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Video: A Golden Gate love story

  1. Transcript of: A Golden Gate love story

    ANN CURRY, co-host: TODAY' S AMERICAN STORY WITH BOB DOTSON is a tale of love, tied to San Francisco 's Golden Gate Bridge , that you'll be talking about for a long time because Bob is here to share it with us. Bob , good morning.

    BOB DOTSON reporting: Good morning, Ann. You know, people fall in love for lots of different reasons but few as romantic as this. It starts with a 25 cent bet. San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge was so loved when it opened in 1937 a lot of people scribbled their names and addresses on its towers. A friend bet Bill Hughes he couldn't pick one at random, write a letter and get a reply.

    Ms. PATRICIA LUCAS: My name was the one that he put his finger on.

    DOTSON: Bill almost lost that bet.

    Ms. LUCAS: Well, I thought pen pal, boring.

    DOTSON: But Patricia Lucas wrote him back.

    Ms. LUCAS: Because he wanted that quarter.

    DOTSON: A lot of people gambled on the Golden Gate , a bridge critics said could not be built. Divers had to anchor it in a rage of whirlpools and riptides. Workers had to stack towers taller than four Statues of Liberty . Fog made the iron slick as ice. No one had ever done anything like this before. But the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in just four years, on time and on budget. People who lived around San Francisco bet big on the business the bridge would bring. At the start of the Great Depression they mortgaged their homes to get a private loan for one of the largest public works projects ever built. It linked the poverty around them to the world of hope.

    Captain LISA LOCATI: People risked their homes, their properties, their ranches.

    DOTSON: For their families' futures.

    Cap. LOCATI: What do you see?

    Boy: Golden Gate Bridge .

    DOTSON: Lisa Locati grew up four miles from the Golden Gate . Graduated college on money she made moving lane markers on the bridge .

    Cap. LOCATI: Captain Locati.

    DOTSON: Today, she is the first woman in charge of its security.

    Cap. LOCATI: Attention all lanes, carpool is over.

    DOTSON: The Golden Gate Bridge has only had nine captains.

    Mr. MIKE LOCATI: Yes, I was number eight and I'm married to number nine.

    DOTSON: Mike Locati fell in love with Lisa , working in this picture frame.

    Mr. LOCATI: OK. There you go.

    DOTSON: When Mike retired a few years ago his grandkids started calling the Golden Gate "grandma's bridge ."

    Ms. LOCATI: And is "pop pop's bridge " sometimes if they remember.

    DOTSON: A place right out of their storybooks, where toll takers have have been known to give more than change to grumpy children.

    Mr. PETER KLEIN (Retired Golden Gate Toll Taker): We would always say, ' Mom and Dad , guess what, we've got candy for the kids.' And the kids would stop fighting immediately. And I said, 'This moment of silence has been brought to you by the Golden Gate Bridge Transportation Authority . Don't leave home without it.'

    Ms. LUCAS: It was a fun ride. We had a great time.

    DOTSON: Patricia Lucas finally met her childhood pen pal, six years after she scrawled her name on the Golden Gate Bridge . Are you wearing his hat?

    Ms. LUCAS: Yeah. That's when he came to visit on a 24-hour pass.

    DOTSON: Bill Hughes was training to be a bomber pilot during World War II . Patricia was the only person he knew who lived near his base. Was it love at first sight ?

    Ms. LUCAS: I think I was a little disappointed that he wasn't a little beefier, you know.

    DOTSON: But Bill started sending love notes.

    Ms. LUCAS: See how romantic.

    DOTSON: He did that for 48 years, all their married lives, until the day he died.

    Ms. LUCAS: I miss him. A lot.

    DOTSON: Their love story is forever linked with the Golden Gate Bridge .

    Ms. LUCAS: It's just a bridge . But it's our bridge .

    DOTSON: The people's bridge . Whenever Bill Hughes got backed up in traffic on the Golden Gate , friends would kid him about hopping out and finding another name. And he said 'No, I got lucky the first time. I could have picked her grandmother.'

    CURRY: You know, Bob , I don't know where you find these stories but I'm glad you do. Because you remind us when you tell them who we are and what we're made of. Thank you so much , Bob Dotson .

    DOTSON: Thank you.

By
TODAY contributor
updated 4/9/2012 8:51:43 AM ET 2012-04-09T12:51:43

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge was so loved when it opened in 1937 that a lot of people scribbled their names and addresses on its towers. A friend bet 14-year old Bill Hughes a quarter that Bill couldn’t write a letter to a name and address chosen at random and get a reply. The friend closed his eyes and put his finger on a name: Patricia Lucas. Bill wrote the letter.

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Decades later, Patricia Lucas rolled her eyes, assuming the attitude of the 12-year-old she was when she received Bill’s note. “Well, I thought: ‘Pen pal? Booooring!’ ”

Her grandmother, the romantic in the family, urged her to write back. Eventually Patricia did, “because Bill really wanted that quarter!”

A lot of people gambled on the Golden Gate, a bridge that critics said could not be built. Divers had to anchor it in raging whirlpools: Powerful riptides push more water past the bridge than roars over Niagara Falls. Workers had to stack towers taller than four Statues of Liberty in that tempest, so ships could pass underneath. Men dangled on girders 746 feet above the water, sometimes moving in fog so thick they couldn’t see their feet. 

No one had ever done anything like this before.

  Slideshow: Images: 75 years of the Golden Gate Bridge (on this page)

Image: Picture dated October 1935 of the Golden
Afp  /  AFP/Getty Images
High above the bay, two workers labor on construction of the the Golden Gate bridge, in the San Francisco Bay in October 1935.

Captains No. 8 and 9
“They didn’t have calculators, let alone computers,” bridge captain Lisa Locati told me. “They did everything with a slide rule and notes — handwritten notes, longhand.” Yet the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in just four years — on time and on budget. And now it is celebrating its 75th anniversary year.

At the start of the Great Depression, families who lived around San Francisco mortgaged their homes to get a private loan for what would be one of the largest public works projects ever built. It linked the poverty they knew with the world of hope.     

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“People risked their homes, their properties, their ranches because money from the state and federal government was going elsewhere,” Lisa said. They bet big on the jobs the bridge would bring.

Lisa Locati grew up four miles from the Golden Gate. She went to college on the money she earned moving lane markers on it; today she is the first woman to be in charge of its security. The bridge has had only nine captains.

“I was number eight,” Mike Locati said with a smile. “And I'm married to number nine.”

Image: Watchf Associated Press Domestic News California United States APHS56467 GOLDEN GATE OPENS 1937
Anonymous  /  AP
The bridge opened to pedestrians May 27, 1937. The following day it opened to cars.

Mike watched Lisa playing with their grandkids in Golden Gate Park, then turned to snap a photo of the place they first met. The couple fell in love working on the bridge. When Mike retired a few years ago, his grandkids started calling it “Grandma’s bridge.”

Lisa laughed. “It’s Pop-Pop’s bridge, too, if they remember.”

To the grandkids, the Golden Gate is a place right out of their storybooks, a place where candy might magically appear. With a grin, former toll taker Peter Klein recalled: “When the cars rolled in, sometimes kids were fighting. We toll takers would tell the parents: ‘Mom and dad, we’ve got candy for the kids!’

“The kids would stop fighting immediately. And I would say: ‘This moment of silence is brought to you by the Golden Gate Bridge Transportation Authority.  Don't leave home without us!’ ” 

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48 years of love notes
“It was a fun ride,” Patricia Lucas said with a sigh. “We had a great time.”

Six years after Bill Hughes’ friend picked her name on the Golden Gate Bridge, she finally met her childhood pen pal. “We met in Pershing Park, down in Los Angeles,” she said. “He came on a 24-hour pass.”

World War II was on, and Bill was training to be a bomber pilot. Patricia was the only person he knew who lived near his base. “Was it love at first sight?” I asked.

Patricia winked. “I think I was a little disappointed that he wasn’t beefier.”

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But Bill started sending love notes. He did that for 48 years — all their married lives, until the day he died.

"Months after he passed, I found notes here and there, in a book or in a cup up in my cupboard,” Patricia confided. “They’d say, ‘I love you.’ ”

Her eyes grew moist. “Yeah, I miss him. A lot.”

Their love story is forever linked with the Golden Gate Bridge. “It's just a bridge,” Patricia said with a wave of her hand. “But it’s our bridge.”

Know someone who would make a great American Story with Bob Dotson? Drop a note in my mailbox by clicking here .

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Photos: The Golden Gate Bridge

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  1. Rising high

    Construction on the Golden Gate Bridge began on Jan. 5, 1933, and lasted just over four years. The bridge straddles the Golden Gate strait, and connects Marin County and San Francisco. In this photo taken circa 1935, one of the stanchions casts a shadow over houses at its foot. (General Photographic Agency via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Don't look down

    Men at work in October 1935. Chief engineer Joseph Strauss is credited with the original design of the bridge, which he submitted in 1921. The project received financial backing in November 1930, when voters passed a $35 million bond measure. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Risky work

    Workers build one of the catwalks during construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, on Oct. 17, 1935, with the Marin County shore in the background. Eleven workers died during the construction of the bridge. Throughout the construction, a safety net under the floor of the bridge helped save the lives of 19 men. The survivors became known as the "halfway to hell club." (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Crossing strait

    The Golden Gate Bridge, under construction in May 1936, is named after the Golden Gate strait, which connects the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco Bay. The strait is about three miles long and a mile wide. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Mind the gap

    Workmen assist in joining the center of the Golden Gate Bridge on Nov. 18, 1936. While chief engineer Joseph Strauss is credited the construction of the bridge, Charles Ellis and Leon Moissieff are the ones who overcame the engineering challenges and are responsible for the design of the suspension cables going over two bridge towers. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A work in progress

    Architect Irving Morrow gave the Golden Gate Bridge its art deco characteristics. He designed the shape of the towers to emphasize their height and added vertical fluting along the braces between the tower legs. These details cast dramatic shadows with the light and help make the bridge look and feel more like a sculpture. Morrow also designed the streetlamps, railings and walkways. (Hulton Archive via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The high way

    A Lockheed Electra, piloted by Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, flies over the Golden Gate Bridge at the start of a planned round-the-world flight on March 17, 1937. The trip was abandoned after the plane crashed on take-off in Hawaii. A subsequent attempt ended when the aviators went missing in the Pacific. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A quiet stroll

    On May 27, 1937, the bridge was opened to pedestrians. The following day it was opened to cars. An estimated 200,000 people attended the celebrations on opening day. (Redwood Empire Association via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Keeping watch

    Two armed guards on the lookout for possible sabotage patrol the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on Dec. 10, 1941. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Staying flexible

    A warship approaches the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, circa 1943. At the time of its opening, the bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with a span of 4,200 feet. It held this title until 1964, when the Verrazano Bridge in New York City opened. The bridge was designed to be flexible and can move 15 feet vertically and more than 27 feet side to side. (Hulton Archive via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A dip in the bay

    Jack LaLanne, right, then a 61-year-old health spa magnate, emerges triumphantly from the chilly waters of San Francisco Bay after swimming the mile stretch of the Golden Gate on Nov. 6, 1975. LaLanne swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf, with his hands and feet handcuffed and shackled, while towing a 1,000-pound boat. (Jim Palmer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Slow-moving traffic

    People celebrate as they walk across the Golden Gate Bridge on May 24, 1987. The bridge celebrated its 50th anniversary with a “Bridgewalk 87,” as homage to Pedestrian Day when the bridge opened in 1937. About 300,000 people crowded onto the roadway, arriving from both ends of the bridge, and created gridlock at the center. The weight of the crowds caused the bridge’s arch to flatten out and disappear. (Paul Sakuma / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Bless you

    Pope John Paul II stands in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on Sept. 17, 1987. During the Pope's two-day tour, he visited a group of AIDS patients at Mission Dolores and embraced 4-year-old Brendan O’Rourke, who had contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion. (Dave Tennenbaum / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Burning bright

    Marisa Alioto and her running escort Jenny Chapman, both from San Francisco, carry the Olympic Torch across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County on May 4, 1996. The relay continued across the states, ending in Atlanta. (John G. Mabanglo / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Careful planning

    Four of the world's largest cranes squeak under the Golden Gate Bridge on Oct. 24, 2000. The 220-feet high cranes manufactured by the Zhenhua Port Machinery Company of Shanghai, China, squeezed under the bridge with a clearance of about 13 feet. The cranes were destined for the Port of Oakland in California. (John G. Mabanglo / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Post 9/11

    Two armed National Guardsmen patrol the Golden Gate Bridge on Nov. 2, 2001. Bridge security in the state was stepped up after California Gov. Gray Davis said that authorities had received credible threats that one of California's many suspension bridges may be targeted for terrorist attack. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A low barrier

    A man looks over the railing of the Golden Gate Bridge on Jan. 27, 2005. A controversial film made by moviemaker Eric Steel documenting people committing suicide off of the Golden Gate Bridge opened a debate about why there isn't a suicide barrier on the famous landmark. On average, 30 people a year jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, making the bridge the most popular location in the world to commit suicide. The 4-foot railing along the bridge can be easily transgressed, and has moved many to advocate for the installation of a preventative suicide barrier. Plans to install a safety net have been approved, but the $45 million in financing needed remains the obstacle. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A clear view

    Dominique Caron paints a picture of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on Sept. 28, 2005. (Robert Galbraith / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Bird's-eye view

    San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge is seen at sunset on Nov. 4, 2005. Marin County is on the left, the city of San Francisco on the right. The prison island of Alcatraz can be seen on the right. (Andy Clark / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A deeper shade of orange

    The Golden Gate Bridge is painted orange vermilion, better known as “international orange.” Architect Irving Morrow selected this particular shade of orange because it blended well with its natural environment, while still providing high visibility for ships and during fog. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. All hail the queen

    The Queen Mary 2 sails beneath the Golden Gate Bridge as it enters the harbor in San Francisco on Feb. 4, 2007. The ship, which was on an 81-day voyage around the world, is the largest vessel to ever sail into the San Francisco Bay. (Robert Galbraith / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Spilled oil

    An emergency crew places a protective boom around the sand below the Golden Gate Bridge at Crissy Field in San Francisco on Nov. 8, 2007, after a container ship struck the city's Bay Bridge, spilling 58,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay, closing several beaches and threatening wildlife. (Robert Galbraith / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Advertising space

    Protestors hang banners as they scale the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge on April 8, 2008, in San Francisco. The demonstrations against the Chinese government occurred as the city of San Francisco prepared to host the Olympic torch relay. Over the years, the bridge has been used as a place of protest for many causes ranging from anti-war demonstrations to protests over the logging of ancient redwoods. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. One-way tolls

    More than 100,000 vehicles per day cross the Golden Gate Bridge. When the bridge opened, the toll was 50 cents each way. One-way tolls began on the southbound side on Oct. 19, 1968. From opening day to April 2011, 1,929,896,448 vehicles have crossed the bridge (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Count the triangles

    Boats sail past the Golden Gate Bridge during the Spinnaker Cup on May 22, 2009. The Spinnaker Cup is a distance race that starts in San Francisco and finishes in Monterey, Calif. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Clear up here

    The south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge appears above the evening fog as the sun sets on the Marin Headlands in Sausalito, Calif. (Robert Galbraith / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Wet paint

    Workers paint one of the main cables of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on Aug. 25, 2011. The project is expected to take up to four years to complete and will require tens of thousands of gallons of "international orange" paint. (Eric Risberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Lunar eclipse

    A lunar eclipse is seen over the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on Dec. 10, 2011. (Beck Diefenbach / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Bridge Building
    General Photographic Agency via Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (28) The Golden Gate Bridge - The Golden Gate Bridge
  2. Image: San Francisco Will Study Golden Gate Tidal Movement As Energy Source
    Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    Slideshow (19) The Golden Gate Bridge - City by the Bay

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