In 1932, San Francisco was a city on the edge. Perched on the Pacific Ocean, proud of its natural beauty and spirited past, it was striving to secure its place in the world as a city of importance. Los Angeles, however, with its booming population and abundant land, was competing for West Coast dominance as a commercial center. San Francisco was smaller, hemmed in by the ocean and San Francisco Bay and hobbled by the hardships of the Great Depression. Its chances of being a world-class city were slipping away, but it didn’t stand still.
That year, despite fears of bank failures and discouraging bread lines, San Francisco won financing to build the Golden Gate Bridge, a dramatic lifeline–the longest suspension span in the world–linking the city to the state’s northern reaches. Plans were also in place to build the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge–the biggest, most expensive bridge ever constructed and an economic boon during the Depression. Boosters trumpeted San Francisco as the Wall Street of the West, and public and private groups worked together to polish its reputation as a cultural center.
—written by Susan Wels
—Featured photographers include: Richard Barnes, Ruth Bernhard, John Chiara, Imogen Cunningham, Jim Goldberg, Doug Hall, Todd Hido, Reagan Louie, Mike Mandel, Richard Misrach, Dan Nicoletta, Ira Nowinski, Susan Schwartzenberg, Larry Sultan, Catherine Wagner, and Henry Wessel.