Skip to content

Is This the End of the Road for East Brother Light Station?

The East Brother Light Station has been a Bay Area icon since its construction in 1873. It was built as an aid to mariners navigating the San Pablo and San Francisco Bay waterways. Over the following decades (100+ years) the station went through several upheavals and threats to its existence. Yet due to the commitment and passion of locals and community groups it has managed to endure, and even evolve. What was once simply a lighthouse station eventually also became a Victorian lighthouse bed-and-breakfast inn, offering beautiful views and gourmet foods. Now this is all in jeopardy.

East Brother Light Station
After a fire destroyed the island’s wharf and boathouse in 1941, the light was automated but the buildings were boarded up and became targets for vandals. The station was under constant threat of demolition until it was taken over by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit under license from the USCG.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

On April 1, the power cable connecting the station to the rest of the world broke. Unfortunately, the news was not a joke. Not only did the lights go out, the entire island was left without power. Lightkeeper Desiree Heveroh spoke with SFGate about the situation she now finds herself in. ‘”It gets real cold on this rock. If it was at all possible, I’m living even further back in time here now, I get the fireplace packed every morning with eucalyptus bark and branches from around the island that I collect.”‘

The failed submarine power cable is owned by the US Coast Guard. Whereas in the past USCG has organized repairs as needed — for example when the cable was damaged after a lightning strike in 1991 — it now seems unlikely that they will foot the bill for a full power restoration. The backup battery and generator systems that are in place are enough to keep the light blinking, but not enough to power the rest of the island’s energy requirements.

Heveroh told SFGate, ‘”The light itself is working now, it charges when I run the generator, so I’ve been watching it like the days of old. The Coast Guard told me when they came out that if the light goes out I need to notify them.

‘”We showed [the US Coast Guard] around, and they basically said, ‘It would be cheaper for us just to put the light in the tower on a solar panel.’ So they’re not going to replace the cable, which leaves us with no power at all. And their responsibility is done.”‘

In an effort to keep the island running and returned to its pre-blackout state, Desiree has organized a fundraising drive on GoFundMe. Her goal is to raise $150,000 to restore power to the island, whether through repair of the cable or installation of a renewable-power system such as a solar, wind, or wave generator. At last look, the tally was $42,816. Once again the community is rallying to save this historic landmark —  it is the oldest wood-frame lighthouse left in the United States; it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is a registered California Historical Landmark. Plus, if you’ve ever been to the lighthouse, or have even stayed overnight in the B&B, you’ll have some idea of the joy the island brings to locals and visitors alike.

Sailing past East Brother Light Station
The East Bay Times reports that Richmond Mayor Tom Butt has “put out a public plea for ideas and funding to help to save the station. Butt was one of the founders of East Brother Light Station, Inc., a nonprofit that rehabilitated the East Brother Light Station in 1979 and opened it as a bed and breakfast inn in 1980.”
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

Desiree wrote on the station’s GoFundMe page, “Our History includes being saved 42 years ago by a large group of people [who] cared enough to pool their collective resources, connections, donations & love to save East Brother Light Station.  We are once again in historic times & we need your help to save her again.”

So what do you say, folks? Can you add your dollars to the growing funds to help save East Brother Light Station? Donations can be made here.

8 Comments

  1. steve grogan 2 months ago

    With a repaired cable and two custodians on the island to monitor that the light is operating and available to start the generator if necessary, I think the restoring of the present situation on such a busy waterway is important enough that the Coast Guard could request some “Infrastructure funds” to repair the cable

  2. John McNeill 2 months ago

    You know, this could be an excellent PR opportunity for Tesla!! By saving the lighthouse with a full scope Tesla solar and powerwall system thye would show the possibilities with the system in a most unusual and memorable manner. What a story that would be!!!

    • Robert Bean 2 months ago

      Excellent idea!!!

  3. Lu Abel 2 months ago

    For those who haven’t experienced it, East Brother Light is a FABULOUS experience. A comfortable private room; outstanding food, and the pleasant company of other water-oriented people. And, on top of that, a demonstration of a whole collection of century-old equipment that made the lighthouse be a lighthouse — like a steam-driven foghorn (now driven by compressed air, no wait for the boiler to heat). Please help preserve East Brother – and when the Covid restrictions are over, book a trip to this fabulous place.

  4. Leo Weiss 2 months ago

    Cables don’t just break. Is there a diagnostic report? Could the problem be at either end above water?

  5. Bill Bourlet 2 months ago

    Who owns the real estate? Could it not be sold off? Privatized. I’m sure a bidding war would start and the Coast guard could make a profit. Even imposing a new set of regulations or planning permission could be added. I don’t know but what about a heritage status? Does California have such a designation?

  6. Joe Maciorowski 2 months ago

    Time for a modern repower, solar, wind, and a battery. It would make a great model for the future. I love the Tesla idea.

  7. peter metcalf 2 months ago

    I would donate if the contract of donation specified the restoration would be 100% renewable energy.

Leave a Comment