The Old Gray Mare: At 75, the Bay Bridge Remains Hardworking and Overlooked

On Nov. 10, a group of Caltrans officials gathered on Treasure Island to give a few speeches and cut some cake. A modest gathering by any standards, for the 75th anniversary of the Bay Area's hardest working bridge, this was as underwhelming as honoring a lifetime of achievement with a single potato chip.

Even as the Bay Bridge's cake was being cut, the Golden Gate — her prettier, more popular, and just barely younger sister to the west — was being pampered for her upcoming 75th. According to the website dedicated specifically to the occasion, the birthday bash will include an "anniversary year" of events, including celebrations as early as Marin County's 2011 summer fair, all building to a two-day gala in May 2012.

Where was the Bay Bridge's gala? She's the reliable, brawny mule to the Golden Gate's flashy unicorn. The Bay Bridge boasts twice as many lanes, ferries twice as much traffic a day, and brings in 50 percent more toll revenue. Her anchors are the deepest in the world (242 stories). Her span is the longest among high-level steel bridges (8.25 miles). Her Yerba Buena tunnel is the tallest bore in the world (58 feet in diameter), and the view of downtown revealed overhead as one exits westward is beautiful. She was dreamed up by an Emperor. She's untainted by suicides. And she is, to date, the most expensive single structure ever built — perhaps her most San Franciscan of qualities.

The ol' workhorse did have her Cinderella night 25 years ago, when fireworks sparkled over the bridge's span, lighting up thousands of residents' awed faces and mid-'80s shoulder pads. Perhaps the double-decker ugly duckling felt, for once, like the fairest in the Bay.

But the Golden Gate's 50th the next year upstaged her, and her redhead sister's grip on city's heart has remained strong. People recreate her likeness in cakes, dioramas, and Rubik's Cube sculptures. Junior-level Girl Scouts march across her span, to graduate to Cadette level; if young ladies were to hoof it across the Bay Bridge, they would graduate to Oakland.

Concerned, we checked in with the Bay Bridge on Twitter, where she gabs about traffic and earthquakes with @SF_Cablecar and @Waves_SF. She admitted she was "disappointed" in her birthday but still didn't want a big fuss. "I've never been particularly flashy," @SFBayBridge wrote in an e-mail. "Just acknowledgment and appreciation. And also cake."

That, the city could manage. Here is a bridge that doesn't have it in herself to inspire humanity with lofty building. She's got people to move.

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