Chris J LeBlanc Photography - Lighthouses
Providing details and historical information of lighthouse pictures taken during my travels
Point Bonita Lighthouse
San Francisco, California
© 2012 - Chris J LeBlanc Photographer
Location: Located in the Marin Headlands, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Latitude: N 37.8155
Longitude: W 122.5297
Year Constructed: 1877 (station established 1855). Active
Tower Height: 33 feet Focal Plane: 140 feet
Hexagonal lantern mounted atop brick fog signal building. The original 2nd order Fresnel lens is still in use. Building painted white, lantern black.
- Station Established: 1855
- Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1877
- Foundation Materials: MASONRY
- Construction Materials: BRICK/CEMENT
- Tower Shape: POLYGONAL ON SQUARE OIL HOUSE
- Original Lens: SECOND ORDER FRESNEL LENS, 1877
- Point Bonita Light Station had the first fog signal on the West Coast. It was an Army surplus 24-pounder siege gun.
- This light is only one in America that can only be reached by crossing a suspension bridge. Of course, it is a replica of the Gold Gate Bridge.
- The original Point Bonita Light was located “too high”. While East Coast lights need to be tall to be seen, the West Coast has incredibly dense fog above 300 feet. The original light was 306 feet above sea level. The second order Fresnel lens was often cloaked in fog and was not able to be seen from the sea below.
- In 1877 the lighthouse was moved to its current location. This location required the builders to overcome many challenges, including the need for a hand carved, 118-foot long hard rock tunnel.
In the 1850s, as lighthouses started popping up along the West Coast, mariners cried for a light to mark the entrance of the Golden Gate whose recalcitrant currents, dangerous shoals, and incessant clinging fog had strangled the journey of many a vessel.
The original lighthouse was a 56-foot, conical brick tower, situated 260 feet above the sea. A one-and-a-half-story brick and stone cottage was built near the tower, and the first keeper, Edward Colson, lit the lamp inside the lighthouse’s 2nd-order Fresnel lens for the first time on May 2, 1855. Quite often, the lighthouse was shrouded in fog, rendering it useless to seamen. By the 1870s, it was clear that the fog signal and lighthouse should be relocated to the southwestern tip of Point Bonita, where they would be at a lower elevation and better able to serve mariners.
The new lighthouse went into operation on February 2, 1877. Everything from the lower balcony up is from the original 1855 tower, including the Fresnel lens and eagle-shaped rainspouts. At 124 feet above sea level, the new tower was 200 feet lower than its predecessor.
Point Bonita was the last manned lighthouse on the California coast. The last keeper, who by that time was living in Coast Guard housing constructed at the former life-saving station, left in April 1981. Point Bonita Lighthouse is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is run by the National Park Service.
Point Bonita Lighthouse Links
Historic Postcard of the Point Bonita Lighthouse from 1934
Historic Postcard of the Point Bonita Lighthouse from 1908