Point Bonita Light Station Goes Automatic

September 17, 2012 Posted by: Nicole Hayduk

Light stations have helped guide seafarers and ships through both calm and stormy seas for over 2,000 years. The first known lighthouse was built in Alexandria on the island of Pharos in approximately 280 BCE, and since that time, light stations have steadily developed into what is in use today. Over their lifetime, light station technology has progressed through various lens, fuel, and construction technologies, but for most of lighthouse history all lighthouses shared one characteristic: they were managed by lighthouse keepers.

From 1976-1980, John Dusch was the lead lighthouse keeper at the Point Bonita Light Station that is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). At the time, Mr. Dusch was Chief Boatswain’s Mate with the United States Coast Guard, oversaw a crew of four lighthouse keepers, and had the honor of being the last lead keeper of the Point Bonita lighthouse. At the time, Mr. Dusch lived one mile from the light station with his wife and young son. The Point Bonita lighthouse was the last manned lighthouse in California making Mr. Dusch the last lead lighthouse keeper in the state. Mr. Dusch once commented that the lighthouse’s hand-ground Fresnel lens was “like a Mona Lisa…a work of art.”[1] The lighthouse still employs the original lens which is six inches thick and eight feet tall and has been aiding navigation through the Golden Gate since 1855.

Point Bonita is a cliff that sits about 100 feet above the Pacific Ocean and two-and-a-half miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Point Bonita is the only light station in the United States that is accessible only by crossing a suspension bridge. The light station was home to the first fog signal on the West Coast in the form of a 24-pound cannon that was supposed to be fired every half hour. The lighthouse keeper that was charged with firing the cannon was retired Army Sergeant Edward Maloney. However, this system was automated for good reason as the task proved to be overly taxing on Sergeant Maloney who nearly lost his mind at his post. Maloney reported that “I cannot go to town. I cannot find any person to relieve me, not five minutes. I have been up for three days and nights and had only two hours’ rest. I am nearly used up.”[2] The Point Bonita light is visible up to 18 miles out to sea and flashes 24 hours a day. The lighthouse keepers were responsible for ensuring that the light was never extinguished, the foghorn was enabled during poor weather, and that the station was maintained.

The John Dusch Point Bonita Light Station Collection (GOGA 35188) housed at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area contains many interesting items that relate to Mr. Dusch’s position as lighthouse keeper. The collection includes newspaper articles and photographs documenting Mr. Dusch’s time at Point Bonita, color postcards collected by Mr. Dusch during visits to light stations in New England, and a booklet containing children’s drawings and thank you notes that was sent to Mr. Dusch after a school visit to the light station. The collection provides a snapshot of this important time in the Point Bonita Light Station’s history and illustrates the personal side of what is now an automated system. The collection is available for research at the GGNRA’s Park Archives and Records Center. The Park Archives collection also contains an oral history with John Dusch (GOGA 18823).

Visit the Point Bonita Light Station. The lighthouse is still active and is one of the most picturesque places in the GGNRA. After a two-year closure and bridge reconstruction, the Point Bonita lighthouse is open to visitors Sunday, and Monday 12:30 pm to 3:30 pm.

[1] Hillinger, Charles. “Atop a hill they keep…a beacon lit.” Philadelphia Inquirer. 22 November 1979. [2] Schreibman, Jack. “Historic beacon soon will lose the human touch.” The Arizona Republic. 23 March 1980.

Point Bonita, lighthouse

Last updated: May 6, 2019

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