When the Golden State planned a Golden Anniversary party for the Golden Gate Bridge, something extraordinary was bound to result, and it has.
But the most extraordinary thing is not that the festivities will be too grandiose, too ambitious or too expensive. They will simply be too many--one too many.
Two rival nonprofit groups are scheduling separate but similar celebrations only days apart next May, and are now publicly pooh-poohing each other while privately scrambling for corporate sponsors and television contracts.
Ready to Go Off
Between them, the two groups promise to deliver more all-American parades, all-star concerts and all-day festivals than most people would see in a month of Independence Days--not to mention what one wag noted was enough fireworks to burn down the bridge itself.
This likelihood assumes, of course, that the two rivals do not sabotage each other in the meantime. Both have threatened lawsuits over various issues, from copyrights and trademarks to breach of faith and slander, and both are having fund-raising problems.
"Having two (groups) out there planning celebrations and raising money has caused some real confusion among the people we approach," said San Francisco Supervisor John L. Molinari, a director of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. "They ask us, 'What's going on? Do we really want to get in the middle of this?' "
Only one group, Friends of the Golden Gate Bridge, is affiliated with the district, a state agency that operates and maintains the bridge. This group also has been recognized by the Legislature and by the City and County of San Francisco.
Money for Lights
Directors of this official group, including political and corporate leaders, plan fireworks, parades, concerts and blimp races on Memorial Day weekend, starting May 23. These events, staged by Radio City Music Hall Productions of New York, will raise money to permanently illuminate the bridge's 746-foot towers and perhaps construct a bridge museum.
Its private rival, the six-month-old Ceremonies and Festivals Fund, claims it dreamed up the anniversary idea and will have its own party regardless of its effect on the formal festivities and despite a lack of official sanction.
Directors of the independent group, including community activists and other private citizens, plan fireworks, parades, concerts and foot races during four days starting May 28, the actual anniversary of the day the bridge was opened to cars. This show, staged by Scott Redmond Productions of San Francisco, will raise money for several unspecified charities.
The two groups have more in common than similar schedules. Chiefly, neither apparently has lined up enough sponsors or television contracts to pay for all their plans.
Much of the difficulty in signing sponsors, the two groups agree, has been the controversy generated by the fact that there are two groups.
A Negative Impact
"It was . . . a major negative in fund raising," said Terry Sellards, chief executive officer of Friends of the Golden Gate Bridge. "Nobody could figure out who was real and who was official and who was this and who was that."
Douglas Fineberg, vice president and spokesman at Ceremonies and Festival Fund, concurred. "Corporate sponsorship for both of us has become more and more difficult as the controversy has increased," he said.
But both men insist they are making progress in this area, although both declined to name potential sponsors for fear the competition will usurp them.
"We've been very cautious of giving out the names of any of our corporate sponsors," Fineberg said, in part because, "I am tired of my sponsors being abused by people, whether they represent themselves as friends of Friends of the Golden Gate Bridge--and they may well have no connection--or if they're actually representatives of the . . . Friends of the Golden Gate Bridge."
Sellards flatly denied intimations of skulduggery by his group, saying its affiliation with the district is more than sufficient to attract sponsors.
Contacts With Sponsors
"I no longer have corporate sponsors say to me, 'What about Redmond? Why shouldn't I give my money to him?' " Sellards said. "I don't hear that any more; I haven't heard it for more than 90 days."
Sellards said he expects to name some domestic and overseas sponsors within 90 days. The unofficial group initially announced it would name some sponsors last June, but none have yet been named.
At stake in all of this is not only the potential to raise lots of money--the official group, for example, recently signed a contract to sell souvenirs emblazoned with its cartoon mascot, G.G. Bear--but also an opportunity to be a major part of a real American spectacle.
A "national awareness study" conducted for the bridge district by a San Francisco research company showed that most of the 1,200 people surveyed see the bridge not only as a Western icon, gateway to the Pacific and the West Coast equivalent of the Statue of Liberty, but also as a symbol of American engineering excellence and a monument to American workers.
Half of those surveyed were sufficiently intrigued by plans for the golden anniversary party that "if they could, they would plan their vacation so that they could attend the festivities in San Francisco."
No Rival to Liberty
"We are not going to be as big as Liberty Weekend--that we will not be," said Sellards, referring to last July's centennial celebration for the Statue of Liberty. "(But) I do believe it will be on a scale approaching that, when it gets here."
Spurred by the scent of success, Sellards' official group scored a publicity coup with a huge kickoff party earlier this month that drew a lot of media attention and many of the area's corporate, political and social elite--including, for the first time, Mayor Dianne Feinstein.
"We couldn't get the mayor to come to an event four or five months ago," Sellards said with a satisfied smile several days after the event. "We could not get more than 50 people together. We put that party together in 2 1/2 weeks, and we thought we would be lucky to get 300 or 400 people, and it was (actually) a little over 1,600."
Fineberg's independent group responded with a broadside of press releases that, among other things, offered to let people off the street help out with everything from setting the schedule of events to actually firing fireworks shells and running the lights.
The offer attracted little attention.
Fineberg also said several government agencies, in particular the federal Golden Gate National Recreation Area, had maliciously--and perhaps illegally--withheld or revoked some of the permits needed for the independent party.
Federal park officials denied the accusation.
"Scott Redmond Productions was never issued a permit by the National Park Service. We could not pull a permit we had never issued," said National Park Service spokesman Gil Soper. "He asked us to issue him a blanket permit that would have essentially covered all park lands around San Francisco Bay for an entire month. We, under no circumstances, would issue a permit like that."
Similarly, White House officials denied Fineberg's assertion that his group has received a "tentative schedule" for President Reagan's appearance at the independent celebration. Presidential activities are never scheduled so far in advance, a White House spokeswoman said.
Looking for Accord
Several local politicians, worried by the problems posed by rival parties, have tried to forge an agreement between the two. So far, after more than five weeks of private talks, those efforts have not been successful.
Meanwhile, both groups insist they will not--indeed, cannot--back down.
"We have contractual commitments (with suppliers and smaller production companies)," said Fineberg.