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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 226R - Golden Gate Bridge at 80 (Repodcast)

As the Golden Gate Bridge turns 86, we look back to this classic podcast about it that we did when it turned 80.
by Nicole Meldahl - May 27, 2023

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 226R - Golden Gate Bridge at 80 (Repodcast) Outside Lands Podcast Episode 226R - Golden Gate Bridge at 80 (Repodcast)

(above) Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta, May 27, 1937

Participants from "The Span of Gold - A Pageant of the Golden Gate Bridge" wearing traditional Spanish dresses.

Podcast Transcription

WNP226R – Golden Gate Bridge at 80

Nicole: [00:00:00] The following is a classic episode of Outside Lands San Francisco. Dates mentioned in this week's podcast pertained to past events only.

Woody: It's Outside Lands San Francisco, the podcast of the Western Neighborhoods Project. I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: David!

David: Yes, Woody. Great to see you again.

Woody: I know, isn't it?

David: It’s always, you know.

Woody: Such a delight.

David: I don't think we could keep doing these if we didn't actually like each other. So, I’m always happy to see you.

Woody: We could, I think Abbott and Costello hated each other I heard.

David: Who did?

Woody: Abbott and Costello.

David: Oh yeah.

Woody: I heard they hated each other.

David: Yeah. Well, it's tough to be the straight man.

Woody: Oh, you're putting it all on Abbott's shoulders, is that what you're saying? [in Costello voice] David! Last week I said we're going to wish a happy birthday to San Francisco's best known [00:01:00] landmark. And if you were going to guess what a. San Francisco's best-known landmark is, what would you guess?

David: Sutro Tower?

Woody: No.

David: Coit Tower.

Woody: Nah.

David: The oh, I know, Salesforce Tower.\

Woody: That's right. We gonna do the podcast…

David: Does it have a tower?

Woody: It's not done yet. Maybe it will have a tower on the top.

David: Alright, I’m saying…

Woody: Okay.

David: The best-known landmark, does it have a tower?

Woody: Two towers, David, two towers. It's not St. Peter and Paul's.

David: It's very J.R.R. Tolkein-ian. It's the Golden Gate Bridge, Woody.

Woody: Yes.

David: Stop beating around the bush.

Woody: Okay. But you know, today's the end, the birthday, it's the 80th birthday today.

David: Wow.

Woody: Of, well, you know, it depends when you think the bridge is born. But we mostly use this day, May 27th as the anniversary of the bridge.

David: It's kind of the big opening public, pedestrian walk day.

Woody: Right.

David: That's where you see all those old souvenir tickets that had May 27th on 'em.

Woody: Right. So, [00:02:00] May 27th, 1937.

David: Yeah.

Woody: All those people, maybe up to 200,000 people.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Walked on the Golden Gate Bridge to open it and welcome it to San Francisco history and the landscape of the Bay Area, forever in everybody's mind.

David: Right.

Woody: And I can't believe we haven't done a podcast. I know last year for the 79th birthday we did a podcast on the approach to the Doyle Drive or something. We kinda sidestep the whole bridge.

David: Is that what we did?

Woody: We did something about that.

David: Yeah.

Woody: But now it's the 80th, which is round number. So, I thought we should talk about the Golden Gate Bridge. David, where is the Golden Gate Bridge?

David: Woody, the Golden Gate Bridge is, this is the dumbest…

Woody: I say this every week.

David: It's the dumbest question you've ever asked me. That is the dumbest that is. So, we're really? So, Golden Gate Bridge is at the northern part of San Francisco. The extremely northernness northern [00:03:00] part.

Woody: Right.

David: Unless you count Angel Island as some part of San Francisco.

Woody: No, I don't. So…

David: The Continental San Francisco.

Woody: And I think just for total newcomers who have moved to the city or just know Golden Gay Bridge from movies where it gets blown up or stuff.

David: Yeah.

Woody: You know, they may think that Golden Gate refers to the bridge. That this whole term Golden Gate originated with the bridge.

David: Right. People come and they say, it's not golden, it's orange or whatever.

Woody: Exactly. They think, oh, that's, that's a misnomer. It's not a golden.

David: No.

Woody: But the gold, the term Golden Gate came before the bridge.

David: Right. I think it was John Fremont who named it Chrysi Pyli.

Woody: Right.

David: Which is a Greek word meaning golden gate.

Woody: Right.

David: It's, and it's a, it's, it was a twist on another, what marine port in…

Woody: Antiquity essentially.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Yeah, yeah. But it's the idea that this opening into the bay was the opening into a golden new land.

David: Yes.

Woody: And so, [00:04:00] and so, that just what we always called the Golden Gate, and then we built the bridge over it.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So, that's Golden Gay Bridge. So, that's out of the way. But you know, I have to say also having grown up with it like you did that, you just take it for granted now.

David: Yeah.

Woody: But you look at it and I, in preparing for this podcast, I realized, again, what a ridiculous marvel it is and why people are so excited to see the thing and walk on it.

David: Right.

Woody: It's just giant and it's in a place you just wouldn't imagine that somebody would build a bridge.

David: Right.

Woody: So, do you know anything about how it actually, the origins of it or how it got built or anything about it David?

David: Or who decided that we even needed a bridge to go to sleepy old Marin County?

Woody: That's how it was then.

David: Yeah.

Woody: You know, it's like Marin County was a bunch of farms and chicken ranches.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And yeah.

David: I, really to be honest, I, I do not know. I mean, I think that I think that we are in an age of industrialization in the early ‘30s, [00:05:00] although we're middle of the Depression. The Bay Bridge had been constructed, what some consider even a greater…

Woody: Engineering achievement.

David: Engineering achievement than the, than the Golden Gate Bridge. And that got started just a little bit before and got finished a little before.

Woody: Yeah. It's, it's funny if you read like histories of the Golden Gate Bridge, you, you imagine that it's sort of a committee of government people that are coming up with this idea and that they want a bridge to like expand and to have people commute and all that. But it totally comes off like one guy's crazy idea that he just would not give up. And it's this guy, Joseph Strauss.

David: Alright.

Woody: Who for many, many, many years was kind of created as the, or put forward as the creator of the Golden Gate Bridge.

David: Right.

Woody: When, you know, he wasn't, you know, he was a bridge builder, but he…

David: He built a couple bridges down near the ballpark, that Third Street Bridge, Lefty O’Doul Bridge, it's called now.

Woody: Right.

David: He designed that.

Woody: And [00:06:00] that's the kind of bridge that he, that was his expertise.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Which was that, is it a Bascule Bridge?

David: You call it a Bascule, yeah.

Woody: Yeah. Where it has a big weight on one side and kind of pull it. That was his. That was his wheelhouse. He knew how to do those and did a lot of them. But this, it took some more talented engineers to really kind of pull off the Golden Gate Bridge. But…

David: Isn’t it the largest catenary span or…

Woody: Yeah.

David: Something.

Woody: Yeah. And the tides going through there and just the scale. So, it was one of those things that, that Strauss deserves a lot of credit for, because it was his vision that he just would not let up. He just like fought through all sorts of challenges along the way from environmental to military. Objections to having the bridge be put there.

David: Right.

Woody: To funding issues, to everything, right? I mean, this idea of the bridge is not started in the ‘30s. It's in the ‘20s. And it's funny there, there, O’Shaughnessy wanted to be a big part of having the bridge put in.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And he [00:07:00] kinda got cut out of it, it seems.

David: He’s the city engineer who, you know, pretty much built the modern neighborhoods and Hetch Hetchy and all that.

Woody: Yeah. But I know David, you're gonna, people probably know this too, if you've seen the original design or one of the original designs for the Golden Gate Bridge that Strauss came up with.

David: Yeah, very ugly.

Woody: It's the most ugly bridge in the world.

David: Wow.

Woody: Yeah, so, and I think that's why a lot of people are giving credit to the sort of unsung people behind the design…

David: Right.

Woody: Of the bridge in the engineering. So, one was a guy named Leon S. Moisseiff. I think it's Moiseiff. It's M-O-I-S-S-E-I-F-F. I actually have never heard it pronounced. But anyway, he was like this engineering marvel who kind of figured out how to do it. And another guy named Charles Ellis.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Who a lot of people give credit to for figuring out mostly the engineering side. And then there was Irving Morrow who you might remember the architecture firm, Morrow and Morrow, his wife.

David: Yeah. [00:08:00]

Woody: It was a husband-wife.

David: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Woody: Team. But he, he's the guy who's credited with a lot of the design elements that he kind of got with, from his friend Timothy Pflueger too, where the towers have a little bit of a stepping down from the top.

David: Sure. Yeah. So those are very, you know, that's very ‘30s. It's like the, like the Empire State Building sort of thing. They, they very.

Woody: Or Chrysler Building.

David: With that.

Woody: Yeah.

David: Art moderne or whatever.

Woody: Yeah. But, you know, the, can you describe what Strauss's design was? It was like a birdcage of,,,

David: Yeah, it was, it had a whole lot of trusses. It was like a bicycle wheel.

Woody: Yeah.

David: Almost. It had so many pipes in it.

Woody: Yeah.

David: That it was just like, wow, this is…

Woody: Just steel, like going all over the place.

David: Yeah.

Woody: It looked like, it looked like if somebody who didn't know what they were doing, it just, what's that, another bar of steel here? That'll make it stronger.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And then it took these other guys with their engineering expertise like Ellis to figure out how to make that. [00:09:00] Because we're in earthquake country.

David: Right.

Woody: You know, there's storms, there's tides, there's all that. How to make a bridge that almost looks weightless.

David: Right.

Woody: Be put in that place and looks so beautiful and not be like, covered up with a bunch of steel trusses.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Another story I think I've heard, which you probably heard too, is the military was worried about it being an obstacle and they wanted it painted like a bumblebee.

David: Right.

Woody: They wanted stripes of yellow and black all over.

David: So that nobody could see it to, to bomb it or whatever.

Woody: Or something, yeah. And it was just this like, can you imagine the Bumblebee Gate Bridge?

David: No. Well, I mean, I've seen the, like, pictures from ships and World War II with camouflage painting and that sort of thing, and they're very strange.

Woody: Yeah. Don't let military guys come up with your design aesthetic.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So. Anyway, so we could, we could do hours of podcasts on Strauss's journey of getting the Golden Gate Bridge built, but let's go to the birthday, essentially.

David: Okay.

Woody: So, you [00:10:00] know, they went through a lot up and downs. There was an accident. Men died in the construction of it. And, but then, the big day's gonna happen, and this is May 27th, 1937 when they have Pedestrian’s Day.

David: Yeah.

Woody: When you could walk across it. And David, we have some photos of this, right?

David: We do, we do. The whole, I think one of the whole premises was, it was called a fiesta.

Woody: Oh yeah. They came up with this whole fiesta theme.

David: And it was a week-long fiesta.

Woody: Yeah.

David: A fiesta. And so, people you see these, you see these pictures and people are all dressed in sort of Californio outfits. This old Spanish California look, with flat brim hats with little dingle balls floating from, hanging from 'em.

Woody: And I just left the Fandango from my ranchero is what it looks like.

David: Right.

Woody: Exactly.

David: I mean, so, that's a good tip. So, when you're looking at old family pictures and you see them all dressed up in cowboy outfits or something like that, it's probably around the time.

Woody: That week.

David: It could have been [00:11:00] exactly then.

Woody: Yeah.

David: That they were doing the Golden Gate Bridge opening.

Woody: Right.

David: Because I mean, it was a regional, it was a regional celebration.

Woody: The kids, all the school kids had the day off on Pedestrian’s Day and I, I've seen a few of these cards. We, I remember Annabel Marsh Pearcy had one.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Cause she walked on the bridge on opening day. Little cards that basically say Pedestrian Day.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And you have your name on it, like a little like membership card.

David: Oh neat.

Woody: And it's like a souvenir, right?

David: Yeah.

Woody: But then they had, didn't they have a parade that kind of…

David: They had parades. They had a whole grandstand built down in the just at the edge of the Presidio. They had a giant stage with huge, huge artificial redwood trees. I don’t know.

Woody: Because they couldn't get real ones anymore? What does that mean?

David: Yeah. But there were all kinds of pageants and, and people and exhibits and things all leading up to this walk.

Woody: Right. And then the day that people walked, it's just like what happened on the 50th anniversary, which, I [00:12:00] don't know if you went and walked across the bridge on the 50th.

David: I didn't.

Woody: My wife Nancy did.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And she talked about the crush. But people wanted to be the first to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

David: Right.

Woody: In some odd way. Like the first person on roller skates. They had a stilt walker or two right that walked across. First twins to walk across. Unicyclists. I think there was a, you know, first person to play a tuba. You know, everybody comes with something, cause they wanna be the first person.

David: Right.

Woody: On the Golden, walking on the Golden Gate Bridge to do this or to, or to, I think, the first person to cross and come back was like a jogger, you know, a racer or just a brand.

David: Right.

Woody: So, you have all those goofy things, but if I see the pictures, which I have of people on the bridge and they say 200,000 people, but it doesn't look like the 50th anniversary.

David: No.

Woody: I mean the 50th anniversary was packed.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And the bridge then…

David: I mean, they showed the bridge losing its curve in the pictures.

Woody: Right.

David: Yeah, cause it was weighed down so much.

Woody: And Nancy said it was scary.

David: Yeah.

Woody: That she was in the middle and she's not trying get pushed [00:13:00] off the side by the crowds.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Because they came from the other side. So, I don't know how they controlled that in ‘37, but it's a lot more sparse.

David: Right. Well, there weren't as many people.

Woody: Yeah, that's it. There weren't 200,000 people supposedly. But that whole week in all the ceremonies, they had aircraft carriers, you know, going under it. They had the planes from the aircraft carriers.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Flying over it.

David: Yep.

Woody: When they did the official like ribbon cutting, it wasn't a ribbon.

David: It was a chain.

Woody: It was like a steel chain.

David: A chain that they cut with an acetylene torch.

Woody: A blow torch.

David: We actually have a picture of that.

Woody: The mayor.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Rossi's got like goggles on and he is like using a torch to break the chain.

David: Funny.

Woody: So, so this is, you know, like I said, there's books, movies, you could do hours on the Golden Gay Bridge and the whole story. But because it's the birthday and our podcast day fell on the 80th birthday, I thought we should do it.

David: Well, we did it.

Woody: Do you regret, do you regret it?

David: I don't, I don't know that we are that [00:14:00] informative. But…

Woody: Well, let's see. What, do you have any other trivia you can share about the goal? Okay, I have one. I think I might have mentioned this in the past. My upstairs neighbor, when I was a kid, I had, there were two boys that lived upstairs we were friends with, and their father was, I think a detective.

David: Yeah.

Woody: With the police department. And every now and then he would say, Hey guys, everybody pick a toy and we'll go to the Golden Gate Bridge and drop it off. This is a, a police officer.

David: Oh boy.

Woody: And I remember my, my friend coming down going, oh, we're gonna do it today. So, we'd all pick one toy we didn't want anymore.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And we'd go to the Golden Gate Bridge. He'd drive us in his station wagon. And we'd walk to the middle and we'd drop this toy.

David: Did you look?

Woody: Yeah. Cause that was the fun part, watching it fall.

David: Did you look first to see that there was nothing, no ship underneath.

Woody: No.

David: No.

Woody: Okay. So, I don't recommend that, but there's my anecdote about the Golden Gate brand.

David: All right.

Woody: That you're not gonna get from anybody else.

David: Don’t drop things off the Golden Gate Bridge folks.

Woody: It was the ‘70s, you know? Everything was a little different. So.

David: Littering was okay.

Woody: Yeah. Do you have [00:15:00] any anecdotes? Have you ever been to Golden Gate Bridge? Have you walked up to one of the towers?

David: I have never been inside or up the tower. Yeah, that's something that I'd like to do.

Woody: We have some friends, so this is also not recommended, but who have walked up.

David: Oh.

Woody: Walked up the cables.

David: Walked up the cables. I definitely know people who have gotten into the tower and gone up the, up the stairways inside.

Woody: Yeah. Now it's higher security. But in the old days, yeah, it was like it was a dare.

David: Yeah.

Woody: You do in the middle of the night, you walk up the cable to the top of the tower. Not me. I wouldn’t do that.

David: Can't get away with that now.

Woody: Anyway, David, that's the Golden Gate Bridge. It's almost as brief as our Golden Gate Park one. I couldn't believe we did one on Golden Gate Park.

David: We'll have to do, figure out some more focused…

Woody: Well, it's okay to do a broad one every now and then.

David: Well, we'll do another one on the hundredth anniversary.

Woody: I’ll be 71. Okay. I can do that. But David, it's time for listener mail. [00:16:00] Do we have any listener mail.

David: We do.

Woody: Oh, good.

David: We do. We do. We have a message from Gaelen.

Woody: Gaelen, okay.

David: He says, hi guys. I love the podcast and appreciate all that.

Woody: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Do you think Gaelen’s spelled this way is a guy?

David: I don't know.

Woody: I think G-A-E-L-E-N. I think it might be a female Gaelen.

David: What?

Woody: Do you know this Gaelen?

David: I don't know. They just wrote in.

Woody: It's okay.

David: All right.

Woody: This person.

David: Gaelen.

Woody: Yes.

David: Writes, “Hi guys.”

Woody: She knows we're guys.

David: “I love the podcast and appreciate all your hard work in putting them together. My partner and I bought our house in Westwood Park in 2015.” Yay!

Woody: Yeah. Westwood Park. That's hundredth anniversary this year.

David: Yep. “After renting for six years at, prior at Judson and Congo.” Sunnyside!

Woody: Sunnyside, yep.

David: “So, I love learned learning about Baron Judson in the history of the area, and particularly appreciate the Westwood Park episode.”

Woody: Yeah, that was good. [00:17:00]

David: I'm writing because I read this…

Woody: It's a history of this.

David: Story…

Woody: Yeah.

David: About…

Woody: About the jail. It's our friends of the Sunnyside History Project wrote it.

David: Yeah. Amy O'Hair.

Woody: Yeah.

David: Who I, was she on? She was on it. We had her on a podcast. No?

Woody: No.

David: We didn't?

Woody: No, we got to.

David: Well, we should.

Woody: Yeah, we should. But they wrote about the jail at the Ingleside jail.

David: Right. Anyway. Gaelen says that the, that would be a great podcast topic. So maybe that's when we have Amy on.

Woody: Well, you know, it would be, I looked. And we did it.

David: We already did it?

Woody: You know what? Podcast, podcast episode it was?

David: Six.

Woody: Like 11. So, it might be time for a redo like Kezar.

David: Gaelen, go back and look at the old podcast.

Woody: I think if you go to our website, it's off the list. But if you went to iTunes, you could see it.

David: Oh, I should fix the list to show them all.

Woody: Yeah, the list cuts off, I think, in the teens.

David: I didn’t think that we would…

Woody: Record this many?

David: Do 200. [00:18:00] I think I made it go to like show 200 and then…

Woody: Right.

David: Can't imagine that. Yeah. I'll have to fix that.

Woody: Thanks for writing in Gaelen. If you wanna send us mail or review us on iTunes, we'd love that. So please do it. And if you really wanna guarantee you're gonna get on our podcast, which you do…

David: Yeah.

Woody: Then maybe you should buy a shout out or a spout off.

David: Yeah.

Woody: David, do we have a shout out or a spout off this week?

David: We do.

Woody: Oh, cool. What is it?

David: Apparently.

Woody: Oh yeah, we do.

David: David Gallagher wants to wish his wife a very happy birthday.

Woody: Now, did you put that in or your wife put that in?

David: I, I don't know who put it in and maybe it's not me.

Woody: A different David Gallagher, whose wife is this week, birthday is this week?

David: Well, my, my wife as you know, my wife's birthday is not this week.

Woody: It's in like March or something.

David: It’s in the end of March, yeah.

Woody: I wonder if this was a test message somebody put her up. Did we get our $50?

David: I don't know. You're the one who's, well wait.

Woody: We gotta be sure just in case there is a real [00:19:00] another David Gallagher. We should do this straight. So happy birthday to David Gallagher's wife this week. If there is another David Gallagher, write back. Cause we do not know who this person is.

David: Yeah.

Woody: I thought it was you making a joke or something.

David: Well.

Woody: No, it's not.

David: No, I don't joke about my wife's birthday.

Woody: You shouldn't. So, if you wanna do this, send us $50. It's fairly easy. You get a hundred-word message. We'll read it on the podcast. You just go to outsidelands.org/podcast. And it's easy to do. And David Gallagher, write back to us.

David: Who is that?

Woody: You have a doppelganger. Now it's time for events.

David: Yay events! We're doing, coming up next week, we're doing Nightlife at the Cal Academy.

Woody: Yep.

David: Which is kind of funny, because it's gonna be a, an event that they do in the planetarium. So, history pictures up on the ceiling of the planetarium.

Woody: Yeah. Mixed in with maps that fly around and you zoom through the [00:20:00] city. It's all high tech.

David: Very comfy chairs in there too.

Woody: Yeah.

David: That are made for leaning back in.

Woody: And maybe they'll play Dark Side of the Moon while we’re there.

David: Don't fall asleep. It does cost 15 bucks.

Woody: To get into the whole Nightlife. But you get, you know, you can buy beer and look at the exhibits and walk around. It's, it's a nice thing.

David: That’s cheaper than the normal price and it's not overrun with school children. And we're, we're gonna be there. Nothing against school children.

Woody: We're worth $15. Also, David, you know we're gonna do this OpenSFHistory Ocean Avenue presentation totally free.

David: Aah.

Woody: On Sunday, June 11th, in the afternoon, 3:00-5:00 in the lobby of the old El Rey Theatre.

David: Cool!

Woody: Right there, like Victoria and Ocean.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And we're gonna have a bunch of historians talking and doing little riff stories on different images from our OpenSFHistory collection.

David: Well, that’ll be cool.

Woody: Yeah. So come to that, that is, it's free, it's gonna be fun. And you're gonna learn a lot about Ocean Avenue area and see some great photos. So.

David: Yes!

Woody: Sunday, June [00:21:00] 11th.

David: Do it!

Woody: Yeah. And we're doing Lake Merced walks and all sorts of other stuff. Just go to the Events Page at outsidelands.org/events.

David: Yes.

Woody: And you can read all about all the different things. Lake Merced, walks, other stuff. And David?

David: Yes. Woody!

Woody: What else can somebody do on that website?

David: Why you can become a member of the Western Neighborhoods Project. Or just make a donation.

Woody: That's good.

David: You know the, any money that you send to us is tax deductible because…

Woody: And wisely spent.

David: Yeah. What?

Woody: And wisely spent.

David: Yes. And wisely spent. Exactly. It's tax deductible because you're really not getting any value for it. But what you will get…

Woody: There's no value.

David: I'm sorry.

Woody: You're just throwing your money away, but we appreciate it.

David: We are, hey, we are a California 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. So, donations made to us are tax deductible.

Woody: And you do get a magazine every [00:22:00] quarter?

David: Yeah, you do get the magazine. We, we get.

Woody: That's it.

David: You get, you get special member walks. So, we mention a couple of walks and events today. You get special member walks that we don't mention that are only available to members.

Woody: That's true.

David: You get the undying gratitude.

Woody: Back to that? Undying again. All right.

David: The time, limited time gratitude of Woody and me.

Woody: That's right.

David: So, I'm, I, this is, I, I, I'm losing it here.

Woody: You've only done this….

David: There’s a lot of reason…

Woody: 225 times.

David: There’s a lot of reasons to become a member.

Woody: So, do it.

David: So, do it.

Woody: All right, David. Here's a one-line preview for next week. We are going to visit a Doughboy.

David: What?

Woody: No, not that Doughboy. A totally different Doughboy. I'll see you next week.

Ian: Outside Land San Francisco is recorded by Ian Hadley. Content creation and media [00:23:00] production at ihadley.com.

Woody: To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history, go to outsidelands.org.

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