Graphic: Bulletin header
October 17, 2005

The (Green) and Golden Gate

Two Sacramento State students walking across the Guy A. West Suspension Bridge on the way to class one morning pondered a question that had nothing to do with surprise quizzes or grade point averages.

“Who was Guy West anyway?” asked one.

Replied the second student, “Why, I guess he built this bridge.”

Not a bad guess, but technically, a little wide of the mark.

Guy West was the first president of Sacramento State when it opened in 1947 in temporary quarters at Sacramento City College. The pedestrian bridge that is far from pedestrian in design was named in his honor. It opened in 1967, 14 years after the University’s move to the present site, to connect the campus with the then wide-open spaces on the east bank of the American River. West had retired a year before the bridge was dedicated in 1967.

As it was intended, the bridge remains a landmark, a baby cousin of the famed Golden Gate Bridge.

The 600-foot Guy West span was hailed as the “longest foot suspension bridge in the United States” at the time of its opening. That title has been lost to other projects. For example, the recently opened Sundial Bridge suspended over the Sacramento River’s Turtle Bay at Redding is 700 feet long.

The years have not, however, diminished the impressive visuals of the Guy West, with its twin 1,144-foot towers, its gently arched walkway, and, from the east or west railing, the sun glinting off riffles on the river’s surface. The bridge won first prize in special-type bridges in an annual contest sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction a year after it opened.

All this and at a bargain 1966-67 price. The Guy West cost $636,000 to build. The new Sundial beauty at Redding topped out at $19.7 million by the time it opened on Fourth of July 2004.

The bargain of the Guy West was further enhanced by the fact that it didn’t cost taxpayers a dime. It was paid for by the developers of Campus Commons, the residential and commercial development on the east side of the bridge that was only in the design stage when the bridge was built.

The bridge was designed by Ted D’Amico, then executive vice president of The Spink Corp., a Sacramento-based engineering firm that planned and designed much of Sacramento’s city and county development. “Where Campus Commons is now was a hops field,” D’Amico says. “The people who bought the land and were the prime developers—Bob Hurst and Henry Moss—realized that they had to tie the development to the campus with convenient access. They came up with the idea of a suspension bridge. And the campus needed a visual identity like the Campanile at UC Berkeley and the Hoover Tower at Stanford.

“We could have designed a simple functional bridge which wouldn’t have been as high but the developers wanted a suspension bridge and it had the advantage of not having to build piers in the water.”

But being the understudy to a legend has its drawbacks as well. Unlike the much larger Golden Gate Bridge, where the salt air ravages keep a painting crew busy year around, the Guy West hasn’t had a cosmetic makeover in 20 years. Its once golden tone has mellowed to a salmon color.

The bridge was turned over to the city of Sacramento upon its completion and both the city and the campus are eager to get the bridge a much-needed paint job, this time with a Sacramento State-appropriate twist—a new green and gold color scheme for the towers with the University’s name on the span.

The paint job could be expensive—about $2 million—not so much for the fresh paint, but because crews must first buff off the existing lead-based paint. To prevent the lead from falling into the river below, the bridge would have to be wrapped with plastic in much the same way Sacramento’s Tower Bridge was wrapped during its facelift.

The bridge redo is high on the city’s maintenance list and could be even higher if funding became available. And both the city and the University also agree, contributions from donors would be more than welcome. After all, we’re talking a landmark here.

To contribute, contact the University’s Development Office at 278-6989.



California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
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