Bridge Lighting

Consulting Architect, Irving F. Morrow, wrote Report on Color and Lighting to Chief Engineer, Joseph B. Strauss, on April 6, 1935. In his report, he indicated that the two most important factors in lighting the Golden Gate Bridge are:  1) the enormous size of the project; and, 2) the tremendous scale and dignity of the project. Morrow carefully weighed these considerations as he designed his lighting scheme, one which would even further accent the uniqueness of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Because of the Bridge's great size, Morrow did not want the same intensity of light on all of its parts. The effect would seem too artificial. The towers, for example, were to have less light at the top, so they would seem to soar beyond the range of illumination. Further, because of the scale and dignity of the Bridge, Morrow believed tricky, flashy or spectacular lighting would be unworthy of the structure's magnificence. Thus, he selected low pressure sodium vapor lamps with a subtle amber glow for the roadway, providing warm, non-glare lighting for passing motorists. The lamps were the most modern available in 1937.

Forty-five years later in 1972, the original low pressure sodium roadway lights were replaced with high-pressure sodium vapor lamps. These modern lamps provide improved lighting at a lower cost. To preserve the original warm glow, the new lampheads have a plastic amber lens.

The tower lighting, as originally envisioned by Morrow, was not installed during the construction of the Bridge due to budgetary constraints. However, in 1987, shortly after the 50th Anniversary, the Bridge towers came to life with light on June 22, 1987. Just as Morrow had envisioned, the new lighting made the towers seem to disappear into the evening darkness, further accenting their great height. The tower lighting was installed at a cost of nearly $1.2 million, funded in part, through a generous grant from Pacific Gas & Electric Company. The lighting was installed by Abbett Electric Company, who under-bid the original construction estimates by nearly $1 million.

  • Main Cable Lights: There are eight 116 watt lights on each of the two main cables.

  • Roadway Lights: There are 128 lamp posts that line the roadway. In 1972, the original low pressure sodium (LPS) lighting (90 watts each) within the lamp posts were changed to high pressure sodium (HPS) lighting (227 volt and 250 watt each). (See photo of original light below)
  • Tower Sidewalk Lights: There are a total of 24 sidewalk-level lights with six at each of the four tower legs. They were installed in 1938 and are LPS lights, 35 watts each. The light Globe is a Holophane #1611 Globe, 15 15/16”w x 7 ¾” diameter. In 1984, the Bridge electric shop replaced the no-longer-manufactured globes with plastic replacement globes from Glenn Plastics, Riverbank, CA.
  • Tower Decorative Lighting: These are HPS, 400 watt decorative floodlights; with 12 at the sidewalk level pointed upward on each tower. There are also 12 HPS lights below the roadway for each tower; four are 150 watts, four are 250 watts, and four are 400 watts.
  • Aircraft Beacons: Installed in 1980, each tower now has a 360 degree flashing red aircraft beacon at the very top of the tower. Each beacon has two 750 watt lamps.Originally, the aircraft beacons had a single rotating red light; with a built-in “back-up” light.
  • Navigation Beacons: The San Francisco tower pier has one 1,000 watt beacon facing northward, with four 116 watt lights on the tower fender. The Marin tower pier has three 116 watt lights on three sides facing the water.
  • Midspan Navigation Lighting: For seafaring vessels, there are eight lights that mark the center of the Bridge below the deck at midspan; four on each side in a vertical column. The top three lights are white, the bottom light green.


Original Lighting with the Roadway Lamp Post

Bridge Light