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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

75 Years of Golden Gate Color

 Credit: Erza Shaw

In the midst of the big Memorial Day weekend, there was a very special birthday to celebrate. The Golden Gate Bridge turned 75 on Sunday! As a native to the Bay Area, I get to see this landmark almost daily from my travels around the Oakland area....and I never take that for granted.  I was lucky enough to watch the amazing firework display from the deck of a friends home as we all cheered this icon who never seems to age a day.

Credit: National Geographic
The Golden Gate Bridge is much more than just a treasure to those of us in the Bay Area; It's a landmark known worldwide. I would be remiss as a Bay Area colorist if I didn't talk about it's unusual hue that sets it apart from other bridges.

The first misconception is that it is named FOR it's color. It's actually named for covering the expanse of the Golden Gate Strait which leads out to the Pacific Ocean. It was named in 1846 by Army Captain John Fremont because it reminded him of Golden Horn harbor in Istanbul.

View of Strait in 1891
Before the bridge, the bay was clogged with ferries carrying people between Marin and San Francisco. The bold idea of engineer and bridge builder, Joseph Strauss, was that an bridge should be built across the strait.

 View of early bridge construction in 1933

 It had plenty of naysayers that doubted it could be done due to the strait's infamous of high winds.   The Depression was also going on and the bridge was opposed by many special interest groups, but victoriously voted in by the locals granting a 35 million dollar bond.

Joseph Strauss
Construction began in 1933. Like most bridges at time of construction, colors under consideration were black, gray or silver. Since this was to be the largest suspension bridge ever built, a consulting architect by the name of Irving Morrow who was working on bridge lighting and it's Art Deco elements, made the case for a color that was considered shocking!
                                                                                      Irving Morrow

In his report, available here, which is a must read for color nerds and Golden Gate bridge fans alike, Morrow, states, 

During a considerable portion of the year, particularly during summer, the San Francisco Bay area is covered by high fogs and is relatively sunless. At these times the                  atmosphere is gray. In sunny weather the predominant color of bay and ocean is blue. In other words, the prevalent atmospheric colors are cool. A structure which is to be emphasized must appear in contrasting or warm colors”. He went on to scold local architects that local color was “on the whole timidly colorless without the accent and warmth which conditions call for”.

He ruled out yellow as “lacking substance” and reds as appearing “heavy and without luminosity”.
He was taken with the red lead paint often used as primer for steel so his considerations were:

a) “Orange vermillion, or the color of shop red lead paint”
b) “Orange vermillion, slightly tinged with brunt sienna.”
c) “Burnt Sienna leaning toward orange vermillion.”
d)“Burnt Sienna”.


Local artist, Benjamin Buffano and other locals supported this bold choice although bridge authorities did not due to their fears of wearability. They relented when Morrow found a paint capable of less frequent maintenance. The final color chosen for the bridge was called International Orange (sometimes called International Airway Orange) and was considered very unusual at the time. The US Navy was hoping for black and yellow stripes! 



 While there are exact color recipes available by the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District available here, it is considered closest to Pantone 180. The paint company that is currently under contract to provide paint for the bridge is Sherwin Williams. While they custom mix the bridges exact formula, Sherwin Williams nearest color to the Golden Gate Bridge is Fireweed, SW 6328 and Benjamin Moore's Hot Apple Spice 2005-20.


The original paint, which was heavily lead based, was slowly removed between 1965 and 1995. Advances in paint technology and it's resistance to erosion certainly help, but the bridge is still continuously touched up by a team of 28 painters. 

Source: Golden Gate Highway and Transportation District

After 75 years, this majestic lady certainly deserves the continued upkeep and attention.  Happy 75th Birthday, you gorgeous bridge.

Credit:Thomas Hawk
















2 comments:

niki, unifiedspace said...

Great post & lovely collection of images. I'm coming over to San Fran next month so this has made me super excited! Here in Edinburgh, they have just finished painting the Forth Rail Bridge in a paint which they hope will last for 30 years. The bridge is up for possibly getting World Heritage status :)

unifiedspace said...

Just had to pop back to say WOOOOOW! What a fabulous city you live in. We loved every bit of our visit and met lovely people, cycled the bridge, went to the Gautier exhib, the Modern art Maria Botta building, went to Beach Blanket, you name it, what an absolute ball!
I love your post and am inspired by all you items too, especially the Vogue through the years image, brilliant!