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Golden Gate Bridge looking ‘shabby’ on eve of 81st anniversary

Golden Gate Bridge officials acknowledge the span is looking a bit shabby these days and now there is a push to gussy up the structure, which celebrates its 81st birthday Sunday.
The span’s appearance is on the mind of the public and the bridge district’s own board members, who have noticed blemishes on the towers, uneven paint on the span’s main cables and a generally tired presentation.
Now one bridge board member is suggesting the district hang signs explaining the reasons behind the weathered look. Another wants to add to the span’s 41-person paint staff. Meanwhile, a Mill Valley man says he will form a nonprofit to raise millions of dollars to buy millions of gallons of international orange paint to restore the bridge’s luster.

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“It’s the No. 1 complaint I get,” said board member Brian Sobel of Sonoma, addressing the bridge’s appearance. “If you have a house in your neighborhood and someone says it’s a structurally great house, but I never paint it, so it looks like hell, that’s not really something the neighborhood wants to see.”
Bridge officials say the span is being painted, but the effort is focused on critical areas that help maintain the structure’s integrity.
“We have a crew working full-time painting the bridge, but they are below the roadway where we have our greatest needs and so the public is not aware of it,” said Denis Mulligan, general manager of the bridge. “That having been said, the south tower, we acknowledge, looks shabby. But what you see that looks shabby is ornamental plating that covers the ‘X’ bracing that holds it up. The tower is in excellent shape.”
But board member Dick Grosboll of San Francisco said the issue is a “major concern” and suggested more needs to be done, and that maybe adding a pair of painters — at $150,000 each annually for salary and benefits — might do the trick.
“If we added two painters, could we paint the bridge a little bit quicker, and better? … Why isn’t the bridge painting a higher priority?” Grosboll asked at the bridge board meeting last week. “It is frustrating. It comes up all the time.”
Mulligan explained painting is not easy — especially the south tower — which would cost up to $30 million because of the difficult nature of the work locale, the need to blast off and remove the old paint without it falling into the bay and then applying new coats. In addition, other contractors will soon be on the span building a suicide barrier, while seismic strengthening work is upcoming. Having too many contractors on the span at once could drive up costs of all the projects as they would have to make their way around each other, Mulligan said.
The contractors who do the seismic work will likely do the south tower paint job — not bridge painters — because of the technical difficulty, but that is at least three years away.
“We feel we have adequate staffing levels to stay on top of the painting,” Mulligan said, but added, “The aesthetic condition of the south tower, where it looks shabby, generates a lot of inquiries.”
Mulligan noted some of what looks like rust or paint peeling is actually moss growing on the steel, which can be removed by pressure washers using warm water.
Board member Barbara Pahre of Napa suggested placards should be placed on the span explaining the bridge’s haggard look to the public.
“How about some sort of a sign that says, ‘I know we look shabby chic…’ so people understand. We tout the fact that we are an icon. And I get it, we need to take care of the structure. But it also needs to present as an icon,” she said.
It’s not only the tower that needs some paint: the span’s main cables have lost their shiny red look in places. In 2011 bridge officials announced those main cables would be painted. But after the low-hanging section of cables were painted mid-span, work stopped. That’s because the main cable access system needed to be redesigned to improve worker safety. Once that is completed, work will start again. The worker safety project is expected to go out to bid by the end of the year.
Contrary to legend, the 1.7-mile span was never painted from one side to another 365 days a year, bridge officials said.
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Mill Valley’s Porter Davis finds the span’s aesthetic issues off-putting and plans to form a nonprofit to raise money dedicated to painting the span. He suggested the Golden Gate Bridge Beautification Foundation as his group’s moniker, but that was shot down by span officials, who said the famous Golden Gate Bridge name can’t be used.
“We’ll figure out something,” said Davis, as he stood in front of the bridge earlier this week. “This is the gateway from the Pacific. This is how people are welcomed to California and more importantly the San Francisco Bay Area. The whole bridge needs work. You see the rust and decay. We want beautification of the bridge and the way to do that is to raise the funds and have painting done every day.”

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