Monday, August 18, 2008

Fort Point

This weekend Eddie's family headed off to Tahoe. I was thinking about going to Tahoe also to visit Rubicon and Sugar Pines lighthouses. But that was for another day in the future. On Friday I called Eddie to see how he was doing. His back is really causing him problems and he appears to be in a lot of pain. I said I was going to Fort Point on Saturday, immediately I knew the bug had grabbed him. He said to give him a call later on during the day.

This trip was to the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. As usual Jean prepared the coffee, it was loaded, and Garmin programmed We set off towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The Fort Point lighthouse is located right under the bridge at the South End. We parked on the hill near the Presidio houses and made our way down a trail towards the bay. The scenery around here is beautiful, most people make their way towards the Golden Gate and miss the breathtaking views of the Bay.
As we made our way down, I could see the tip of the Lighthouse under the Bridge as it sat atop the fort. I could also see the light flashing from Alcatraz. From the hill, I looked down upon the Keepers hut and the saving station. Their is a story that this the only place that both are on the same ground.
From where I parked my SUV to the lighthouse was more than 1/2 mile. The fog was in and the skies real grey. On the shore front, we met a couple from Galway. I took a picture of them under the bridge. Later on I met another family from the Midwest, and I took their picture outside fort point.

Today, I found out it was a history event day. The fort had a special event, in which people dress in costumes of the 1850's. The fort was garrisoned by The American Civil War Association. They brought the fort to life with the activity of re-enacting the Civil War. Dressed in colorful uniforms and dresses and suits of the day,they marched, and drilled with a brass band. Their activities included cannon, rifle demonstrations and talks on soldier life. They played the part of the soldiers and families that lived in the fort in the time of the civil war. I was to see soldiers marching drills, military bands, military quarters, and re-enactment of the telegraph.
On my way to the top of the fort, which was quite breezy and cold. I had the opportunity to make my way around the different corridors and also get a perspective of the lighthouse as it sat underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. I had my 40D with 24-105 lens and 5D with a 70-200. At each level as I made my way up the stairs, I could take my shots. What is unique about this trip is the fort itself. It is a well maintained brick building, keeping most of its character from the early days. Its a pity more people don't find this hidden treasure.

This was the second lighthouse in California, built in 1853, around the same time as Alcatraz. Originally the building was a California style cottage with a lantern room on the roof because the military decided they needed the area for defence they pulled down the structure. Its third order Fresnel lens was never installed, but diverted to Point Pinos. 1855, a new lighthouse was constructed between the seawall and the Fort. It was a 36ft tower which housed a fifth order Fresnel Lens. The exposure to the elements of the pacific ocean caused some major erosion problems and this lighthouse lasted only 8 years. When the seawall was repaired in 1863, the second lighthouse was removed.
1864, the third lighthouse was built. It was a 27ft, 9 sided, metal tower placed atop of the fort, anchored with cables to the bluff, which was 83ft above sea level. It housed a fifth order Fresnel Lens,a black spiral staircase was used to access it. A seventy-pound weight, which required winding every two and a half hours, was used to revolve a fifth-order lens The Tower itself was white and the lantern room black. This is the current tower, I photographed on this trip. 1902, the lens was upgraded to a fourth-order lens, which produced alternating red and white flashes.

The fog signal, was originally a bell, housed outside the fort and difficult to access. The bell was located under the gun emplacements outside the fort. The keeper had to climb down a ladder from the fort to get to the bell, which could be quite dangerous when the winds where high. This signal was considered by many as insufficient, it was not until some major shipwrecks, 140 lives lost with the Rio De Janerio, considered the worst, that something was done. 1904, the bell was replaced by a fog trumpet and in 1911 the trumpet was replaced by a siren.

One of its longest serving keepers was James Rankin, he served as principle keeper for 41 years and retired at fort point. He was acknowledged in saving at least 18 lives.

The fort that this lighthouse sits on is quite impressive, its architecture from the period is well maintained and holds a significant historical importance to civil war era. Even though it never saw military action, it was planned as the most formidable defence that America could offer to a naval attack on California. Its precivil war canons became obsolete, they never fired a shot in anger or warfare, it was remodeled as a detention barrack during WWII,it was used to house unmarried officers and trade schools.

In the 1930's when the Golden Gate bridge was being built it was recommended that the Fort be demolished, which would have also meant the end of the lighthouse. Chief engineer, Joseph Strauss saw the architectural significance of the fort and drew plans which safely allowed construction to build over the fort. Due to construction in 1934 the lighthouse was turned off.It had survived many a change including the 1906 earthquake, but the bridge overshadowed it and obscured its light. 1959 a group of retired military officers and civil engineers created the Fort Point Museum and got it recognised as a Historical site.
Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses (2nd ed.)
Fort Point Lightkeepers
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