California Cultural and Historic Endowment (CCHE) corner: Preserving California Lighthouses

Few structural symbols better show California’s romantic past than its lighthouses. Once plentiful and necessary along California’s rugged coastline, the lighthouses, which “lightkeepers” originally operated, were gradually automated then closed by the end of the 1970's. Since that time, high–tech marine warning systems have replaced lighthouses and their “keepers.”

The lighthouse era will live on though, thanks to two restoration efforts the California Cultural and Historic Endowment (CCHE) is supporting.

Small city, tall tower - Point Arena Lighthouse saved

Even longtime California residents may not be aware that Point Arena, a historical district on the magnificent Mendocino County coast, is one of California’s smallest incorporated cities, or that it is home to the tallest lighthouse tower on the west coast. Point Arena’s soaring 115 foot lighthouse is perched on a narrow stretch of land high above the Pacific and its rocky cliffs.

Point Arena Lighthouse was first erected in 1870, but the original tower was destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It was rebuilt of concrete and steel in 1907 - the first to be built of these “modern” materials - and this tower just celebrated its 100th year of existence. Based on its significance in the areas of transportation, architecture and engineering, the light station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

A fascinating feature of the lighthouse lantern is its “1st Order Classical Fresnel Lens” which weighs more than 4,000 pounds and is nine feet high by seven feet wide. The lens was moved from the Lighthouse Tower to the Fog Station Building for renovation and will be on display in the Fog Signal Museum Building when the station re-opens to the public later this year.

Today, the restoration work at Point Arena is evidence that the CCHE and the non-profit Point Arena Lighthouse Keepers, Inc. are working together to “Save the Light” at Point Arena.

The Point Arena Lighthouse project received a $200,000 CCHE planning grant in round two of funding in 2006 (now completed) and was awarded a capital project grant in the amount of $1,209,375 in round three. The planning grant award was used to lay the ground work for the design, construction plans and permits for the preservation of two buildings. The round three project is now well underway and includes restoration and renovation of the original Fog Signal Building, as well as the newer Lighthouse Tower, which has deteriorated after years of deferred maintenance in the harsh coastal environment.

Another shining star on California’s central coast - Point San Luis Lighthouse

Further south, in San Luis Obispo County near Avila Beach, the picturesque Point San Luis Lighthouse also awaits renovation. The CCHE gave this capital assets project a round three reservation of funding in the amount of $649,228 for the restoration of the Head Keeper’s Quarters and Light Tower, and the other historical buildings in the light station complex.

The Point San Luis Lighthouse became operational in 1890, two years after the “Queen of the Pacific” sank off Point San Luis. During a peak year in the early 1900's, as many as nine hundred ships used the harbor that the lighthouse served.

The project’s coordinators, CCHE grantee Point San Luis Harbor District, and the Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers organization, will restore the entire lighthouse site to its original appearance from the period of its use (1890 to 1949), and share this historical resource with more central California visitors. Educational exhibits displayed within the restored buildings will present the human and natural history of the area when the project is completed.

For more information about the CCHE, please contact Kathleen Cronin at the California State Library at or 916-651-9131.  




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