Then and Now: A vision that spanned the Golden Gate strait

The Bay Bridge may be the region’s commuter workhorse, but it’s the Golden Gate Bridge our mind travels to when we think about the region’s beauty and possibilities. With the California Historical Society now painted International Orange, the buildup to the bridge’s 75th anniversary celebrations in May is in high gear.

The Strauss statue was erected four years after the bridge.

Many of these festivities will focus on the vision of Joseph B. Strauss, a frustrated civil engineer from Cincinnati who imagined a world in which the strait between San Francisco and Marin County could be bridged. A poet whose paeans to his edifice (“The Mighty Task Is Done”) and to the giant Sequoias (“The Redwoods”) are still read by tourists, Strauss died a year after the bridge’s completion, the victim of overwork and financial stress.

His legacy is not just a vision for what the Bay Area could accomplish, but an insistence on safety that saved the lives of many workers. He continued the template of Bay Area enterprise — begun with Levi Strauss — that combines ambition with social responsibility.

This column is provided to j. by the Contemporary Jewish Museum (, where “California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present” is on view.