Lighthouse Friends Home Page
 Southampton Shoal, CA    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Privately owned, no access without permission.
Description: Southampton Shoal, a two-mile-long navigational hazard, lies along the eastern side of the shipping channel that runs between Berkeley on the east, and Angel Island and the Tiburon Peninsula on the west. When the Santa Fe Railroad commenced ferry service between Point Richmond and San Francisco around 1900, its ferries often passed dangerously close to the southeast portion of the shoal. The Lighthouse Board realized that vessel traffic to and from the Mare Island Shipyard and points farther inland would also benefit from a navigational aid on the shoal, and so a petition was soon sent to Congress requesting $30,000 for the project. The resulting Southampton Shoal Lighthouse was completed in 1905, adding another beacon to the string of lights that safely led mariners through San Francisco Bay.

Southampton Shoal Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The Southampton Shoal Lighthouse was a unique three-story Victorian structure that rested on eleven steel cylinders driven into the shoal. Given its location and the fact that it resembled a dwelling more than a typical lighthouse, the structure was affectionately known as the “House on the Bay.” Balconies encircled the first and second stories providing an unobstructed view of the lighthouse’s beautiful surroundings. The bottom floor was used for storage and also had davits from which the station's boat was suspended. The top two stories, divided into a pair of two-level apartments, were home to the keepers and their families, and a 3,500-pound brass fog bell. A four-sided roof interrupted by stylish dormers topped the lighthouse and sloped upwards to the tower and lantern room from which the light of a fifth-order Fresnel lens, manufactured in 1886, was exhibited. The Coast Guard photograph at right shows the attractive lighthouse on station.

Not long after the light was activated, erosion of the shoal threatened to undermine the cylinders that supported the lighthouse prompting the placement of several tons of rocks around the steel columns. The lighthouse’s foundation was soon threatened again when the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck. The shifting fault caused the support cylinders to tilt as much as eleven degrees eastward. After the Lighthouse Service re-leveled the station, the steel cylinders were filled with concrete and more rocks were dumped into the surrounding waters to stabilize the foundation.

In 1929, Ole Lunden could see hard times on the horizon. Though he had been working as a streetcar motorman in San Francisco, he was impressed when his friend Milford Johnson came ashore from the Farallon Islands wearing his Lighthouse Service uniform. Lunden decided to switch to his friend’s vocation, filled out an application, and soon received a call from a secretary at the Lighthouse Service office in San Francisco asking if he would accept an assistant keeper’s position at Southampton Shoal. Though he had to be told where exactly that was, Ole Lunden accepted the assignment, and he and his wife, Bernice, were welcomed to the station by head keeper Frank Schou, whose wife and family lived in San Francisco.

The crews of passing tug boats were soon startled to see that women’s lingerie had been added to the laundry being aired at the lighthouse. Ole recalled, “They made a close pass by the lighthouse to get a good look at Bernice. She was the first woman they’d ever seen on this offshore station.” The Lundens soon developed a symbiotic relationship with the crews of the tugboats. The tugs would deliver a newspaper to the station and in exchange receive a fresh fish or crab for their dinner.

One day, Keeper Albert Joost rowed the five miles from his station on Yerba Buena up to Southampton Shoal to ask then assistant keeper Ole Lunden if he would like to swap assignments. Lunden jumped at the offer as he often worried when his wife made trips to shore in the stations unreliable boats. The transfer was approved by the service, and late in 1930, Albert Joost and his wife Evelyn arrived at their new home. The decision to relocate would prove to be a tragic one.

On December 23rd, 1935, Joost and his wife were alone at the station as the other keeper had gone ashore. Keeper Joost set about repairing the station’s radio and antenna, using a blowtorch to heat a soldering iron. The blowtorch went out discharging a sizable amount of gas into the air. When Joost relit the torch, the air around him exploded igniting Joost's clothing and a section of the lighthouse. Mrs. Joost rushed to her husband’s aid, and together they used two fire extinguishers to put out the flames. Keeper Joost was badly burned and in need of medical attention. With help from his wife, Joost lowered the station’s remaining boat to the water and set out for Angel Island insisting that his wife remain at the station to keep the light.

When Joost reached Angel Island, he was quickly rushed to the Marine Hospital in San Francisco by a military boat. As darkness fell over the bay, Mrs. Joost lit the lamp in the lonely lighthouse. Later that night, the lighthouse tender Lupine brought a relief keeper to the station and took Mrs. Joost to her husband, who was in critical condition. Sadly, Keeper Joost passed away on Christmas Day from his burns.

Relocation of Southampton Shoal Lighthouse
Assistant keeper Simonson recorded the following on December 24 upon his return to the lighthouse: "I found the station in a very disorderly condition. Southwest corner of station on outside of keeper's quarters had been on fire and paint was burned off. Also deck showed where fire had started. Pieces of his [Joost's] burned clothing led to water tank on upper deck. Evidently he tried to get water to put out the fire on himself, then went inside and got a Paragon fire extinguisher as there was no pail on the upper deck. By the time he reached the extinguisher in the stairway he must have been a burning torch as the walls in the hall, door casings and the floor all were stuck with pieces of burned clothing. The keeper apparently fell in the hall as the wall showed a half circle of charred clothing. How he ever managed to put out the fire on the outside after being burned like he must have been, and then lower the boat and go to the hospital at Fort McDowell all alone is something to think about."

After the Coast Guard assumed control of the lighthouse in 1939, the large fog bell was replaced by a pair of diaphone horns atop the lantern room. The lighthouse remained in operation until 1960, when it was determined that a manned station was no longer required. The top two stories of the lighthouse were lifted off the pilings by giant cranes and then barged up the delta to Tinsley Island. The island had been purchased by the St. Francis Yacht Club in 1959, and the Southampton Shoal Lighthouse became an inn for club members visiting the outstation.

Remnants of the lighthouse remain behind in San Francisco Bay. The fifth-order lens used in the lantern room can now be seen in a museum near the ferry landing on Angel Island, and the pilings used to support the Southampton Shoal lighthouse still protrude from the water east of Angel Island. Few people aboard the ferries that now race past the collection of pilings realize that an elegant building manned by real light keepers once stood where today only an impersonal red light is shown from a pole.

Head Keepers: Samuel David Hounsell (1905 – 1910), Thomas L. Winthar (1910 – 1916), Albert H. Joost (at least 1924), Frank Schou (at least 1929), Frederick S. Cobb (1930 – ), Albert H. Joost ( - 1935), James E. Simonson (1934 - ).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3

References

  1. Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993.
  2. Guardians of the Golden Gate, Ralph Shanks, 1990.

Location: Located on Tinsley Island in the San Joaquin Delta roughly 12 miles northwest of Stockton.
Latitude: 38.03596
Longitude: -121.49411

For a larger map of Southampton Shoal Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: The lighthouse is used by the St. Francis Yacht Club as a station for its members and guests.

To reach the lighthouse from Interstate 5 north of Stockton, take Eight Mile Road west seven miles until it ends at a ferry. Near the ferry is Herman and Helen's Marina from which you can rent a boat or seek other means of transportation to Tinsley Island, which is just a mile or two south of the marina. You must have permission to land on Tinsley Island, and access to the lighthouse is typically limited to guests staying in the lighthouse.

The lens from the Southampton Shoal Lighthouse is on display at a museum at Angel Island State Park. The pilings which formerly supported the Southampton Shoal Lighthouse can be seen from the ferry that runs between Vallejo and San Francisco.

The lighthouse is owned by the St. Francis Yacht Club. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Southampton Shoal Lighthouse

See our List of Lighthouses in California

The lighthouses The Maps Our friends Lighthouse Resources Lighthouse Events Lighthouse Store Lighthouse Posters
Copyright © 2001- Lighthousefriends.com
Send us an e-mail - please note that lighthousefriends.com is not affiliated with any lighthouse

Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.