The Golden Gate Bridge graces the Bay today because in 1930 the voters in the Bridge’s six-county District had the foresight to pass a bond issue to fund the project. The vote wasn’t even close: 145,057 favored the $35 million measure while only 46,954 opposed it. But the overwhelming yes vote did not deter the opposition from interfering with the sale of the construction bonds. In 1932 a committee was formed, including Chief engineer Joseph Strauss, to convince A.P. Giannini, Chairmen of the Bank of America, to proceed with the sale. The group succeeded and with Giannini backing the bridge became a reality.
In the 1930s the Golden Gate Bridge District Board of Directors worked to ensure the bonds approved by the voters would remain financially viable. To this end the Directors sought to maximize toll revenue. They believed one way to amplify bridge tolls would be to provide attractive and multiple access routes. On the Marin side of the bridge, the District supported both the Waldo Grade access to be built in the hills above Sausalito, as well as a lower route along the town’s waterfront, known later as the “Golden Gate Freeway”.
As early as 1924, with the approval by the War Department for a bridge across the Golden Gate, two basic Marin bridge access routes were under discussion: One, a proposal for a road above Sausalito and another for a route through Fort Baker to join with Water Street (now Bridgeway) near the ferry terminals. By 1934, both routes were undergoing a construction survey by the California Highway Commission (CHC). In the 1930s the Bridge District worked with the City of Sausalito to encourage development of the Fort Baker route as a four-lane highway along the waterfront through the central area of town.
Sausalito had long assumed that it would be located on State Route 1, described in the first State highway plan as running from San Francisco to Crescent City. The city fathers were alarmed as it became clear that the main access route to the new Golden Gate Bridge would be built on an alignment completely by-passing the town’s central area. As headlined in the June 15, 1934 Sausalito News, “Sausalito Fighting for Direct Bridge Highway.” The article explained “Sausalito is making a concerted drive to be included in the road system connecting the Golden Gate Bridge with the Redwood Highway and not be left out in the cold to become a ‘forgotten city’.…”
Sausalito’s fears were confirmed when on July 13, 1934 the CHC adopted the Waldo Grade as the primary bridge access route. The city turned to the Fort Baker route as its best option to remain an important part of bridge access. In a September 22, 1933 article the Sausalito News described the route from the bridge through Fort Baker as a “rapid transit highway.” It was to be four lanes wide, descend from the Fort Baker gate on a viaduct over the bay, pass in front of Shelter Cove, and finally connect with the four-lane state highway (Bridgeway) near the ferry terminals. On August 14, 1935 the Bridge Directors requested the CHC to prepare plans and specifications for a two-lane Sausalito lateral to the Fort Baker Gate. Sausalito was left to find a way to complete the viaduct from Fort Baker to the center of town.
The City of Sausalito was not in financial position to build such a highway. But the Bridge District did complete a two-lane local street as far as the Fort Baker gate in time for the opening of the bridge on May 28, 1937. It connected with the tangle of local streets including Alexander, South, Second, Richardson and Bridgeway, that to this day make-up the meandering route from Fort Baker to the center of Sausalito.
Sausalito reduced the usefulness of this lateral route to the bridge by adopting a weight limit prohibiting large trucks on local streets. Trucking organizations claimed the local street weight limits plus the steep grades on the Waldo approach route would divert heavy trucks from the bridge to the Eastbay. In 1938 the Bridge District engineer concluded that the Fort Baker viaduct must be completed or the diversion of trucks and other traffic would mean a tremendous financial loss to the District.
Local opposition to the viaduct emerged around 1940. A full-page advertisement in the March 6, 1941 Sausalito News headlined, “SAUSALITO DOES NOT NEED A SEA-GOING CAUSEWAY.” The ad was sponsored by a committee claiming to represent hundreds of residents, merchants and property owners. A letter to the News in 1944 disputed the claim of hazards on the Waldo Grade concluding, “No progressive city wants a heavily travelled arterial highway routed through its very center.”
Despite the growing local opposition the Bridge District continued with its support for a multi-lane highway through central Sausalito. The District in 1945 proposed the route, now identified as the Golden Gate Freeway, as a limited access six-lane divided highway to run from the bridge via the Sausalito shoreline to Waldo Point where it would join Highway 101. Estimates suggested the freeway would increase bridge traffic by ten per cent and reduce expenses for hauling military materials and workers by as much as $1 million.
But at its March 15, 1945 meeting the CHC rejected the need for another Marin freeway approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. State Highway Engineer George T. McCoy reported the Waldo approach had adequate capacity, curvature satisfactory for 50 mile per hour speed and there was no military necessity for the proposed new freeway.
The action of the CHC, however, did not end the study of alternate freeway approaches to the bridge. Five potential routes were proposed for review in 1946. Four followed the Sausalito shoreline and the fifth would be a hillside route about halfway between the shore and the Waldo Grade. All shoreline routes would have devastated the waterfront and the hillside route would have eliminated up to 75 residences. In 1947 polls of the Sausalito citizens who had reviewed the alternatives found 94% against all new routes and 81% in favor of widening the Waldo Grade. A June 12, 1947 Sausalito News headline captured the anti-freeway sentiment: “ALL-OUT CAMPAIGN MAPPED TO PREVENT HIWAY FROM BISECTING RESIDENCE AREA.”
Despite Sausalito’s unmistakable condemnation, on November 14, 1947 the Bridge District Board approved the hillside route. Less than two months later the CHC disclosed a project to make the Waldo Grade a six-lane divided freeway. But the controversy would not die. One of the most contentious issues in the history of Sausalito was resurrected in August 1951 when a committee was formed to again promote the waterfront freeway. However, with support for a new bridge approach diminishing, on April 1, 1952 the Sausalito City Council entered into a freeway agreement with the State to build the six-lane Waldo Grade project. The Bridge District Board approved the Waldo project plan in July 1953.
Today Marin is served by an eight-lane Waldo Grade freeway, still occasionally suffering landslides, fog, and spinouts, but otherwise successfully conveying over 110,000 vehicles every day. And, perhaps even more to the point, Sausalito’s waterfront, central area and residential neighborhoods have been spared the intrusion of the six-lane Golden Gate Freeway.