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Southampton Shoal, CA  Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Privately owned, no access without permission.   

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Southampton Shoal Lighthouse

Southampton Shoal, a two-mile-long navigational hazard, lies along the eastern side of the shipping channel that runs between Richmond on the east, and Angel Island and the Tiburon Peninsula on the west. The threat of this obstacle was recognized early on, and three buoys were anchored on it in 1850 to warn mariners.

Southampton Shoal Lighthouse and Angel Island
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
When the Santa Fe Railroad commenced ferry service between Point Richmond and San Francisco in 1900, its ferries often passed dangerously close to the southeast portion of the shoal. As the Lighthouse Board noted in its Annual Report of 1900, Ferries weren’t the only vessels passing the shoal:
The passage between the eastern side of Angel Island and Southampton Shoal is quite narrow. The strong tides setting in and out through the Golden Gate have full force on a vessel bound up or down the bay, and in the case of ships being towed, as so many are, past this point, the set of the current is enough to make it hazardous, there being danger either of running aground on Southampton Shoal or Angel Island. An enormous quantity of shipping annually passes this point, bound to or from the great grain wharves at Port Costa, the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, and Mare Island Strait. Hundreds of the largest sailing ships are towed from San Francisco to Port Costa, where they load with grain, and are then towed down and out to sea. In this way there is more shipping passing through these waters than anywhere else in the district, except through the Golden Gate. There have been a number of casualties in the vicinity.
The Lighthouse Board asked for $30,000 to establish a fog bell and lens-lantern light on the shoal, and Congress appropriated the requested sum on March 3, 1903. A contract for the construction of the station was made in March 1905, and nine months later the following Notice to Mariners was published:
About December 28, 1905, a fixed white lens lantern light, illuminating the entire horizon, will be established in the structure recently completed at this station.

The light will be 52 feet above the water. …

The structure consists of eleven foundation cylinders carrying a platform supporting a square two-story dwelling with a pyramidal roof and dormers, surmounted by a cylindrical lantern. The platform also supports a cistern on the easterly side of the dwelling.

On the same date there will be established at the station a 3500-pound bell, to be struck by machinery during thick or foggy weather a double blow at alternate intervals of five and fifteen seconds.

Lighthouse in 1953 with foghorns atop lantern room
Given the lighthouse’s 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 the noisy brass fog bell. The Coast Guard photograph at right shows the attractive lighthouse on station.

Not long after the light was activated, erosion threatened to undermine the cylinders that supported the lighthouse prompting the placement of 1,000 tons of rock 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 piles were stiffened with iron cross-braces and more rocks were dumped into the surrounding waters to stabilize the foundation.

Upgrades to the station included a fifth-order lens that replaced the lens lantern in March 1911 and an air diaphone, powered by a gasoline engine and compressor, which took over the function of the fog bell in 1918.

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 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 station’s unreliable boats. The transfer was approved by the service, and in August 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 23, 1935, Joost and his wife were alone at the station as the assistant keeper, along with his wife, had gone ashore on an eleven-day leave of absence. Keeper Joost set about installing a new radio set. He had put up the aerial antenna and brought the lead from the radio out through the window casing. All that was left to do was to solder the lead to the antenna wire. He was using a blowtorch to heat a soldering iron, and while he was preparing the wires for soldering, the wind extinguished the blowtorch. Not realizing that gasoline had been discharged on the deck, Keeper Joost struck a match to relight the torch. The air around him exploded in a ball of fire, igniting Joost’s clothing and a section of the lighthouse. Evelyn Joost rushed to her husband’s aid, and together they used two fire extinguishers to put out the flames on the keeper and the lighthouse. Keeper Joost was badly burned and in need of prompt medical attention. With help from his wife, Joost lowered the station’s boat to the water and set out for Angel Island insisting that his wife remain at the station to keep the light.

Lighthouse being lifted from its foundation in 1960
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
When he reached Angel Island, Joost received first aid treatment in the post hospital and then was rushed to the Marine Hospital in San Francisco by a military boat. As darkness fell over the bay, Evelyn Joost lit the lamp in the lonely lighthouse. Later that night, the lighthouse tender Lupine brought Keeper Speelman to the station from Yerba Buena Lighthouse to take charge of Southampton Shoal Light and took Evelyn to her husband, who was in critical condition. Sadly, Keeper Joost passed away on Christmas Day from his first-degree and second-degree burns.

Keeper James Simonson recorded the following after his return to the lighthouse on December 24: “I found the station in a very disorderly condition. The paint had been burnt off on the Southwest corner of the Keepers quarters. Also the paint was burnt off of the deck, where the fire had started. Pieces of burnt clothing led to the water tank on the upper deck. Evidently, he tried to put the fire out on himself with water from the tank, then there being no pail on the upper deck, he went inside and got a Paragon fire extinguisher in the stairway. By the time he had reached the extinguisher on the stairway, he must have been a burning torch, as the walls in the hall, door casings, and floor were all stuck up with pieces of his clothing. The keeper apparently fell against the wall in the hall, as this wall showed a half circle of charred clothing. How he ever managed to put out the fire on the outside after being burnt 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.”

John R. Chambers replaced Albert H. Joost as head keeper of Southampton Shoal Lighthouse and served there from 1936 to 1939, when he was transferred to Angel Island Lighthouse. On June 17, 1938, he spent most of the day working on the station launch and on the boat falls for the launch. At 6 p.m., Mrs. Chambers informed her husband she was going upstairs to retire before she would go on watch at midnight. Keeper Chambers asked his wife to put the coffee pot on, and told her that he would quit work in a few minutes. While waiting for the coffee to warm, Chambers started to write in the station’s logbook, but the writing soon became blurry. He stood up, immediately passed out, and did not wake up until 9 p.m. As sunset was at 7:34 p.m. that day, the station’s light was not active for one hour and twenty-six minutes when it should have been. Keeper Chambers had never fainted before and attributed this instance to a mild form of sunstroke, as it had been a very warm and bright day. After learning of the outage, the superintendent admonished Chambers to “take such steps as you may find necessary to insure that the aids to navigation at your station are operated in the prescribed manner, as it would be every unfortunate for either keeper at your station to be charged with being asleep on duty.”

Southampton Shoal 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 in July 1966, and then barged up the delta to Tinsley Island. The St. Francis Yacht Club had purchased the island in 1959, and 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 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: Samuel David Hounsell (1905 – 1910), Thomas L. Winthar (1910 – 1916), Edwin F. Gunter (1916 – 1920), Fred C. Saunders (1920 – 1921), Albert H. Joost (1921 – 1922), Fred C. Saunders (1922), Albert H. Joost (1922 – 1923), Oscar Thornberg (1923), Rutherford B. White (1924), Albert H. Joost (1924), Frank M. Schou (1924 – 1930), Frederick S. Cobb (1930 – 1932), Albert H. Joost (1932 – 1935), John R. Chambers (1936 – 1939), John J. Woyner (1939 – 1943), Ernest F. Klette (1943 – 1945), Neil F. McNab (1948 – 1951), Laurence E.T. Sheffield (1951 – 1955).
  • Assistant: Arthur W. Pooley (1905 – 1906), Thomas L. Winthar (1906 – 1910), Frank Weller (1910 – 1913), Fred Prussmann (1913 – 1914), Leslie G. McKay (1914 – 1915), Joseph R. Marhoffer (1915), Edwin F. Gunter (1915 – 1916), Henry H. Wiesenhaven (1916 – 1917), Lambert R. Willard (1917 – 1918), Fred C. Saunders (1918 – 1920), Gus M. Davis (1920 – 1921), John A. Anderson (1921), Frank Ellis (1921 – 1922), Jesse E. Mygrants (1922), Phil S. Gratto (1922 – 1923), David R. Fagerholm (1923 – 1924), Rudolph H. Schaefer (1924), Oscar Anderson (1924 – 1925), Roy L. Murphy (1925 – 1926), Max Schlederer (1926 – 1929), George W. Petersen (1929), John O. Lunden (1929 – 1930), Albert H. Joost (1930 – 1932), George W. Petersen (1932 – 1934), James E. Simonson (1934 – 1937), Oscar Bernhard (1937), John J. Woyner (1937 – 1939), Loyd L. Price (1939), Henry A. Scott (1939), Agnes Woyner (1939 – 1940), Loyd L. Price (1940), Burton Y. Frymire (1940 – at least 1941), Floyd C. Alexander (at least 1950).


  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. The Keeper’s Log, Summer 1991.
  3. Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993.
  4. Guardians of the Golden Gate, Ralph Shanks, 1990.

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