Chris J LeBlanc Photography - Lighthouses
Providing details and historical information of lighthouse pictures taken during my travels
Alcatraz Island Lighthouse
San Francisco, California
© 2012 - Chris J LeBlanc Photographer
Location: Located on Alcatraz Island, included in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, in San Francisco Bay.
Latitude: N 37.8262
Longitude: W 122.4222
Year Constructed: 1909 (station established 1854). Active
Tower Height: 84 feet Focal Plane: 214 feet
Octagonal pyramidal reinforced concrete tower, unpainted. The original 4° Fresnel lens (1902, transferred from the earlier lighthouse) is in storage for future display.
- Station Established: 1854
- Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1909
- Foundation Materials: Masonry
- Construction Materials: Reinforced concrete
- Tower Shape: Octagonal pyramidal
- Markings/Pattern: Natural w/black lantern
- Original Lens: Third Order, Fresnel, 1854
- The name of this lighthouse is derived from "alcatraces" the Spanish word for pelican. However, this island is best known as the home of Al Capone and other notorious criminals. A federal penitentiary is also on the island. This light is the oldest major navigational light on the West Coast. For over 50 years, the lighthouse survived prison breakouts, riots and burning.
- 1906: The great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 severely damaged the original lighthouse.
- 1963: The light was automated in 1963.
- 2000: The lighthouse is now a museum and can be toured.
Alcatraz Lighthouse was completed by July of 1853 and was the first lighthouse activated on the West Coast. Light from a fixed, third-order Fresnel lens was first shown from the Alcatraz Lighthouse on June 1, 1854. The lens had been in use for just under fifty years, when in 1902 it was transferred to the Cape Saint Elias Station in Alaska and replaced by a revolving fourth-order Fresnel lens.
Around the time the lighthouse was completed, military fortifications were also placed on the island, the Alcatraz Citadel. In 1909, the Citadel was razed and in its place the present cell house was built. With its 600 cells, the cell house was reportedly the largest reinforced concrete building in the world. Realizing that the new structure would interfere with the operation of the lighthouse, a taller 84-foot, concrete tower was built just south of the original lighthouse. Attached to the base of the tower was a commodious dwelling designed for three keepers and their families.
On June 1, 1970 a fire destroyed the warden's house, the keepers' quarters and other buildings on the island. Today, only the tall cement tower equipped with a modern beacon stands as a reminder of the keepers who served on the island for over a hundred years.
Alcatraz Island Lighthouse Links
Historic Postcard of the Alcatraz Island Lighthouse
Original Alcatraz Island Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy of the National Archives