 415-597-6705, www.commonwealthclub.org).
The big event
There are a number of bridge exhibitions and events that will continue beyond May, but Sunday, May 27 is the big can’t-miss time of the month. Bridging Us All: The Golden Gate Festival will be the finale of this month of celebrations, bringing together exhibitions, numerous concerts and other musical performances, films, and more, culminating in a late-evening fireworks display (all day, ends with fireworks at 9:30 p.m., various bayside venues, www.goldengatebridge75.org).
Find more anniversary events at the official site, www.goldengatebridge75.org. Event details can change, so we encourage you to check with the venue before attending any of these events.