California and the Golden Gate Bridge in photographs

California then and now cvr

California Then and Now: People and Places, by Karl Mondon (and others), 2013.

Building the Golden Gate Bridge: Courage – Ingenuity – Vision, by Susan Tasaki (ed.), 2012.


California Then and Now

As the title indicates, this chunky small-format book juxtaposes photographs old and new to show how locations in California have changed, or not, over the decades.  The old one are archival images ranging from the late nineteenth century to the 1980s drawn from the Library of Congress, the Charles W Cushman Collection at Indiana University, San Francisco Public Library and the inevitable Getty Images; the new ones were, with some exceptions, taken by Karl Mondon, a California-based photographer.

Despite the subtitle this is more about the places than it is the people in them, with passers-by generally peripheral (a set taken in Haight Ashbury around 1967 an exception).  Rather than a single pair of photograph displaying then and now, there are often a number taken at different times, illustrating a site’s evolution.  Mondon has not slavishly recreated distances and angles but it is usually easy to match across periods.   Captions are confined to location and date, and commentary is absent apart from the very brief introduction.  Thus, for example, the reader is not told why a photograph taken at Los Angeles’ Union Station and captioned c. 1947 has the date May 19 1939 on the arrivals board.

Some localities have changed remarkably little over the decades, others have been completely transformed.  Almost half of the 400-page book is devoted to San Francisco, and the major differences here are the erection of tall buildings and the quantity of trees the modern city has compared even to the 1950s.

San Francisco is less changed than Los Angeles which on this evidence has lost a larger proportion of its old buildings, though there are enough for meaningful comparisons, including some superb ones from the 1930s.  Other places in the book include Long Beach, Pasadena, Riverside, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and Venice.  Catalina Island and San Diego have sections to themselves.  There is some repetition of ‘now’ scenes, but on the whole this is an enjoyable survey of a small part of California’s diverse topography.


Building the Golden Gate Bridge

In California Then and Now there are several photographs of the Golden Gate, including one of the area around Fort Point and across the strait taken in 1930, upon which someone has superimposed a ghostly outline, an artist’s impression, of the bridge which would shortly take shape.  Another dates from July 1934 during construction.  Building the Golden Gate Bridge, published by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, draws on the holdings of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District to document the bridge’s progress.

A short but informative introduction provides the background, from 1919 when the project was first mooted.  Remarkably, when the plan finally got off the ground in 1930, at a time of deep economic depression, no federal funds were available and finance was secured locally and with backing from Bank of America.  Construction began in January 1933 and the bridge opened in May 1937, linking San Francisco and Marin County.  As well as the engineers and managers who constructed the bridge, the book is a tribute to those with the vision to see how much a link would transform the bay area and who fought for the idea in the face of those who said it was technically impossible across such a wide expanse of water beset by strong currents and unfavourable weather.

Unsurprisingly for such a major project, the work was extensively photographed.  Those included here were taken by Charles M Hiller and Bev Washburn, often in difficult circumstances, and reveal month by month the steady rate at which the bridge took shape.  The images are accompanied by helpful captions.  The series begins in about 1932 before building began, showing how he strait originally looked, and concludes with the first vehicles crossing on 28 May 1937.  The volume is a record of an amazing achievement, photographed in beautiful black and white.  The subtitle – ‘Courage – Ingenuity – Vision’ – is well deserved as an accolade to those who took the ambitious proposal and made it reality.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: