The Golden Gate Bridge, Then and Now: The Bridge Turns 85

Golden gate

The Golden Gate Bridge is turning 85 this May, and that got us thinking about everything that’s changed since its early days. Built to address the need for a viable statewide transportation artery, and to serve the growing Bay Area population by linking San Francisco with the neighboring counties to the north, the bridge opened with a pedestrian-only celebration on May 27, 1937, attended by 200,000 people, and then to vehicles on May 28, 1937. Considered an engineering marvel when it was constructed, the 1.7-mile bridge cost $35 million dollars to build (more than 1.6 billion if built today), and it was the longest suspension bridge span in the world at that time.

golden gate bridge construction
Golden Gate Bridge, Constructing Catwalks, San Francisco Subjects Photography Collection, PC-SF, California Historical Society.

Here’s a look at what’s different these days:

TollOn May 28, 1937, it cost 50 cents to cross the bridge, with a 5-cent surcharge for more than three passengers. Pedestrians were charged 5 cents to cross the bridge.Today, rates begin at $6.05 for carpool up to $9.05 for toll invoice, but pedestrians may cross for free. Expedited FastTrack payment was introduced on the bridge in 2000, and cash tolls were no longer accepted after March 27, 2013.
TrafficMore than 3.3 million vehicles crossed the bridge in 1938, the first full year it was open to the public.In recent years (save Covid-19 times), about 40 million vehicles cross the bridge each year.
PaintIn the 1930s, the primer used to paint the bridge was two-thirds lead, later discovered to be harmful to both humans and the environment.In 1968, a program to replace the toxic primer and top coat with a zinc-based primer and vinyl top coat began, and in 1990, the top coat was changed to an acrylic emulsion to meet air quality requirements; the process was completed in 1995.  
LaborAt the time of construction, Bridge builders made $11 per hour.Currently, the bridge’s ironworkers, called “pushers,” make about $94,000 per year, before benefits and overtime.
The Round House CafeThe iconic Art Deco Round House Cafe at the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1938, offering near 360-degree views.In partnership with the National Parks system, San Anselmo’s Equator Coffees reopened the historic café last year.    

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Lotus Abrams

Lotus Abrams has covered everything from beauty to business to tech in her editorial career, but it might be writing about her native Bay Area that inspires her most. She lives with her husband and two daughters in the San Francisco Peninsula, where they enjoy spending time outdoors at the area’s many open spaces protected and preserved by her favorite local nonprofit, the Peninsula Open Space Trust.