Walter Norman Fanning

born Yerba Buena Island, San Francisco, California, 1909
died Moraga, California, 2008

Walter Norman Fanning was born in the lighthouse keepers quarters on Yerba Buena Island, San Francisco Bay, California, on August 14, 1909, the grandson of the lighthouse keeper, John Peter Kofod and his wife Meta, and the son of Navy Chief Radioman Walter Nathaniel Fanning and Anna Dagmar Kofod Fanning, the lighthousekeeper's daughter.

During his youth Walter attended 22 different schools all over the country. He lived where his father was stationed in California, Alaska, Virginia and Hawaii. He graduated from Vallejo High School in 1927.

Walter worked as a buyer at Montgomery Wards in Oakland, CA for several years. He was in charge of inventory for harnesses, luggage and stationary.

After deciding he was "wasting his prime," Walter attended the University of California at Berkeley, earning a degree in mechanical engineering with a specialty in naval architecture in 1936.

Lt. Commander Walter N. Fanning,
USNR 1944

Yerba Buena Island c. 1909

While on a Naval ROTC cruise from Cal in 1934, he met Miss Jane Dempsey at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki beach in Hawaii. She invited him to a party and they began corresponding and dating when she was home on the "mainland" in Seattle.

Walter and Jane were married in Seattle, WA on Sept. 10, 1938. They settled in the Marina District of San Francisco (rent $40.00 per month). Walter worked for the Columbia Machine Works in San Francisco.
Jane sought and found a lovely lot in Oakland which they bought. They designed their home and had it built in 1940. Two daughters were born in 1943 and 1951. Walter enjoyed many years of telling bedtime stories to his children. His specialty was Joey Giasticutus who had a magic ring on his tail which he would rub to make good things happen. Other characters were Sally Whiffnpoof and Johnny Wooflefish.
Walter was called to active duty in the Navy around 1944. He was stationed for a time at Pearl Harbor and at Mare Island where he had the distinctive title of "Superintendent of the Amphibious fleet" and oversaw ship repairs. He retired from the US Naval Reserve in 1951 as a Commander. After the war he worked as a general contractor, building about five homes in the Montclair District of Oakland.

He founded the Oakland Machine Works in 1951 and operated it until his retirement in 1975. The Oakland Machine Works is still operating on 4th Street in Oakland. After his retirement Walter had time for his garden, his woodworking and his grandchildren, all lifelong hobbies. Even at age 98 he still oversaw his garden, hosting corn feeds in the summer, making berry jams and jellies and bringing loganberry pies to family dinners in winter.
On March 26, 1970, his wife Jane passed away unexpectedly. After this Walter began to build himself a studio apartment behind one of his rental houses. (He had purchased two more houses in order to enlarge his garden) He dug out tons of dirt beneath an existing studio and placed the dirt behind a retaining wall he had also built to flooding from the creek.
With this completed he moved his woodworking tools into the basement he had dug and built an apartment for himself above it which is known as "Pop's pad."
In 1979 Walter heard of a group restoring East Brother Light Station as a bed and breakfast inn. He became very involved with the restoration, rebuilding much of the old woodwork by hand. He was on the board of directors for many years. Walter built the railings around the light and the finial from original plans. - Photo by Sue Montague
Also, Walter became involved in the restoration of the Lightship Relief. He spent many hours scraping and painting the hull and polishing the brass. He was vice-president of the United States Lighthouse Society for several years. The Relief was moved to Jack London Square in Oakland, and Walter was on hand for the re-dedication in October of 2002.
The Relief is open to the public for tours on weekends. For more information: The United States Lighthouse Society.
Walter's garden continues to be a joy for him and for all who visit. (Click here for photos) He grows loganberries, raspberries, boysenberries, vegetables, dahlias, irises, begonias, azaleas, rhododendrons and many other flowers. He also continues to love woodworking. Every Christmas he makes gifts for family and friends.