Posted March 5, 2013

The Golden Gate Bridge Congratulates the Bay Bridge for Its New Light Installation!

Our friends at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge have a lot to be proud of these days – with the construction nearing the finish line and the highlight of the evening of March 5 – the debut of the much-anticipated 25,000 LED light makeover. We here at the Golden Gate Bridge are excited for the new light show that will surely dazzle Bay Area residents and tourists alike.

The new Bay Bridge light installation has also been raising questions about the Golden Gate Bridge’s nightly amber glow, so we thought we should shed some light on our subtle lighting design.

Irving Morrow and his wife, Gertrude, were architects at their own firm, Morrow and Morrow. Irving Morrow was named the architect for the Golden Gate Bridge by Chief Engineer, Joseph Strauss. We have him to thank not only for the faint lighting on the span but also its unique International Orange coloring and art deco styling.

To really understand the heartfelt vision of Irving Morrow for the lighting design, you have to take a moment and read his Report on Color and Lighting submitted to Chief Engineer, Joseph B. Strauss, on April 6, 1935.

In creating the lighting plan, Morrow looked at two factors: (1) the enormous size of the project; and, (2) the tremendous scale and dignity of the project. Then, he carefully weighed these considerations as he designed his lighting scheme, which would even further accent the uniqueness of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Here is just a snippet of his imagination and thought process applied to the lighting plan: Because of the scale and size of the Golden Gate Bridge, Morrow did not want the same intensity of light on all of its parts as the effect would seem too artificial. The towers, for example, were to have less light at the top, so they would seem to soar beyond the range of illumination. Further, because of the scale and dignity of the Bridge, Morrow believed tricky, flashy or spectacular lighting would be unworthy of the structure's magnificence. Thus, he selected low pressure sodium vapor lamps with a subtle amber glow for the roadway, providing warm, non-glare lighting for passing motorists. The lamps were the most modern available in 1937.  

Forty-five years later in 1972, the original low pressure sodium roadway lights were replaced with high-pressure sodium vapor lamps. These modern lamps provide improved lighting at a lower cost. To preserve the original warm glow, the new lamp heads have a plastic amber lens.

The decorative tower lighting, as originally envisioned by Morrow, was not installed during the construction of the Bridge due to budgetary constraints. However, in 1987, shortly after the 50th Anniversary, the Bridge towers came to life with light on June 22, 1987. Just as Morrow had envisioned, the new decorative tower lighting made them disappear into the evening darkness, further accenting their soaring height.