SAN FRANCISCO -- The city on Monday launched a yearlong 75th anniversary celebration of the opening of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge with a string of parties, guided tours and festivals to be held along the waterfront graced by the burnt-orange span since 1937.
"The Golden Gate Bridge stands today as a testament of innovation and imagination, a bridge built by the people during the Great Depression," said Janet Reilly, president of the bridge district board.
She and dozens of other civic leaders, national parks officials, bridge authorities and supporters spoke before a backdrop of the bridge set against a crisp, blue winter sky.
Authorities, however, won't be inviting the public to walk en mass along the storied bridge that marks the opening to San Francisco Bay.
Officials tried that in 1987 for the 50th anniversary. They closed down the bridge to traffic to replicate the opening-day festivities of 1937, when sprinters, roller skaters and tap dancers crossed what was then the world's longest suspension bridge.
An estimated 250,000 people ambled across the 1.7-mile bridge from either end on May 27, 1987, more than double the anticipated crowd. When they converged in the middle of the span, the human gridlock forced its majestic arch to flatten, creating mild panic and a few injuries before authorities could clear the crowd.
The bridge is built to be flexible and can move 16 feet vertically and more than 27 feet from side to side, allowing for weight fluctuations and the powerful winds that often howl through Golden Gate Strait, the mile-wide channel that connects the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. A multimillion dollar seismic retrofitting of the bridge is also under way.
Engineers in 1987 said the combination of weight and wind on that day felt like a mild earthquake to people on the bridge. Authorities this Memorial Day weekend don't want a repeat of that highly publicized scare.
"There will not be a bridge walk – and we hope that will be the headline today," Dennis Mulligan, general manager of the bridge district, said with emphasis on the word "not."
Instead, there will be fireworks, a boating parade, and music and dance performances. Guided night tours will begin in April, and tourists can visit a newly constructed 3,500-square-foot museum and a cafe that serves locally grown, sustainable food. There also is enhanced signage along hiking trails in the mountains surrounding the Golden Gate.
"The bridge is not the stage this time; rather, the community will come together to celebrate this engineering wonder," Reilly said.
Though widely beloved today, the bridge wasn't initially welcomed by all. The suspension bridge claimed 11 lives during the four years it took to construct and was derided as ugly, with the San Francisco Chronicle calling it a "$35 million steel harp" the day it opened.
Famed conservation photographer Ansel Adams and the environmental watchdog group Sierra Club believed the manmade structure painted an international orange would detract from the natural green beauty of the Golden Gate.
Today, it's the most photographed bridge in the world.