There was big news for local folks on June 27, 1903. The Navy had chosen the site of a codfish cannery a few miles from San Francisco to build its first coaling station on the Pacific Coast.

"The decision by the government to establish a naval coaling station of the Bay of San Francisco is of importance. It will provide better defenses for this port and insure an increase of business incidental to the coming here of naval vessels from all parts of the Pacific," proclaimed the San Francisco Call on its front page.

Teddy Roosevelt was now president and he was as strong a supporter of the Navy as the country ever had. His goal was to build the best Navy in the world.

"There are already coaling stations at Guantanamo, Cuba; at Honolulu, at Pago Pago, at Key West Florida, and at Manila. The establishment of an extensive station here for the sole use and benefit of Uncle Sam's Navy is in the line of expansion of naval facilities vigorously followed ever since the guns of Dewey destroyed the fleet of the Spaniards in the Bay of Manila," the Call's story continued.

The chosen site was on the east side of the Tiburon peninsula at a place known then as California City. It covered 55-plus acres including about 6 acres of tidelands. It was a deep-water port in a sheltered cove, protected from Pacific storms.

William Lynd and Howard Hough bought the property in the 1870s and built a plant to can Alaskan codfish.

"From this business large fortunes have been realized. Vessels heavily laden have come in from the deep sea and have lain at the head of the present wharf, which projects only a few feet from the line of the shore and there have been able to load and unload at will," reported the Call.

The government paid some $80,000 for the land and then spent another million dollars to build the facility. By 1904 the station was finished, and in 1908 it was visited by Roosevelt's "Great White Fleet," which consisted of 16 new battleships manned by 14,000 sailors, on its trip around the world.

The coaling station did its job until 1931, by which time most oceangoing ships were fueled by oil. It then became the site of the California Maritime Academy, which trained officers for the country's merchant fleet.

Because the large cranes used to load coal on the ships still worked, John Roebling and Sons set up shop to spin the cables for the Golden Gate Bridge.

The California Maritime Academy moved to Vallejo during World War II, by which time the Navy had taken over the coaling station and created the U.S. Naval Net Depot.

By Pearl Harbor Day 7 miles of iron netting stretched from Sausalito to the San Francisco Marina to protect the bay from torpedoes and submarines.

The naval depot closed in 1958, and today the site houses the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies operated by San Francisco State.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.