Monday, June 8, 2009

Yerba Buena

Location San Francisco Bay
N, 122° 21′ 45″ W
37.8073, -122.3625
Year first lit: 1875
Automated: 1958
Foundation: Masonry
Construction: Wood
Tower shape: Octagonal & cylindrical
Height: 25 ft
Original lens: Fifth order Fresnel lens
Characteristic: white light occulted every 4 s
Admiralty number: G4140
ARLHS number:USA-908
USCG number:6-4595

This light station is situated off the bay bridge, near treasure Island, I am still trying to get on the Island but it's difficult as the USCG controls the island and the commodore lives on the Island. I set off to find the original location of the Tinsley Island light station. That was between Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, home to two Lighthouses Fort Point and Alcatraz. It was an interesting day, blue skies and lots of yachts on the water front. This Gave me lots of time to take pictures of the racing boats with Alcatraz Island as the backdrop. From there I made my way over to the Bay bridge, San Francisco side where I knew I would have a view of Yeurba Buena Island. I knew I would be extremely limited on what images I could take.

This was also week one of being hobbled, my knee was in a brace and I could barely stand the pain as I made my way from the parking lot to the edge of the pier. Only when I arrived at the pier did I realize I could have driven in. I did not meet too many people on the trip, an African American parking lot attendant, who wanted to tell me about his Vietnam experience, A few Hispanic teenagers hanging out at the pier, A would be photographer taking model pictures, and an outdoor hamburger joint that had its followers drinking beer.

So I set up my camera, with 400mm lens, Then I added 1.4 extender, Then I added 2.0 extender, and finally used my 40d. Being so far away my options where limited, I waited for a few ship, or yachts, or speed boats. In the end I built a panoramic view. I need a boat for this one, so it's a definite return. After I finished I went to the diner for a Burger and fries. It was definitely a good burger and quite reasonable in price. Coffee was not so good, but drinkable. Stay with the water or buy a beer.


By the early 1870's numerous ferries where passing the island. Yerba Buena, meaning good herb, the herb mint was supposed to have healing powers, comes from early Spanish. This was not the only name for the Island, it was also called Sea Bird Island, and Goat Island. One story was Goat Island was due to large number goats brought to island by 49er gold miners. And another story for Goat Island was due to the Costanoan Indians who would herd goats on the island, later displaced by the army. In 1873 the Lighthouse service moved its depot from Mare Island to the south side of yerba Buena. This was the main supply center for up and down the coast, it also supplied the lightships. The supply tenders brought paychecks, mail, food, fuel and other supplies to the operating stations and lightships.

1874, a fog bell was installed on the southwest end of Yerba Buena Island; the bell came from Point Conception. It was as a backup system for the 2, 10" steam whistles that were built on a close by plane indentation cut out of the stony isle. The twin fog signal building, where flanked by A large water tank and coal house. 1875, Just above the indentation, the Victorian style Yerba Buena Lighthouse was built.
The lighthouse stood by the fog signal on a 50-foot cliff; The short, ornate tower was constructed of wood. A fifth-order Fresnel lens from the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, which was discontinued in 1873, was placed in the lantern room. About eighty yards further up the island's slope and constructed in a similar style to the tower stands the two-story keepers' dwelling. The historic postcard at right shows the station with all its structures intact. Note that the cliff face in front of the lighthouse was painted white to help mark the island.

he lighthouse tender made what was called "the shortest tender run", a journey of just a couple hundred yards around the island to deliver supplies. At the lighthouse landing, a derrick with a steam powered winch would hoist up the sacks of coal and other needed supplies. Food shipments would be brought up the "goat trail," a path that connected the station to the depot.

Keeper John Kofod served two stints at Yerba Buena. During his service as assistant keeper, his only child, Anna, met and married Walter Fanning, a radioman at the Naval Radio Station on the island. The Kofod's first grandchild, also named Walter, was born in the keeper's dwelling on Yerba Buena. In 1914, Kofod accepted an appointment as head keeper at East Brother Island. He would serve on that smaller island, just up the bay, until 1921, when he returned to Yerba Buena as head keeper.

Keeper Kofod was fond of taking his grandchildren down to the fog signal on New Year's Eve, where they were allowed to give three long blasts of the steam whistle as a New Year's salute to the passing ferries. The children were thrilled as the ferries responded in like manner. Walter Fanning Jr. would later play a key role in helping to save and restore the East Brother Lighthouse

In 1933, a tunnel was bored through Yerba Buena Island to serve as a link between the east and west sections of the Bay Bridge. The bridge was finished in 1936, the same year that construction began on a new "island" built on the shoals just north of Yerba Buena Island. Composed of mud dredged from the bay and transported down from the Sacramento delta, the island was named Treasure Island for the gold that was likely contained in all that silt. Originally built for use as an airport, the island instead was home to a world's fair in 1939. With the start of World War II, the island was turned over to the Navy, which used it as a station until 1993.

Even with the lights on the nearby bridge, the Yerba Buena Lighthouse remains operational to this day. Personnel were removed from the station in 1958 when it was automated. Today the keepers' dwelling is home to a Coast Guard admiral, which is likely why the station is in such excellent condition. The area of the island that served as the lighthouse depot is home to Coast Guard Group San Francisco and Aids to Navigation Team San Francisco.


  • Guardians of the Golden Gate, Ralph Shanks, 1990
  • The Legend of Yerba Buena Island, Marcia Boyes, 1936.Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993
  • Lighthouses of the Pacific, Jim Gibbs, 1986.
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