|Yerba Buena, CA|
Description: It has been said that the small island situated roughly midway between Oakland and San Francisco has had as many names as a modern divorcée, and also in like fashion, has reclaimed a former name. The island was reportedly first known as Sea Bird Island. Later, the island would be named for two other island dwellers often seen on its steep slopes. The early Spaniards called the island Yerba Buena, translated good herb, in reference to the curative powers of a mint found growing on the island. When the 49ers startled settling in the area, goats were pastured on the island, and soon the island was known as Goat Island. The island would be called Goat Island until around 1931, when the old Spanish name was officially restored. A resident sailor was dressed up as a goat and ceremoniously pushed into the bay, signaling the end of the name Goat Island.
In 1874, the fog bell from Point Conception, where a steam whistle had recently been installed, was placed on the southwest end of Yerba Buena Island. The bell would be used as a backup for the two, ten-inch steam whistles that were constructed nearby on a level notch carved out of the rocky island. A large water tank and coal house, flanked the twin fog signal buildings. Just above the notch, the unique, octagonal Yerba Buena Lighthouse was built in a Victorian style. The short, ornate tower was constructed of wood, and has the year of completion, 1875, mounted above its doorway. A fifth-order Fresnel lens from the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, which was discontinued in 1873, was placed in the lantern room. About eighty yards further up the island’s slope and constructed in a similar style to the tower stands the two-story keepers' dwelling. The historic postcard at right shows the station with all its structures intact. Note that the cliff face in front of the lighthouse was painted white to help mark the island.
Keeper John Kofod served two stints at Yerba Buena. During his service as assistant keeper, his only child, Anna, met and married Walter Fanning, a radioman at the Naval Radio Station on the island. The Kofod’s first grandchild, also named Walter, was born in the keeper’s dwelling on Yerba Buena. In 1914, Kofod accepted an appointment as head keeper at East Brother Island. He would serve on that smaller island, just up the bay, until 1921, when he returned to Yerba Buena as head keeper.
Keeper Kofod was fond of taking his grandchildren down to the fog signal on New Year’s Eve, where they were allowed to give three long blasts of the steam whistle as a New Year’s salute to the passing ferries. The children were thrilled as the ferries responded in like manner. Walter Fanning Jr. would later play a key role in helping to save and restore the East Brother Lighthouse.
In 1933, a tunnel was bored through Yerba Buena Island to serve as a link between the east and west sections of the Bay Bridge. The bridge was finished in 1936, the same year that construction began on a new "island" built on the shoals just north of Yerba Buena Island. Composed of mud dredged from the bay and transported down from the Sacramento delta, the island was named Treasure Island for the gold that was likely contained in all that silt. Originally built for use as an airport, the island instead was home to a world's fair in 1939. With the start of World War II, the island was turned over to the Navy, which used it as a station until 1993.
Even with the lights on the nearby bridge, the Yerba Buena Lighthouse remains operational to this day. Personnel were removed from the station in 1958 when it was automated. Today the keepers' dwelling is home to a Coast Guard admiral, which is likely why the station is in such excellent condition. The area of the island that served as the lighthouse depot is home to Coast Guard Group San Francisco and Aids to Navigation Team San Francisco.
Head Keepers: N. D. Tuttle (1875 – 1877), Rheinhold Holzhuter (1877 – 1880), J. C. Linne (1881 – 1885), George B. Koons (1885 – 1888), John A. F. McFarland (1888 – 1892), Henry Hall (1892), John M. Nilson (1892 – 1893), Richard A. Weiss (1893 – 1904), Herbert H. Luff (1904 – 1921), John Peter Kofod (1921 - 1929), Albert H. Joost (1930), Lemuel Miner (at least 1940), Wayne Piland (1953 – 1958).
Located on Yerba Buena Island, halfway between Oakland and San
Francisco on the Interstate 80, Bay Bridge. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.