By California’s foremost historian, a paean to perhaps “the most beautiful bridge ever built.”
Upon its completion in 1937, San Francisco’s Golden Gate immediately took its place among the world’s greatest engineering and architectural feats. Its distinctive Art Deco towers, landscape-friendly International Orange and dramatic setting combined for a thrilling picture, perfectly symbolizing America’s Far West regional capital. The bridge had many godfathers, most prominently the city engineer who first called for its construction, the local chieftain who cleared the political path, the progressive banker who financed it and especially Joseph Strauss, the engineer/entrepreneur whose own design—“an upside-down rat trap,” said one opponent—gave way to the plan created by the brilliant team of consulting engineers, designers and architects he assembled. Starr (History/Univ. of Southern California; Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-63, 2009, etc.) discusses these and many other players, but don’t look here for the thorough detail or human drama captured so memorably in David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (1972). Instead, Starr sets a more delicate task, a jeweler’s assessment of the Brooklyn Bridge’s west coast rival. He neatly appraises the Golden Gate’s every facet, attempting to judge its qualities and to convey its essence, its singular “bridgeness.” The author tours the spectacular geography and recounts the history of its site, reflects on the bridge as an icon, reconstructs the vision that prompted its construction, details the political and financial obstacles overcome by its boosters, explains its design and follows the course of its building, remarks upon its central importance, functional and aesthetic, to the city, invokes the art it has inspired and muses upon the bridge’s dramatic allure for those contemplating suicide—all in remarkably few pages. If occasional passages feel hurried, few essentials feel left out, and Starr’s lyrical prose more than compensates for whatever’s missing in this appreciation of the “global icon” he so clearly loves.
In design and execution, every bit as worthy of the bridge it celebrates.