San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Phil Frank recently used his pen to draw attention to a sad fact: When it comes to naming our bridges, the Bay Area has responded with an uncharacteristic lack of panache. The Golden Gate stands alone as the one span with a memorably gilded moniker. Can you imagine how diminished that epic stretch of steel would be were it known simply as the San Francisco-Marin Bridge?
And speaking of puzzles, why is it the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and not the San-Rafael-Richmond Bridge? Is there some unwritten Go-West Bias? That would certainly explain the Hayward-San Mateo Bridge but, then, how do we account for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge? When bridges are named after opposing points of departure, who gets top billing? This problem is easily resolved by naming our five major spans after deserving Bay Area heroes.
New York has the George Washington Bridge. LaSalle, Illinois has the Abraham Lincoln Bridge. Louisville, Kentucky and Jeffersonville, Indiana share the John F. Kennedy Bridge. But in San Francisco, only the land-locked Third Street bridge consecrates the memory of a local hero—baseball legend and tavern-keeper Lefty O’Doul.
But wasn’t there a Mister Dumbarton? Well, actually, no. That South Bay bridge was never officially named. Its commonplace title derives from the fact that the bridge’s eastern edge rises from Dumbarton Point (named, in 1876, for a Scottish town on the north bank of the River Clyde).
Happily, we do have one stirring example of a major suspension span that jauntily bears the name of a true Bay Area legend. The newest bridge over the Carquinez Strait bears the name of Al Zampa, a 95-year-old steelworker who helped raise the first Carquinez Bridge. And who can argue that “Al Zampa” is not the perfect name to hang on a bridge?
In the spirit of honoring Bay Area legends, let’s sound the trumpets and declare an Invitational Bridge Naming Competition. Whose names would we want to see enshrined on the Bay’s Bridges?
Phil Frank and Robert J. Chandler have kick-started a worthy campaign to rename the Western flank of the Bay Bridge after Emperor Norton, Fog City’s most colorful eccentric. The good citizens of Oakland may wish to respond by rechristening the eastward wing the Jack London Bridge.
Naming each section of the connection would give us the London-Norton Bridge (or the Norton-London). Another option would be to dub the two crossings in memory of the great labor leader who dominated the longshore workers unions on both sides of the Bay. What could be more resonant than collectively renaming the two portions of the Bay Bridge the Harry Bridges Bridges?
Perhaps the Richmond-San Rafael (which connects the Point Reyes National Seashore with roads leading to Yosemite) could be renamed the David Brower Bridge. Should the Hayward-San Mateo become the Barry Bonds Bridge or the Owen Spahn Span? Should the Dumbarton become the Carol Channing Southern Crossing? Or—and I confess this is a totally beyond-the-pale suggestion—we could re-paint the Golden Gate in chrome and re-christen it the Steve Silver Gate.
But why stop at the bridges? Howzabout: The Dianne Feinstein Incline; The Ram Dass Overpass; The Alan Watts Overcrossing; The Wavy Gravy Cloverleaf;
The Danielle Steele Cantiliever; The Wynona Ryder Divider; The Herb Caen Expresslane; The Lawrence Ferlinghetti Ferry Jetty; The Scarlot Harlot Car Lot; The Mickey Hart Bypass?
And no re-naming binge should be called complete until the Great Highway is renamed the Grace Slick Highway. (Complete with warning signs reading: “Caution: Slick Highway Be a-Head.”)
Gar Smith is editor emeritus of Earth Island Journal and Associate Editor of Common Ground Magazine, which announced a “Name the Bridges” contest in its