So it seems that the California Historical Association has hit upon an idea: To commemorate the installation of a new exhibition marking the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, the organization plans to paint their headquarters building in SoMa the exact same color as… the Golden Gate Bridge.
It’s a clever idea, but it’s not so original. Indeed, here in Bernal Heights, where everyone is avant-garde, there is already a structure which does the same thing. It’s a house located on Precita near the intersection with Shotwell, and it’s painted from top to bottom in the exact color used on the Golden Gate Bridge: International Orange.
The University of California at Berkeley provides a quick overview of how International Orange was selected for use on the bridge:
Chief engineer Joseph Strauss and his colleagues intended to select a paint that would withstand the harsh winds and weather and the corrosive salt air-constant factors for a bridge across the Golden Gate. Following a year of testing paints and colors, the possible choices were carbon black, steel gray, and orange. Some felt that this bridge, like others, should be black, gray, or silver. Architect Irving Morrow preferred the warm orange color for both aesthetic and practical reasons. He felt that the darker shades would detract from the beautiful setting and that orange could be seen better in dense fog, another constant factor for the Gate. He was supported by local artist and sculptor Benjamin Buffano, and by many other locals who wrote letters supporting his choice of “International Airways Orange.”
San Franciscans took to International Orange almost immediately, as evidenced by this letter sent to Irving Morrow in 1935 — two years before the bridge was completed:
For some time I have been wanting to express to you how fine the Golden Gate Bridge tower on the Marin Shore seems to me.
I have watched it from the ferry and the city in almost every kind of weather and light, and find it superbly in harmony with the landscape both in design and color.
Now that the south tower is beginning to appear, the beauty of that color of red lead has been brought home to me even more — in marked contrast to the drab color of the Carquinez Bridge and others about the bay.
Couldn’t the Golden Gate Bridge be left in red lead or some finishing paint that approaches vermillion?
It would enhance the dignity of the great structure and harmonize it completely with its surroundings.
Of course, that “red lead” wasn’t just primer — it was the finish coat, and a lead-free version of the color is still in use today. According to the purchasing manager for the Golden Gate Bridge, the official paint is called “Golden Gate Bridge International Orange” (Code: B-66EJ1000 or B-640216206) and it’s manufactured by Sherwin-Williams.
Unfortunately, the paint used on the bridge is a custom commercial mix sold only to high-volume clients. For civilian homeowners, Sherwin-Williams makes a consumer color color called “Fireweed” (code SW 6328) that’s an exact equivalent to the paint used on the bridge.
Funny thing, though… when you see a sample of Fireweed — like the one to the right — it looks much much darker and much less orange than your mental image of the Golden Gate Bridge:
But that’s (literally) just a trick of the light. This photo shows a field comparison, with a Fireweed swatch held up alongside a portion of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you allow for a little fading and oxidation on the portion of the bridge shown here, you can see it’s the same color:
Hit that color with some intense natural sunlight, and watch what happens… Voila! It glows in that familiar Golden Gate Bridge hue. Notice how that’s happening in the sunny portion of the Bernal Heights house shown in this photo:
So there you have it. More than you ever wanted to know about the Golden Gate Bridge House in Bernal Heights. And why do we know so much about this home?
That’s easy: It’s my house, I researched and chose the color, and I live here.
PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics