Oldest West Coast Light Marks 'The Rock'
by U.S. Coast Guard Walter Ham
The Alcatraz Lighthouse not only guides mariners through the San
Francisco Bay, but also welcomes tourists to the island that used to
house America’s most notorious inmates.
(Alcatraz Lighthouse on
San Francisco Bay during sunrise on October 22, 2015. The
84-foot tall tower has stood in the center of the Bay since
1909, replacing the original one damaged by an earthquake in
1906. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Robert
Lit in 1854, the Alcatraz Light was the first of seven west coast
lighthouses built during the California Gold Rush.
original Alcatraz Light shined over the bay until it was damaged by
an earthquake in 1906. It was replaced by the current 84-foot-tall
light that shines from 214-feet above sea level, the highest point
on the island known as “The Rock.”
Located 1 1/2 miles
offshore, Alcatraz Island was first used for a fort and military
prison before becoming the most famous and formidable federal
penitentiary in the nation. The prison closed in 1963. Today, the
National Park Service manages the island as a part of the Golden
Gate National Recreation Area.
Alcatraz NPS Ranger John
Cantwell said the lighthouse is one of the most popular tourist
attractions on the 22-acre island.
“We get many lighthouse
aficionados coming out to see the location of the first lighthouse
on the west coast,” said Cantwell.
Cantwell said the scenic
island has also been featured in 12 movies, among them the 1979
Clint Eastwood film “Escape from Alcatraz” and the 1996 Sean Connery
and Nicholas Cage film “The Rock.”
NPS Spokesperson Shalini
Gopie said approximately 1,750,000 tourists visit Alcatraz every
year. Gopie added that there are many other attractions on the
island, including guided tours and bird watching.
Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team (ANT) San Francisco keep the
famous Bay Area light shining.
February 27, 2019 - Petty
Officer 1st Class John Sherwood, Petty Officer 2nd Class
Geoffrey Cote, and Fireman Harley Satara from Aids to
Navigation Team San Francisco stand beside Alcatraz
Lighthouse that has stood in the center of San Francisco Bay
since 1909. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer
“Alcatraz Lighthouse is unique because it’s located in the center
of San Francisco Bay, only accessible by boat,” said Chief Petty
Officer Marcelino Ortiz, the officer-in-charge of the Yerba Buena
Island, California-based ANT.
According to Ortiz, the view
from the top of the 124-step spiral staircase is worth the hike.
“The lighthouse has a 360-degree view of San Francisco
and its neighboring cities, views of Golden Gate Bridge, a famous
prison and a great tourist attraction,” said Ortiz, who is from
Queens, New York.
The U.S. Coast Guard maintains more than
48,000 lighthouses, beacons and buoys that mark more than 25,000
miles of navigable waterways.
This system of coastal,
intracoastal and inland waterways, known as the Marine
Transportation System, facilitates more than $4.6 trillion in
economic activity a year.
The Coast Guard recently released
its Maritime Commerce Strategic Outlook to chart the way ahead for
its MTS missions.
From the Point Reyes Light in Marin County
to the Point Sur Light to the south in Monterey County, ANT San
Francisco covers 569 Aids to Navigation, including 13 lighthouses,
35 buoys and 521 fixed ATON.
Ortiz says maintaining the
Alcatraz Light and his team’s other buoys and beacons gives him a
sense of satisfaction and pride in knowing that they help to keep
“At the end of the work day, leaving Alcatraz
and observing the main light watching properly gives the crew and
myself peace of mind,” said Ortiz.
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