Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Miscellaneous: Why It's Called The Golden Gate

Driving north from San Francisco yesterday I had an opportunity to gaze at the waters between San Francisco and the Marin Headlands, just before sunset. I imagined this place was given the name "Golden Gate" because San Francisco was the gateway to the gold fields during the 19th century California Gold Rush, but I had a simultaneous feeling the name may have preceded gold fever--that this view of the straits bathed in golden light was the source of the name.

Naturally, I looked it up. According to the website of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation District, it was Captain John C. Fremont who gave the strait its name, the name we now associate more closely with the bridge across the strait, but he is said to have been inspired not by the view at sunset (or yet-to-be-discovered gold), but by the potential for trade with the East that San Francisco's harbor seemed to represent. He is quoted in 1846 calling the strait "a golden gate to trade with the Orient." According to the same source, the name first appeared in print "in Fremont's Geographical Memoir, submitted to the U.S. Senate on June 5, 1948" [sic--no doubt 1848 was intended]. So, gold, meaning the potential rewards of trade, but surely this view and then the Gold Rush--shortly after Fremont spoke about trade potential--have played a role in associating San Francisco forever with gold. In any case, the name seems wholly appropriate when you see the water gilded by the sun like this, just as golden brown, dormant grasses--in summer the main feature of our natural landscape--seem justification enough for calling California The Golden State.

The bridge, at my back, was visible through light fog.

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