Irving Morrow romanticized the Golden Gate long before he became a consulting architect on the bridge that would span it. The narrow strait, he wrote in 1919, "is caressed by breezes from the blue bay throughout the long golden afternoon, but perhaps it is loveliest at the cool end of the day when, for a few breathless moments, faint afterglows transfigure the gray line of hills."
Before he joined the project, Morrow was an obscure San Francisco-based architect who designed houses. Riding the ferry home every night to Oakland, Morrow had plenty of time to study the interplay of light and shadow at the intersection of the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay, the city, and the Marin hills.
Joseph Strauss hired Morrow to design an architectural treatment for the Golden Gate Bridge in 1930. The chief engineer never considered Morrow a threat to his authority, as he did Charles Ellis, who meticulously engineered the bridge. In charcoal drawings, Morrow freely expressed his suggestions for refining the bridge.
An Art Deco Sculpture
Morrow designed small features like streetlamps, railings and pedestrian walkways, introducing these elements during several work delays. Morrow also added vertical fluting to the bridge, a stylized geometry in the era's Art Deco style. The design caught the bay light throughout the day, creating dramatic, changing shadows and contributing to people's view of the bridge as a sculpture as much as a roadway.
Perhaps Morrow's most famous contribution to the Golden Gate Bridge was its distinctive burnt red-orange hue called International Orange. Others had suggested the bridge be painted aluminum, dull gray, or the Navy's preference, highly visible yellow and black stripes. The bridge authorities at first deemed Morrow's selection ludicrous. No red paint could withstand the salty weather conditions of the Gate, they reasoned. One by one, members of the bridge's brain trust relented, however, as Morrow identified a paint durable enough to need less frequent reapplication. "The tone is beautiful under all light conditions," admitted E. P. Meinecke, a U.S. Forest Service pathologist.
In the end, the bridge's design fit harmoniously into the bay's vast palette of sky, water, and land. Morrow's ambition didn't end there, however. In early 1936, he sent lighting guidelines for the bridge to Strauss. Though lighting was normally a job entrusted to electrical engineers, Strauss followed Morrow's recommendations. After his work on the Golden Gate Bridge, Morrow returned to designing residential and small commercial buildings.