Just about everyone who has ever visited the Point Bonita Ligthouse wants to come back, not just once, but over and over again, and they don’t hesitate to recommend it to others.
While every lighthouse location is unique in its own right, getting to the Point Bonita Lighthouse is like no other. Tourists from away, especially lighthouse aficionados, say a visit to the Point Bonita Lighthouse is more spectacular that seeing the nearby Golden Gate Bridge for the first time.
To reach the lighthouse, you need to walk a trail, then go through a tunnel, and then over a suspension bridge. The walk across the bridge is an experience not found at any other lighthouse and the view is spectacular. If you are afraid of heights, a walk across the bridge is not for you. Although the historic lighthouse in itself is spectacular, especially with its Fresnel lens still intact, it’s the walk across the suspension bridge that seems to give the lighthouse it notoriety.
However, in late 2010, when the 57-year old suspension bridge was closed for safety reasons, the public’s access to the lighthouse came to a halt. Inspections and reports indicated that repairs would only offer a temporary fix and that the old bridge would need to be replaced. But at $1.9 million, the cost would not be cheap.
Amazingly, it did not take long to replace the bridge with a new one. But, in our humble opinion, the real thanks of gratitude should go to the crew who worked on the construction. They must all have nerves of steel - one mistake could have meant certain death. Part of the project included stabilizing the slopes with sprayed-on concrete to help hold the span in place. This required workers to hang off the side of the cliffs, more than 100 feet above the water below.
This past April the new suspension bridge was opened to the public and again throngs of people will come to visit the historic lighthouse and walk across its famous bridge. Most will leave with a feeling of awe at what they had just seen and viewed.
But, sadly, many will leave without realizing the rich history that is also associated with the lighthouse. They won’t know that the first Point Bonita Lighthouse was built at another location, or why and how it was replaced by the current structure, leaving the old headless tower standing for many years as a day-mark. They won’t know that the Great White Fleet once sailed past the lighthouse, or they may not even know what the Great White Fleet was. They also won’t know about the hardships and dangers the lighthouse keepers and their families experienced at the lighthouse.
In the early years, life was so rugged at Point Bonita Lighthouse that seven of the first lighthouse keepers who were assigned there resigned in the first nine months. One assistant keeper, in attempt to rescue a shipwreck crew, tied a rope around his waist and lowered himself down the cliff, only to find out that the rope was too short, leaving him dangling 50 feet over the water.
Originally, access to the lighthouse was over a trail, until erosion cut a gap in the trail. A breeches buoy system was then installed so that the keepers could get to the lighthouse, a dangerous task onto itself. The beeches buoy system was replaced by a wooden walkway, which, in 1954 was replaced by a suspension bridge, the only one ever built at a lighthouse in the United States. The new suspension bridge closely resembles the original. In fact most people will not be able to tell the difference.
To learn more about Point Bonita Lighthouse, you can refer back to your August, 2001 edition of Lighthouse Digest. This story can also be found online in the Lighthouse Digest archives at www.lighthousedigest.com Another great resource with more in-depth information can be found in the book Guardians of the Golden Gate by Ralph and Lisa Woo Shanks, which can still be found through online used book stores.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2012 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.