Early Saturday morning I set off from Castro Valley, my home, for San Francisco. On this journey I was travelling by myself. My journeys have taken the aspect of loneliness. I miss the company. Yet, I know the lighthouses are my quest and not the quest for others. They may accompany me, and their companionship is more than welcome, but I must press on.
I tried to get as many long zoom shots as Point lime is not accessible. The lighthouse is gone, and all that remains is the keepers building, which was vandalized. The entire structure is fenced off from the public. It’s not an exciting lighthouse to shoot or view. What you have is a building full of history, located under a famous Bridge, situated in a beautiful panorama, which makes it worthwhile for viewing. Fort Baker is in the background of Point Lime and runs east along the inlet, providing a awesome panoramic view, but the lighthouse is lost between the bridge, the fort and the expanse of water. Visitors from all over the world are attracted to the Bridge. They stay mainly to the top of the bridge and not make it under to Fort Point. If perchance they are seeking the lighthouse, it would bring them off the beaten track and reward them with a little adventure.
After spending awhile on the San Francisco side of the Bridge, I headed off in my Suv towards the Marin side. I parked at the first exit on the Marin Side of the bridge and trekked to the first span of the bridge to shoot the lighthouse from above. The weather was good and a fair amount of tourists where about taking their pictures of the Bridge and San Francisco. It was very windy on the Bridge, and I was weighed down with 3 cameras. I managed to get my shots, but was also looking for something to make them interesting. With the hum of the traffic on the Bridge, I made my way back to my vehicle.
It was a day of isolation and observation, lots people about, but I had no contact with anyone. In these kinds of situations, I find that groups of tourists would rather be left alone. When the location is more isolated and it’s the lighthouse which is the focus of the visit, people want to talk and share their experience. I decided I would revisit Point Bonita and take some more shots. Here I met young Girl starting out in Photography; She was probably in her early 20’s and excited about her camera. Without being intimidating, I was able to pass on a few tips about what to shoot in a lighthouse. I was the last to arrive at Bonita and the rangers paired me up with this young lady. As always the park rangers where very cordial, and provided as much information about the lighthouse as they could. The older the ranger, the more information you got. Only two people are allowed to cross the rickety bridge at a time. The rangers monitor the people as they crossed the bridge to the lighthouse, insuring the safety of those on the bridge. On either side of the bridge they stand as sentries on this barren outpost. As volunteers they are protecting these white towers for future generations.
At the lighthouse I photographed what I missed before, sometimes you learn that we move too fast and miss the small important stuff. The inside of these lighthouse give us a picture of the past. They provide a portal to the past. You get a look at a world that has vanished into the mists of time. Today, our world is also vanishing through the same portal.
In 1833, a narrow one-story fog signal building and a two-story keeper’s dwelling were constructed along the spur. The fog signal building was positioned closest to the water, so its two twelve-inch steam whistles, powered by coal-fired boilers, could warn vessels away from the rocky hazard. Water for the keepers and the fog signal was tapped at a nearby spring, piped to the station and stored in a 20,000-gallon tank.
The hungry boilers could consume over seventy-five tons of coal a year, at a rate of 250 pounds per hour when the signal was in operation. In an attempt to save money, the boilers were converted from coal to oil in 1902. The cost of operating the signal for a twenty-four hour period fell from $25.44 to $6.91, and the oil had the added advantage of producing less smoke.
Light stations, which may or may not have included a fog signal, were much more common than fog signal stations. However, fog posed a very serious danger to vessels, especially near San Francisco, and in the late 1800s, fog signal stations were established at Año Nuevo, Point Montara, Lime Point and Point Knox. A light was added at Año Nuevo in 1890, and a decade later, it was decided that the keepers at the remaining three fog signal stations should also exhibit a light. Accordingly, on November 26, 1900, lens lanterns were lighted at the three stations, and California now had three new lighthouses. The lens lantern at Lime Point was hung on the wall of the fog signal building at a height of just nineteen feet above the water.
Two keepers were originally assigned to the station, with each keeper required to stand two alternate, six-hour shifts a day. Later, a third story was added to the dwelling, likely to provide room for a third keeper to help with the growing workload at the station. This made for quite the settlement crowded onto the small rocky outcropping. In 1923, the keepers were given the added responsibility of maintaining a minor light placed on Point Diablo, 1.2 miles west of Lime Point.
Being located at the base of a steep cliff at the foot of the Marin hills, the station witnessed several landslides and mudslides, the worst of which was triggered by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The slides caused minor damage to the station and often closed the trail to Sausalito.
When the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937, a fog horn and light were placed at the base of the bridge’s south tower, making the Fort Point Lighthouse unnecessary. The station at lime point, was located just east of the base of the north tower, and remained an effective position for a light and fog horn. Even with the massive, lighted bridge, and active fog signals, navigating the Golden Gate in foggy condition could still be tricky. On June 3, 1960, the 440-foot freighter India Bear wandered off course and rammed the station, even though the fog signal was sounding. The ship received $60,000 of damage, while the station had a repair bill of only $7,500.
In 1959, the station had received another unexpected visitor just a week before Christmas, and it wasn’t Santa Claus. I’m not sure exactly what a burglar was expecting to steal from a light station, but the Coast Guardsmen manning the station that night found themselves looking down the barrel of a gun. The robber ordered the men to hand over all their cash, and then retreated down the station’s dark road firing a couple of warning shots to deter any attempt at a pursuit. Lime Point was automated in July of 1961, and the three-story dwelling and other outbuildings were torn down. All that remains of the station today is the pocked fog signal building, which mostly goes unnoticed by the throngs of tourists that come to admire the impressive art deco bridge.
1. Guardians of the Golden Gate, Ralph Shanks, 1990.
2. Lighthouses of the Pacific, Jim Gibbs, 1986.
3. Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993.
Content is copyright by O'CairdeStudio 2009