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Bolinas Bay Lifeboat Station (1917 Station and Boathouse) Bolinas, CA

Bolinas Bay was one of the first two stations approved for the San Francisco Bay area in 1874. It is located up the coast at the base of Point Reyes and near the Duxbury Reef, cause of multiple shipwrecks in the years after the California Gold Rush.

The first station at Bolinas was built in 1881 but was manned by a keeper only, Captain Tomas G. Johnson. He remained on duty until February 13, 1885 when he was replaced by Captain George L Gibson. A mysterious fire occurred just two months later with loss of the station. Captain Johnson was suspected of arson and indicted, but was not convicted of the crime.

The station was not rebuilt for thirty years. Instead, a station was built in 1888 at Point Reyes to the northwest and supplemented by an auxiliary boathouse in Drake Bay in 1912. Two shipwrecks, the Samoa in 1913 and, especially, the Hanalei in 1914 resulted in demand for replacement of the Bolinas Bay Station. The Chatham-type building and boathouse were finished in 1917.

The Bolinas Bay station went into caretaker status in 1947 and was transferred to the GSA in 1957. It was acquired by the College of Marin in 1958 and used as a marine biology lab.

The station complex has been threatened since approximately 2005 when it was closed due to its poor condition. The College of Marin still owns the station, which  is known as the Bolinas Field Station, along with the boathouse and a dock. At some point the station started coming into disrepair and when repair estimates were sought, the Americans with Disabilities Act came into play as well as California’s earth quake guidelines for the renovation process. These factors have driven the renovation costs, as well as liability for the college, up significantly. Changes required under these guidelines will significantly modify the historic fabric of the existing building.

A 2006 assessment conducted as part of the College’s Measure C facilities modernization program stated “…extensive health and structural hazards. Significant mold and other airborne contaminants, unsafe building structures were found during the assessments. Additionally, the lab is located near an earthquake fault line, next to an unstable geologic slope, and in a tsunami zone. As a result of the data gathered during the assessments, the College is not using the facility currently.”

A proposal and study of the building in 2008 attempted to promote a multi-tenant use of the building for the nonprofit sector; however no further movement has taken place since this study. The nonprofit would focus on coastal management and monitoring, and biology lab work in the local and regional area.

The station is not on the National Register of Historic Places at this time. If ownership is transferred to a nonprofit, it would relieve the college of its liabilities. In 2008 estimates were put forward that the building renovations and upgrades would cost between $2M to $3M to bring it up to full code requirements and make it suitable for scientific studies. As of now, the station is deteriorating with no use of the building in sight. The threat of demolition still remains.