Sweet Toot

updated 05/03/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/03/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

AH, THE MYRIAD CHARMS OF SAN FRANCISCO. CARLE CARS. NOB Hill. The Golden Gate Bridge. The foghorns. The foghorns? "They make San Francisco what it is," says 20-year resident Wayne Wheeler. "You hear a foghorn, and you instantly think of a forest of ship masts, cable cars going ding-dinga-ding, fog dripping off building eaves and Sam Spade sidling down Hyde Street."

Wheeler, 54, insists he Is not just a dreamy eccentric sounding off. The former Coast Guard lieutenant—he resigned in 1988 to start the U.S. Lighthouse Society—has locked horns with his ex-mates in a battle to restore what had been the Coast Guard's last two bellowing foghorns on San Francisco Bay. Last fall, the Coast Guard replaced the much loved but high-maintenance signals with a high-tech, low-maintenance "pure electronic annoying beeeeeep," Wheeler complains. Though such modern navigation equipment has rendered the old bellowing horns obsolete, his fight is about aesthetics, not practicalities. "You don't necessarily need these types of signals anymore, but I think you need the sound," he says.

Happily for Wheeler, who is married and who now bunks in a modest house in Monterey Heights, his crusade has found lots of sympathetic ears. Area residents have volunteered funds, and the manager of a Russian Hill shopping center even offered to mount one of the old window-rattling horns on his building—although he did promise to aim it at Sausalito, across the bay, to appease the neighbors. (Wheeler never took him up on this.)

Coast Guard officials have gotten the message loud and clear and have already re-installed one of the old honkers on Alcatraz Island. But Wheeler isn't satisfied. "We want more than a solo," he insists. "We want a symphony."

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