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GOLIS: A bridge built by optimism

  • The Golden Gate Bridge, Friday, August 20, 2010.

SAN FRANCISCO

With people from all over the world, we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge last week. It was a spectacular afternoon, one of those days that remind us few places can match the beauty of San Francisco or the majesty of what may be the world's most recognized landmark.

We've driven across the Golden Gate countless times, but when the bridge and the city beyond come into view, it's always as if we're seeing them for the first time. Sunshine, drifting fog, or both, the scene is always magical and often different.

People come from everywhere to see this view, and here it is in our backyard.

What historian Kevin Starr calls "America's greatest bridge" marks its 75th anniversary on May 27. The celebration will be a time for Santa Rosans to recall one of their own. In the campaign to build the Golden Gate Bridge, no one played a bigger role than banker Frank P. Doyle.

Some people argue that the bridge couldn't be built today. In the maelstrom of bureaucracy, regulation and anti-tax dogma, they say, there is no room for big ideas.

But it wasn't easy then. Pessimists could have identified a host of reasons not to try. Raising the money required taxpayers in six counties to underwrite the debt. The ferry companies and the environmentalists of that time wanted the Gate to remain as it was. Confronted by wind, fog, rain and tides, and laboring hundreds of feet above the bay, the work of building the bridge was difficult and dangerous. Eleven workers were killed during the years the bridge was under construction, 10 in a single accident.

But the bridge was built, and Sonoma and Marin counties were transformed.

If such an ambitious project was proposed today, many would say we can't afford to take a risk right now. There's a recession going on.

But the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge — started in 1933, finished in 1937 — coincided with the most difficult economic times in the history of this country.


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