The Story of the Golden Gate Bridge
The Story of the Golden Gate Bridge
February 26 - October 14, 2012


The title of the exhibition, A Wild Flight of the Imagination, is borrowed from a 1921 promotional prospectus for the Golden Gate Bridge. The authors, chief engineer for the Bridge Joseph Strauss and San Francisco city engineer M. M. O'Shaughnessy, used inspirational language to set a tone for the enormously ambitious engineering feat—language and imagery that would endure throughout the four-year project and that clings to our image of the bridge even today.

The exhibition begins with a look back at the Golden Gate—that great aperture linking the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean—a hundred years before the bridge and its history as an inspirational landscape for artist, writers, and travelers. The exhibition continues chronologically, from the events leading up to the bridge's conception, to its completion in 1937.

Visitors will learn what life was like in the years just before the bridge was constructed, including ferry life and culture along the San Francisco Bay and the increasing pressure that cars put on the city confined by water on three sides. A unique scrapbook of clippings from the late 1920s, part of the CHS collection, allows viewers to trace the elaborate media campaign that succeeded in winning over a reluctant public. The original Western Union telegram to Mayor "Sunny Jim" Rolph of San Francisco dated December 29, 1924, alerting him that the bridge had been approved by the War Department—a huge hurdle for the project—will allow visitors to feel the excitement that must have accompanied the receipt of this news 88 years ago.

Works of art made by artists employed as part of the campaign for the bridge will be shown for the first time in many years. Paintings by Maynard Dixon and Chesley Bonestell (who would later become famous as "the father of modern space art") imagine what the bridge would ultimately look like. Along with drawings for the bridge by architects John Eberson (best known for his movie palace designs) and Irving Morrow, these works have been in the care of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District. Through a shared interest in making them available to the public, they have come to the galleries at CHS.

Photographs and scrapbooks depicting the lives of workers on the bridge, original tools, a hard hat, and an opportunity to hold a rivet from the bridge will give visitors a more physical sense of the work involved in building this landmark admired around the globe.

Some of the artists and architects include:

Ansel Adams (1902-1984), Chesley Bonestell (1888-1986), Horace Bristol (1908-1997), William A. Coulter (1849-1936), Maynard Dixon (1875-1946), John Eberson (1875-1954), John Gutman (1905-1998), Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), Irving Morrow (1884-1952), Carl Adolf Von Perbandt (1832-1911), Ray Strong (1905-2006), Carlton Watkins (1829-1916), Raymond Dabb Yelland (1848-1900)

Jessica Hough, Lead Curator

Anne Lansdowne Rees, Curatorial Assistant

Robert David, Erin Garcia, and Trubee Schock, Curatorial Advisors

This exhibition has been generously supported by S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Sherwin-Williams, The Bernard Osher Foundation, Cal Humanities, The Hearst Corporation, Derry Casey Construction, Stephen LeSieur, and Consulate General of Switzerland in San Francisco.

A Wild Flight of the Imagination eBook generously sponsored by

678 Mission Street
San Francisco
CA 94105
415.357.1848 voice
415.357.1850 fax
Gallery + Store
Tuesday – Sunday
11:00am to 5:00pm
Wednesday – Friday
1:00pm to 5:00pm
Monday – Friday
9:00am to 5:00pm