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San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened to traffic on November 12, 1936 at 12:30pm, as was reported in the San Francisco Chronicle; “the greatest traffic jam in the history of S.F., a dozen New Year’s eves thrown into one – the biggest and most good-natured crowd of tens of thousands ever to try and walk the streets and guide their autos on them”. U.S. President Herbert Hoover, who attended the Bay Bridge opening, called it “the greatest bridge ever erected by the human race.”

The Bay Bridge, the longest steel high-level bridge in the world spanning across San Francisco Bay, and linking San Francisco to Oakland, was also the largest and most expensive bridge in the world, and was built at a cost of $77 million dollars. The Bay Bridge is made up of a cable anchorage in San Francisco at Rincon Hill, two suspension bridges from San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island, a single-bore tunnel on Yerba Buena Island, (the biggest single-bore tunnel on earth at the time of construction), and a double tower cantilever section between Yerba Buena Island and Oakland. 

It was in May 1869, that the first transcontinental railroad was finished, and San Francisco found itself in the least advantageous position on the Bay for trade and commerce. Talk about a Bay Bridge started to spin, and a Bay Bridge Committee was formed.  In 1872, Emperor Norton I, the self-proclaimed Emperor of North America and Protector of Mexico, decreed several times that a suspension bridge be built connecting San Francisco to Oakland. Most of Emperor Norton’s decrees were discarded as eccentric, verging on lunacy, but this one began to gather lots of public and political support. The task of building the bridge, however, seemed too difficult, with the bay declared too wide and too deep, and it wasn’t until 1926, many years after Emperor Norton’s death, that the California Legislature formed the Toll Bridge Authority, and on July 9th, 1933, construction began in earnest, at the same time the other architectural wonder, the Golden Gate Bridge, was also being erected.

The Bay Bridge’s 1.78 mile western span between San Francisco and Yerba Buena Island, proved to be an enormous engineering feat, with the bay being up to 100 feet deep in places, and a massive concrete anchorage mid-span had to be built. The cantilever section, between Yerba Buena Island and Oakland was also a monumental engineering challenge, and boasts the deepest pier in the world at 242 feet below the water, and containing more concrete than the Empire State Building.

Very sadly, the days of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge are numbered. In October of 1989, the 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake, that hit the Bay Area severely damaged the eastern cantilever section of the Bay Bridge and signaled the end of the long and glorious history of this part of the Bay Bridge. Too difficult and costly to retrofit, the construction of a new eastern span is now under way