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Opening Fiesta Week

Opening Fiesta Week, May 27 to June 2, 1937

To view a pretty poor quality but fun film of Pedestrian Day and Opening Day in 1937, click here. Used with permission from William Reising.

The Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta was a week-long celebration that included a nightly pageant at Crissy Field, fireworks, parades, and entertainment. The Official Program of the Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta incudes the week-long schedule of events, bridge toll rates, general rules, as well as the traffic rules for the new bridge. It also included a proclamation from San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi, photographs of the bridge engineers, and various facts about the span. During the festivities, many area schools were closed and businesses were either closed or reduced to minimum staff so employees could join the festivities.

May 27, 1937

The Fiesta began at 6:00 a.m. with Pedestrian Day – the entire roadway was opened exclusively to pedestrians from dawn to dusk. By 6:00 a.m., it is estimated that 18,000 people were waiting to cross! An estimated 15,000 visitors an hour passed the turnstiles in a steady stream each paying 25 cents to cross. Scores of hot dog stands lined the roadway with estimates of up to 50,000 sold.

A number of “firsts” took place on this day with people competing to be the first to run, roller skate, tap dance, ride a unicycle, play a harmonica, push a baby carriage, play a tuba, and cross on stilts. According to the May 28, 1937, San Francisco Chronicle, these were just some of the FIRSTS recorded:

  • First to walk across and back on stilts: Florentine Calegeri, a houseman from the Palace Hotel
  • First to roller-skate across: Carmen Perez, 24, and Minnie Perez, 22, her sister, from 520 Bush Street in San Francisco
  • First mail carriers across: Charles Connor and Charles McFarlane both of San Francisco
  • First girl lost (and of course found) on the Bridge was 11 year old Anna Marie Anderson
  • First rope to be taken across went over in the hands of Boy Scout Troop No. 5 of San Anselmo headed by club master Zeno Callahan

It turned out to be a memorable day, with news reports estimating up to as many as 200,000 pedestrians participated. Pedestrian Day video:

At nearby Crissy Field, marching bands and floats that had traveled the flag-decorated parade route passed before a formal “Span of Gold” reviewing stand. Strauss arrived at about 10 am and simply shared his poem, “At last, the mighty task is done.” That night, the city celebrated the bridge with an enormous display of fireworks.

May 28, 1937

The Fiesta’s second day would be for automobiles. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key in the White House declaring the span open to the entire world.

Other special celebrations that took place on May 28 included:

9:30 a.m.: Marin (Waldo) approach dedication ceremony sponsored by the Redwood Empire Association with speeches by Governor Frank Merriam, San Francisco Mayor Rossi and others.

10:15 a.m.: International California Redwood Log-Barrier Sawing Contest on the Marin side.


10:30 a.m.: Chain-cutting ceremony on Golden Gate Bridge at the Marin tower, the San Francisco-Marin County line. In attendance were San Francisco Mayor Rossi, Board President Filmer, and Board member and treasurer of Redwood Empire Association Frank P. Doyle.

10:50 a.m.: Floral Gate Ceremony at the toll plaza, with Fiesta Queens garlanded with flowers forming a living gate, which opened to official dignitaries following presentation of the completed Golden Gate Bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District by chief engineer Strauss, and acceptance by Board President Filmer.


11:00 a.m.: Flight over the Bridge by 500 planes from Navy aircraft carriers Ranger, Lexington and Saratoga and battleships 60 miles out at sea.

11:30 a.m.: Bridge opening ceremonies at Crissy Field.

12:00 p.m.: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key in the White House declaring the span open to the entire world. Autos traveled over the Bridge simultaneously from the San Francisco and Marin sides.

3:00 p.m.:  The arrival of the United States Fleet Fleet – 42 ships in total. Ten capital ships were lead by the USS Pennsylvania, under the command of Admiral Arthur J. Hepburn, and followed by the California, West Virginia, Texas, Maryland, Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico, Mississippi, and Colorado. Heavy cruisers included the Indianapolis, Houston, Northampton, Pensacola, Salt Lake City, Louisville, Portland, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Astoria, San Francisco, Tuscaloosa, and Quincy. Light cruisers included the Concord, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Trenton, Richmond, Memphis, and Detroit.

10:00 p.m.: A grand fireworks display.

Dedication Address Closing Remarks by Francis K. Keesling

"We dedicate the Bridge to local, national and international service. It commands faith and integrity. Daniel Webster in delivering the first Bunker Hill Monument oration said, “We wish that this column rising toward Heaven among the pointed spires of so many temples dedicated to God, may contribute also to produce, in all minds, a pious feeling of dependence and gratitude. We wish, finally, that the last object to the sight of him who leaves his native shore, and the first to gladden him who revisits it, may be something which shall remind him of the liberty and the glory of his country.”

"We wish that this Golden Gate Bridge may remind the traveler as he leaves or approaches his native shore and also everyone who views it of the liberty and glory of his country where life, liberty, and happiness have so long persisted, so that he may be re-consecrated and, as a result of his “high resolve,” actively devote himself, as he should, to his country’s problems so that the continuity of life, liberty and happiness may be assured."

Remarks by Governor Frank F. Merriam

"The Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco is the tallest and longest single-span suspension bridge in the world."

In dedicating this bridge, Governor Merriam concluded with the following verses by William Ganson Rose:

I like a bridge –
It cries, “Come on,
I’ll take you there from here
and here from there
And save you time and toil.”

I like a bridge –
It breathes romance;
“There’s new adventure
on the further side
And I will help you cross.”

I like a bridge –
It makes me think
That when a worry comes
my mind will find
Somewhere a friendly bridge.

Fiesta Queen: Who was the reigning Fiesta Queen? 

The following stories have conflicting outcomes, one reports it was Pauline Ferrelly and the other reports it was Vivian Sorenson.

When the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge was drawing near, a competition was announced to select a Queen for the Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta. There was to be one queen for each of the 19 counties in northern California, and the county queen who received the most popular votes would become the Fiesta Queen. The Fiesta Queen would reign over the week-long activities of the Golden Gate Bridge opening, receive gifts, and be given a screen test in Hollywood!

Model Pauline Constance Ferrelly, with the agency Gantner & Mattern in San Francisco, was one of 200 candidates completing to represent San Francisco. She was the odds-on favorite early on. Ballots for voting were not free; they cost 25 cents, with the funds going to augment the Fiesta budget. When the standings were announced, Pauline led by a 2,000-vote margin. She had 26,400 votes and became Fiesta Queen. She was an instant celebrity everywhere she went.

Once the formal Fiesta activities started, Pauline and the other 18 county queens moved into the Fairmont Hotel as guests of the management. She kept a schedule that had her running from sunrise to sunset. Pauline attended all Fiesta functions, from Pedestrian Day on the Bridge, to the Great Golden Gate Parade, to the Native Sons and Daughters Ceremonial at the Bridge toll plaza, to “The Span of Gold” pageant at Crissy Field, to the dedication of the Marin Approach, to the Golden Gate Bridge with Governor Frank Merriam, and many more.

Pauline’s greatest dream came true when she married Charles Brady in 1940; they had 8 children. She passed away in 1985 of a heart attack.

However, one San Francisco newspaper named San Francisco Stenographer Vivian Sorenson as Fiesta Queen of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Hail to the Queen of the Golden Gate – the girl who will rule over San Francisco’s glorious Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta which starts today and ends Wednesday. She is Vivian Sorenson, beautiful dark-eyed brunette, who polled the highest vote from more than 100 entrants in 19 Northern California counties. Her home is in San Francisco. On her dark hair a crown will rest. A Spanish mantilla will drape her shoulders. Gay, royal robes will sheath her slim figure.

Yesterday her fingers sped on prosaic typewriter keys over the dull figures and facts of marine insurance. Today they will dance over a keyboard that sings: I’m Queen of the Golden Gate. Happy ending to a dream that began months ago when the Fiesta Queen Contest began. Hard sledding it was at first, with more than a hundred lovely rivals striving for the crown.

Work it meant and endless smiles and cajolements. But at midnight Thursday she, and other girls of beauty, wore finis to the job of vote getting. Time was up. When the votes were finally tabulated, no less than 397,000 stood to the credit of Queen Vivian Sorenson. She wept with gladness when told.

She had won, but by the narrowest of margins. Blonde and beautiful 19-year-old Pauline Farrelly, pride of the Castro Street district, was almost in reach of the crown with 369,100 votes—almost but not quite enough to tie. A brave and gallant effort this lovely youngster made.

All photographs © Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, San Francisco, CA. All rights reserved. Permission is required for use.

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