Point Bonita Lighthouse

NewDawnPhoto

San Ramon, United States

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“Oh….the stories this one can tell!”

The original Point Bonita Lighthouse was a 56-foot brick tower on the highest hill at Point Bonita at a level of 260 feet above the sea. Putting the light 306 feet above sea level. A bad idea considering that California coast fog is generally a high level fog and rendered it’s second order Fresnel lens useless much of the time. This was the second bad idea for the Lighthouse Board. The first was to design it to be located at the southern entrance of the Golden Gate at Point Lobos. That idea was changed when the local mariners argued that the north side, Point Bonita, was a safer entrance as it could be approuched within 150 yards and was safer in rough waters.

The original answer to this problem was to bring in an 8-foot long, 24-pounder siege gun to be fired once every half hour during foggy conditions. That is how it became the first lighthouse on the West Coast to have a fog signal. Seems like a pretty good idea until you consider that they highered retired U.S. Army Sgt. Maloney to man it. Hey first fired it on August 8, 1856. So what’s wrong with that? Nothing unless you take into consideration that he was the only man they highered for it! That’s right, every half hour during fog with no relief! After sending a letter to the Board complaining about his inability to go to town or to get more than two hours sleep over a course of three days, the Board was kind enough to higher an assistant for him. This would have been all good and fine but for the fact that the mariners reported that they could not hear the cannon from the water. Being fed up, the sergeant resigned and the cannon was replaced by a mechanicallt struck bell.

Still the lighthouse was serving it’s purpose to the best of it’s abilities and by the 1870’s it was decided that it should be moved to the South-Western tip of Point Bonita where it would be at a lower elevation of 124-feet above sea level. This created a new set of problems. Before they could build the new lighthouse acess to the point had to be improved and in 1876 Chinese workmen, who were responsible for building the Sierra tunnels for the Transcontinental Railroad, were brought in to hand carve a 118-foot tunnel through the rock that had previously resisted cutting.

The new lighthouse was completed and everything from the lower balcony up is part of the original tower. This includes the Eagle style rainspouts which you can see a close-up of in my portfolio. It went into operation an Feb. 2nd 1877.

The new keeper’s residence was located not far from the lighthouse. However, being built on the edge of a cliff, this presented a problem for lighthouse keeper Alex Martin who lived there with his wife and small children. Their solution was to create harnesses to tether their children when they went to play outside. This, in fact, did save the life of one of their children, Dorothy, who was once found hanging over the side of the cliff by her harness. Their cat was not as fortunate.

The lighthouse was accesable by foot until 1940 when erosion cut a gap between the home and the lighthouse. The lighthouse was temperarily reached by a breeches bouoy set up until a wooden causeway was built. In 1954 the bridge was constructed for access. It is a replica of the Golden Gate. This lighthouse is the only one in America that can be reached only by crossing a suspension bridge.

Other Interesting Facts:

1) Being unique to the area in 1855, it’s original light pattern characteristic was simply “Fixed White”. It’s patter today is "Occulating white every 4 seconds.

2) The original keeper’s dwelling was leveled by the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

3) Point Bonita was the last manned lighthouse on the California Coast. It’s last keeper having left in April 1981.

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