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Another Richmond Historical Landmark in Internet Vote Competition
October 11, 2006

To get aid, lighthouse must be a beacon for votes
RICHMOND: Online contest could bring new doors and windows to 100-year-old landmark (To vote, Click on http://www.jeld-wen.com/lighthouse)

Posted on Wed, Oct. 11, 2006

East Brother Light Station has had thousands of visitors since it opened as a bed-and-breakfast and public attraction more that 25 years ago. Now, the volunteers who saved and maintain the prestigious Richmond landmark hope it has thousands of friends as well.

The station, on East Brother Island off Point San Pablo, is a finalist with four other lighthouses in a national competition. Online voting runs through Oct. 22, and sufficient local support could mean new doors and windows: The competition is sponsored by window and door manufacturer Jeld-Wen.

Winning the grand prize, while far from a complete restoration, would be very welcome, said Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt, one of the founders of East Brother Light Station Inc., the nonprofit volunteer group that restored and maintains the 100-year-old facility.

"Any time we have the opportunity to get something we need for the lighthouse, we have to take it," he said. "Plus, getting a little recognition can't hurt."

With its spectacular views and private setting, the lighthouse has been an attraction since a five-room bed-and-breakfast opened in the original caretaker's house in 1980. But it would have met a far different fate if the U.S. Coast Guard had its way.

"That lighthouse was going to be demolished," Butt said.

The lighthouse, built in 1873 and originally operated by the U.S. Lighthouse Service, later came under the oversight of the Coast Guard. A caretaker and family lived on the island and operated the beacon and foghorn until 1969, when warning signals were automated.

That would have been the end of the island's picturesque buildings if not for the foresight of the late Lucretia Edwards, a Point Richmond resident and longtime community activist and champion for parks and open space. She successfully nominated the East Brother installation for the National Register of Historic Places.

"That saved it from being destroyed but didn't rehabilitate it," Butt said.

When the Coast Guard sought a party to take over operations, volunteers formed East Brother Light Station Inc. in 1978. The nonprofit group raised money and donated labor to rehabilitate the buildings.

It is estimated that more than 50,000 people have visited the island since 1979, and the site is a California Historical Landmark in addition to being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Maintaining the structures at landmark standards is a tall order at a site subjected to strong winds and moisture. In fact, if the windows at East Brother were original, they would have to be restored rather than replaced, Butt said.

But nearly all the windows were replaced in the 1930s and '40s, and they are showing their years.

East Brother was chosen as a finalist from among 40 lighthouses nominated nationwide. It goes up against Cape Neddick in Maine, Thomas Point Shoal in Maryland, Seul Choix in Michigan and Wind Point in Wisconsin.

Whatever the outcome of the online competition, "We're always looking for donations, we're always looking for volunteers," Butt said.

The preservation and rehabilitation have won awards and notice over the years, but it does not come easy.

"It's a big job," Butt said. "It takes a lot of time and a lot of money to do it."

Two other Richmond landmarks -- the Richmond Municipal Natatorium and the Maritime Child Care Center -- are finalists against other Bay Area landmarks in a separate online vote being held at www.partnersinpreservation.com.


Reach Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784 or ctreadway@cctimes.com.


To vote, Click on http://www.jeld-wen.com/lighthouse.  For information on East Brother, click on www.ebls.org.