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  East Brother Lighthouse Featured on Richmond Confidential
August 15, 2010

Below is a piece on Richmond’s East Brother Lighthouse featured on today’s edition of Richmond Confidential. For film and video clips from the story, see http://richmondconfidential.org/2010/08/13/innkeeping-at-the-east-brother-lighthouse/.

Following the article is some information about the operation and maintenance of East Brother and how you can help.

Innkeeping at the East Brother Lighthouse

iPod | HQ
Photos and audio by Veronica Moscoso.
By: Veronica Moscoso | August 13, 2010 – 5:00 am |
Click play to take a brief tour of the East Brother Light Station. (By Robert Rogers)
Since 1874, the Victorian lighthouse at East Brother Island has continued to be a landmark for sailors.
“The light has to be on. If it’s not we have to tell the Coast Guard and there’s a back-up that comes on,” said Anne Witts, who together with her husband Ed, is the innkeeper at the lighthouse.
As the innkeepers, the Witts have to take care of much more than just the light. Around 26 years ago, the East Brother Light Station became a bed and breakfast destination that receives guests from Thursday through Sunday; its earnings are used to maintain the facilities. For the last year and a half, the Witts have been working around the clock, keeping the light station alive.
In 1971, the station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places—that saved it from being demolished and replaced by a light on a tower. It was falling apart from lack of funding to restore it, until the East Brother Light Station, Inc., a nonprofit corporation group, was formed 1979.
Today, the restored structures at the station are still standing, but because they are more than 100 years old, they need constant attention and care. “We fix things every day,” said Ed Witts. Volunteers come on the second Saturday of every month and work on projects around the island. The volunteer board that meets once a month is constantly doing work, too.
The bed and breakfast is a small and cozy place. Guests stay the night in one of the four bedrooms located in the lighthouse building, or at the one in the fog signal building. To get there, customers must make reservations in advance and are picked up by boat from Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor. From the harbor it takes ten minutes to get to the light station, and passengers can enjoy the marvelous views of the San Francisco skyline, Mount Tamalpais, and the Marin coastline.
The experience at the bed and breakfast is definitely a unique getaway. Guests enjoy the views, the food, and get to know the other guests and innkeepers. They also get a tour of the island and the restored lighthouse and foghorn buildings. The original, 136-year-old foghorn is demonstrated for the guests every morning. However there’s an electric modern one inside the building that goes on all winter long.
The only water at the island is rainwater collected on a cistern, and the island has its own sewer treatment plant. Only guests who are staying longer than one night are allowed to take showers. “If all guests were taking showers we would have to close,” said Anne. “We don’t have enough water.”
Anne is the cook at the lighthouse. “When people are fed well, they are really happy and Anne feeds them really well,” said her husband fondly.
Lighthouse guests are usually couples that are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries. “We do a romantic theme,” said Ed. “That’s what the lighthouse is known for.”
As innkeepers, the Witts have Coast Guard licenses to be able to pilot a boat, and they have to do a lot of boating to keep the lighthouse running since everything has to be taken on and off the island. “We try to take all of the laundry and propane and garbage off at the end of our week and bring it all back at the beginning,” said Ed Witts. They also have to transport enough food for the guests and themselves. “We try not to make many extra trips because is very time consuming and expensive,” he said.
The Witts have Tuesdays off, which they spend at their home in Pittsburg; the rest of the week the couple has their plate full innkeeping at the light station. When asked what happens if one of them gets sick, Anne said laughing, “We keep going—there is no ‘stop.’”
The couple has loved their time at the light station. Anne, originally from Belgium, and Ed, from the Bay Area, actually met sailing in Italy.  When they moved from Europe they applied for the job as innkeepers. They said that the job was a perfect fit for them, but they are ready to pass it on in four months when their contract expires. “If you keep doing it for too long, you can burn out,” Ed said.
The Witts aren’t tired of the beautiful views and the ocean, though—when they are done with their work at the light station, said Anne, “We are going to take care of our house and then we’re going sailing for a few months.”
Programs, Activities and Accomplishments

East Brother Light Station, Inc, is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. Since 1979, under a 40-year license from the U.S. Coast Guard, East Brother Light Station, Inc. has taken full responsibility for stewardship of the lighthouse and fog signal complex on East Brother Island, which is Richmond’s oldest extant cultural resource. This responsibility has included:

  • Restoring and maintaining the historic property, which is not only listed on the National Register of Historic Places but is also California Historic Landmark  No. 971, using $250,000of grant funding, over 200,000 hours of volunteer work, and $750,000 of products, materials and services purchased with donations and the proceeds from public use fees.
  • Hosting over 50,000 visitors for bed and breakfast use and over 10,000 visitors for day use and special events.
  • Publishing and widely distributed the book, East Brother, History of an Island Light Station (http://ebls.org/?page_id=78).
  • Receiving  national recognition, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation Honor Award, the U.S. Department of Transportation Award for Outstanding Public Service to Transportation and Historic Preservation, and the California Preservation Foundation Award of Merit.
  • Becoming a volunteer dues-paying member of the Richmond Convention and Visitor Bureau.


The funds for routine maintenance are generated by the operation of the bed and breakfast inn, and all of the maintenance work is done by a group of highly motivated volunteers. However, the 136-year-old facilities, which are severely exposed to the elements, require periodic major repairs and capital improvements.

Mission Statement and Goals

The 1979 Articles of Incorporation of East Brother Light Station, Inc, state:

The specific and primary purposes are to engage in activities of a historical and educational nature concerning the history and culture and physical features of the Greater Point Richmond - West Contra Costa County geographical area.

The 1979 License agreement between the U.S. Coast Guard and East Brother Light Station, Inc., states:

The licensed premises are to be used only as a facility for historical, educational and environmental programs and projects…The licensee agrees to preserve the existing exterior architectural and structural integrity of all structures located on this historic licensed property.

Since 1979, East Brother Light Station, Inc. has restored, maintained and operated for public use the historic lighthouse and fog signal facility on East Brother Island. The mission of East Brother Light Station, Inc. is:

Maintain the historic structures and cultural resources on East Brother Island in perpetuity, maximize public visitation and provide historical and educational information to the public.

When the U.S. Coast Guard began entering into agreements with organizations to maintain lighthouses in the 1970s, the first were limited to public agencies. East Brother was the first facility to be licensed to a non-profit corporation, and it was so successful that it became the prototype for hundreds of such agreements throughout the United States.

Organizational Strength

East Brother Light Station, Inc. is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation governed by a hands-on board of directors residing in three Bay Area counties, summarized as follows:

  • Number of persons on Board of Directors                       6
  • Frequency of Board meetings                                          Monthly
  • Frequency of Corporate meetings                                   Annually
  • Average attendance at Board meetings                           7, including Keepers
  • Number of volunteers hours                                             250 per month average


All of the board members and volunteers serve without pay. The only employees are the innkeepers.

Evidence of Community Support

East Brother Light Station is one of the best-known landmarks in the City of Richmond. It is a member of and supported by the Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau., The organization’s web site is http://www.ebls.org.

East Brother has been the subject of  thousands of media articles and videos over the past 30 years. Google “East Brother,” and hundreds will be listed.

How You Can Help

East Brother requires constant maintenance, most of which is done by volunteers. See http://ebls.org/?page_id=69 to sign up for volunteer opportunities. We schedule one volunteer Saturday or Sunday each month.

This summer, our big push has been painting and waterproofing. Local vendors of construction materials have been very helpful. Kelly Moore donated all the paint materials, and Acapulco Rock and Soil provided free and discounted materials for a modification of the wastewater treatment system that was designed and will be installed by Questa Engineering. Veolia has provided laboratory services and reports for the NPDS discharge permit for the island’s unique intermittent sand filter treatment system.  

Richmond’s John Vincent Quality Painting is directing the painting effort which is supplemented with volunteers and Richmond YouthBUILD students and Richmond Youth Corp participants (for information on YouthBUILD and Richmond Youth Corp, contact Jay Leonhardy, Program Coordinator, YouthWORKS Division, Department of Employment & Training, City of Richmond, CA, 510.307.8019 , jleonhardy@richmondworks.org. Sean Bishop, “The Window man’” has been tuning up and weatherstripping the lighthouse’s wood windows with assistance from and materials donated by Wooden Window, Inc. Many other individuals and businesses continue to contribute to keeping this wonderful Richmond landmark alive and open to the public.

Our next big project is a new copper roof deck for the Lantern Gallery. It will cost $26,000, and we would like to have it in place before November of 2010. If you would like to contribute to the Lantern gallery fund or know some person, business or institution who would, please contact me.

We are always looking for new good working board members and for volunteers with skills that include boat operation and maintenance, construction and building maintenance skills and grant writing. For information, contact me at tom.butt@intres.com.

Below, Volunteers relax for lunch at East Brother yesterday after painting the water tank.

Photo One