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San Francisco celebrates Golden Gate Bridge, L.A. celebrates ... ?

May 28, 2012|By Christopher Hawthorne
  • Lights illuminate the Golden Gate Bridge during the celebration of its 75th anniversary on Sunday.
Lights illuminate the Golden Gate Bridge during the celebration of its… (Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty…)

If the Golden Gate Bridge's 75th birthday celebration proved anything to an architecture critic visiting from Los Angeles, it was that Southern California doesn't seem to have any single structure with the power to unify the region the way the bridge unifies the Bay Area.

The weekend's events included music and dance performances near the bridge, art exhibits and countless articles and panel discussions on its history and design. It all culminated in a fireworks display Sunday night. After a cool and foggy morning the skies cleared by late afternoon, giving a direct view to people watching from spots near the bridge, out on the water and even -- in one touch reminiscent of L.A. -- helicopters circling above.

I watched the fireworks with my family from the deck of the house in the Berkeley Hills where I grew up, and where my parents still live. An optical illusion of sorts makes it seem as though many parts of the East Bay hills are exactly opposite the Golden Gate, and that illusion seemed especially strong during the fireworks, which began with a spectacular effect that lighted up each end of the bridge's deck before twin trails of light raced to meet in the middle.

After that opening, the fireworks were impressive but not so much different from the annual Fourth of July display. But at the moment when the two strips of light met in the center of the deck, the bridge seemed to occupy the indisputable center of the Bay Area.

It made me wonder if any piece of architecture in L.A. might inspire us, on a significant anniversary, to rally around it the way Northern  Californians rallied in recent weeks around the bridge. City Hall might, when it turns 100. Dodger Stadium, the Griffith Observatory and Walt Disney Concert Hall are other obvious candidates.

But the truth is that San Francisco is a city of bridges, and bridges have an obvious unifying symbolism that buildings don't. New and redesigned bridges over the L.A. River therefore have a great deal of civic potential. In the meantime we can look at the Golden Gate Bridge's milestone and the soon-to-be-finished eastern span of the Bay Bridge as two more examples of the cultural gulf between Northern and Southern California.

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