Magazine article Sunset

Bright Survivors: Restored Bay Area Lighthouses Shine for Visitors

Magazine article Sunset

Bright Survivors: Restored Bay Area Lighthouses Shine for Visitors

Article excerpt

One winter night in 1915, as the fog lay like a noose around the Golden Gate, the steamer Eureka blundered close to the jagged rocks shouldering the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Skirting treacherous shoals, the steamer neared the forbidding black cliffs of Point Bonita.

The roar of surf detonating against the shore finally alerted the captain to his ship's perilous position - but befuddled by the fog and darkness, he ran the Eureka aground below the point.

A keeper from the Point Bonita Lighthouse made a bold attempt to rescue the sailors before their ship broke apart, lowering himself down the windswept cliff. His rope proved too short to reach the ship, but as he dangled, he watched other rescuers row up and pluck all but one sailor to safety.

The actions of that early lightkeeper typified a breed of men known for their unflagging heroism. The same relentless effort has recently gone into preservation projects at both the Point Bonita Lighthouse and another endangered Bay Area sentinel, the Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Marin's Point Bonita Lighthouse, in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, had suffered major water damage through the years in storms that also washed chunks out of the cliffside access trail. Trail construction was a challenge - helicopters were needed to carry in wooden bridges to cover gaps in the trail. At the lighthouse itself, the Coast Guard and volunteers put on a new roof, floor, and catwalk, then replaced water-soaked walls.

Point Bonita's reopening admits visitors to California's most dramatic piece of lighthouse real estate, 124 feet above the water on a storm-lashed slip of rock. Getting there takes you along a narrow ledge, down through a damp tunnel, and across two short bridges and a long, skinny suspension bridge.

Walk around the squat lighthouse to view the massive lens, lantern room, and fog-signal building. …

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