Alcatraz Island Lighthouse

San Francisco, California - 1909 (1854**)

Photo of the Alcatraz Island Lighthouse.

History of the Alcatraz Island Lighthouse

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.

Directions: The lighthouse sits off shore on Alcatraz Island. The only way to get to the island is to by boat. There is a cruise service that offers a ferry service to the island and tours. Make sure you buy your tickets in advance as the tours regularly sell out weeks in advance.

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Tower Information
Tower Height: 84.00'
Focal Plane: 214'
Active Aid to Navigation: Yes
*Latitude: 37.82622 N
*Longitude: -122.42217 W
See this lighthouse on Google Maps.


* Please note that all GPS coordinates are approximated and are meant to put you in the vicinity of the lighthouse, not for navigation purposes.

** This year denotes a station date. This is the year that a lighthouse was first reported in the vicinity or at that location.

All photographs and information on this site is copyright © 2016 Bryan Penberthy unless otherwise specified. No content may be used without written permission. Any questions or comments, please email me.