Alcatraz Island Lighthouse

© RicardMN Photography

© RicardMN Photography

Alcatraz Island Lighthouse. San Francisco, California. 1909.

Alcatraz Island proved to be a huge obstacle in the busy shipping channel of San Francisco Bay. So much so, that the U.S. Government allocated money to construct a lighthouse on the island. The first tower was constructed in 1852, but the third-order Fresnel lens wouldn’t arrive until 1854. This made it the first lighthouse to be built on the West Coast. This tower would serve until 1906 when it was damaged beyond repair in the 1906 earthquake.

A new tower design was put forth after the earthquake. The new tower would be made out of reinforced concrete and would stand 84′ tall. This would be tall enough to tower above the military prison that was built on the island. In 1934, the military prison was upgraded to a maximum security federal penitentiary. Even though the lighthouse keeper was on the outside of the prison walls, they weren’t entirely safe. A riot broke out in 1946 in which many guards and inmates were killed, however, the lighthouse keepers were fine. The station was automated in 1963 right around the same time as the prison closed.

The tower is still an active aid to navigation and can be spotted from almost any point around San Francisco, Oakland, and the Marin Headlands. The tower is all that remains of the old station. The lighthouse keeper’s dwelling was destroyed by fire in 1969 by Native American protesters.

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