Location: 45500 Lighthouse Road, its about 4 miles north of Point Arena, Mendocino County, California, and 135 miles north of San Francisco, and 31 miles west of Hopland
Directions: From CA-1, head west on LIGHTHOUSE RD. Drive to the end of the road. Its about 2.6 miles from CA-1 turnoff, it is about 5 miles from Point Arena town heading north.
Coordinates WGS-84: (GPS) 38°57′17″N 123°44′26″W38.95472°N 123.74056°W
Year first constructed: 1870
Year first lit: 1908 (current tower)
Construction: Reinforced Concrete
Tower shape: Cylindrical
Markings/Pattern: Currently not painted
Height: 115 feet, 155 feet above sea level
Original lens: First order rotating Fresnel lens mercury floated
Current lens: DCB-224
Range: 25 nmi
Characteristic: Flashing white 15 s. Emergency light of reduced intensity when main light is extinguished.
The Point Arena Light is California Historical Landmark No: 1035.
Admiralty number: G4358
ARLHS number: USA-611
USCG number: 6-0420
It was about 10:00 am When I arrived at Eddies house in San Bruno. The sun was already high in the sky. We quickly packed our supplies for the day into back of my SUV, Eddie’s daughters Catherine, Jamie and Jennifer where excited and brimming over with energy. Next was a quick stop at Starbucks a fill of coffee and we where on our way.
One indication that you are out of the main suburbs of the city is the local cafes of the small towns, the sense of false sophistication and is replaced by good solid humor and personal relationship. One of our first stops was near Petaluma, where we had lunch at a roadside cafe. The café had a rural & bikers feeling to it. We sat outside, under the canopy, sheltered from the warm sun. Our waitress, dressed in a blue checkered blouse, short blue denim shorts, long high heel shoes and her hair rolled up, finished red ruby lipstick, and covered in tattoos, her jovial humor was welcomed as she sported her big ring and tattooed arm. She took our order, helped the children to choose what to eat from the menu and gestured a knockout blow to my brother Eddie as he joked with her. After lunch, it was a few pictures of the neighborhood and on our way to Point Arena.
Soon, we where in wide open countryside, luscious fields and lots of black and white Holstein cows grazing on the green clover laden fields. These are Californian cows, happy cows. Our view was filled with lovely blue sky, birds and butterflies. As we drove further and deeper into the countryside our remembrance of the city started to fade from memory and nature became our reality, we made a few stops along the way to take in and observe the breathtaking views. We definitely had hit the heartland of Dairy Farms in Marin, I was expecting at some bend to meet a group of Moosicians with their accordions, trumpets and drums.
This was to be a long journey which brought us past Bodega Bay and up the coast road towards Fort Bragg and Mendocino County. At times the road narrowed into one lane and reminded me of the roads in Ireland. A few unusual sights we saw on our way. Cows standing on the sides of cliffs as if they where goats, rising above the clouds and seeing them as if you where in an aircraft, and a monument of American flags, and a immaculate Ford T sitting on the edge of a cliff with no-one in sight. Sometimes I kick myself because I don’t stop and take these pictures. And lots of small towns begging me to get out and take some pictures. The sad thing about my blog is I only post 10 to 14 pictures and if the lighthouse is really interesting then the pictures are all about the lighthouse. I am still thinking about a back roads blog.
It was late in the afternoon when we arrived at Point Arena; we had maybe 30-45 minutes before lighthouse station closed. It’s open between 10am - 3:30 pm each day. I was impressed at viewing this tall erect round tower as it rose into the blustery sky. I could feel its impact it had on the mariners of its day as it protected them from the treacherous waters. It was cold, windy and foggy, the wind cut right through my clothing, as I hurriedly put on my wind breaker. We made our way to fog house building at the light station, where we where greeted by a very friendly black lady in her mid years and her young assistant who was working for the summer while she was off school. There is a very well stocked gift shop in the converted Fog signal building, this is the building from 1896, so we picked up a few ornaments; the proceeds go to the preservation of the lighthouse.
On Display is an enormous 1st order Fresnel lens. Its in beautiful condition, a continuous video is playing on lighthouses, and you are surrounded by visual history of the Arena lighthouse. What is a shame, the Lens had to be removed from the lantern room of the lighthouse because some brain dead woman scratched her initials on one of the prisms, she ruined it for everyone. The Fog signal building is a light station museum and gift shop, lots of photos and artifacts from the past. Eddies Children and I made our way to the top of Lighthouse tower, Eddie was not willing to climb the stairs because of his injured back. The climb to the top is very steep. When I arrived at top I was out of breath, partly due to dragging all my camera equipment and my bum knee. The view from the top was worth it. The Tower is a great observation point to view the coast and the surrounding countryside. I Looked through the telescope and observed some seals on the rocks below. Apparently they are two types here at Point Arena I am not sure what types of seals they are, I will have to find out at a later stage. Went outside on the tower balcony and felt the force of the blustery wind, secured my hat and cameras to my body, certainly my cheeks where going to have a full glow after this.
Inside the tower, they are many opportunities to photograph, the spiraling stairs from the original tower, the lantern room, and the corridor between the walls. After we slowly made our way to the bottom of the tower, we captured a few family pictures to add to our collection. In the dull grey weather with high cold winds, there was a wedding party taking pictures of the bride and groom at the lighthouse. I snapped a few of the wedding party; especially the white stretch limo juxtaposed to the round tower of the lighthouse. We where the last to leave the light station, and we made our way into point Arena town. I find it exhilarating just to watch young people amuse themselves by turning a small town into a plaything. Catherine and Jennifer had fun with the old cinema and the quaintness of town Mural. We spent a small amount of time strolling about an empty town before heading back towards Bodega Bay, where we decided to dine.
As we travelled on our return journey, we stopped at a monument of American flags.It was quite strange, here in the middle of no where a massive fallen tree was decorated with numerous American flags, also it was protected by a light sensor. We spent some time scrambling around the woods in the area. Again Eddie’s children made free with their environment. I must say they are a pleasure to be around, and are respectful to our natural resources. As we continued our journey, we where amazed at the cows standing on the side of steep hills as if they where mountain goats, and the green model T on edge of a cliff. At times it felt as if I was in a surreal world, on mountains above the clouds, cows on the edge of the world and green model T in space, usually after such an experience I kick myself in the pants for not spending more time taking pictures.
Eventually we arrived in Bodega Bay, we had a quick bite to eat, clam chowder, spent a little time perusing the store, wandered to the deck. We had a wonderful sunset, and a great view of the bay, spent a few moments just drinking in the beauty, when we capped it off with Jamie getting some pictures with a Seal in the background. Dusk fell and it was just a long drive home. Darkness has its own way of bringing an adventure to its close, and preparing for the next lighthouse.
1543, Spaniard Bartolomé Ferrelo was the first European to name Point Arena, he called it Cabo de Fortunas (“cape of fortunes"). The point is a narrow sandbar peninsula jutting 1/2 mil into the Pacific Ocean. This sandbar creates a natural hazard to seafaring vessels due to its currents and reefs.
1775, lieutenant Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra (commander of the schooner Sonora) renamed the cape to Punta Delgado (narrow point) ,he was part of a royal expedition chartered by the government of Mexico to chart the north coast of Alta California. Later known as Punta Barro de Arena (Sandbar Point)
1850s and 1860s, The Gold rush caused an increase in ship traffic carrying redwood lumber, goods to and from Northern California to San Francisco; this showed the need for a navigation aid at this dangerous point.
1865 November, 10 ships sank in stormy seas just off Point Arena.
1866, The US Government surveyed Point Arena to construct a lighthouse station.
1867. Supplies for the lighthouse station were transported to the Arena Cove and hauled by mule 4 miles overland to the lighthouse site. Local rock was deemed inadequate for the lighthouse, so a local company was contracted to produce bricks on-site. 3 kilns were built, and more than 500,000 bricks supplied.
1869, Lighthouse construction began on what is Now known as Point Arena (sand point), which is part of the Emerald Triangle. The 100 ft brick-and-mortar (masonry) tower included ornate iron balcony supports and a large 2 ½ story Keeper’s residence at its base with enough space to house 4 families, another 114,000 bricks from San Francisco where used to construct the outside of the tower. 1st order fixed; Fresnel lens was installed in the lantern room. There was little quite or privacy with 4 families under one roof. A log entry from 1880 records "Threatening weather and fighting children."
1870, Point Arena was the 1st of 3 tall coastal beacons on the west coast of California, Pigeon Point and Piedras Blancas where the other 2. On May 1st its beacon lit the skies of Mendocino Coast and joined the other sentinels on California’s coast, in sending its warning signals to mariners of the dangerous reefs embedded on in the Pacific Ocean just off its narrow point. The original oil lamp could be seen up to 18 miles away.
1871 A fog signal building consisting of 2 12-inch steam whistles began operation and its boilers consumed about 100 tons of wood in a foggy year, The whistles made a 5 second blast every 25 seconds..
1880's. the point was connected to the local country road (now Highway 1) by means of a government right of way.
1880 June 7, The light keepers log recorded an earthquake shook the Tower , the quake was on the San Andreas fault lying just offshore from the point.
1883, the Lighthouse Board said in its Annual Report the light station was "located on a projecting point, the outer face of which is on an almost perpendicular bluff, made peculiarly dangerous by the liability of sudden caving near the edge of the earth overlying the sand-rock. One of the laborers fell over this bluff and was drowned. A picket-fence 1,400 ft long was built around the structures to prevent further accident."
1888, the light keepers log recorded, Earthquake shook the lighthouse tower
1896 The wearing down of the fog signal building due to its environment had to be replaced by a new construction; its whistle distinctiveness was retained. This fog signal building is now the current Museum which houses the 1st order Fresnel lens.
1898, The light keepers log recorded, Earthquake shook the lighthouse tower
1906, April 18th, a devastating earthquake struck the Light Station. The Lighthouse and the Light keeper’s quarters were damaged beyond repair that they had to be demolished. Only the fog signal building managed to survive the quake. Much of the material from the demolished light station was used for the rebuilding of the new light station. The Light keeper recorded the quake. “A heavy blow struck the tower from the south. The blow came quick and heavy, accompanied by a heavy report. The tower quivered for a few seconds, went far over to the north, came back, and then swung north again, repeating this several times. Immediately after came rapid and violent vibrations, rending the tower apart, the sections grinding and grating upon each other; while the lenses, reflectors, etc., in the lantern were shaken from their settings and fell in a shower upon the iron floor.” The docent on duty said the tower swayed 4 ft in either direction before the lens came crashing down on the turret above.
When workers arrived, temporary housing was built for the keepers and the construction workers. A 30-foot wooden light tower with the lantern room from the original tower was built next to the lighthouse, and a 2nd order lens installed.
1907 January 5th, the temporary began operation.
Cognizant of what havoc earthquakes can wreck on buildings made of brick, the United States Lighthouse Service sought a quake-proof building, they contracted with San Francisco's Concrete Chimney Corporation - to rebuild the lighthouse on the site, their specialty was building Industrial chimneys, which accounts for the unique design for the new Point Arena Lighthouse; featuring steel reinforcement rods encased in concrete. This was the first lighthouse built this way.
On the site of the original tower, the new 115-ft tower was built, It was made of reinforced concrete - an innovation at the time. Iron bars were woven together, surrounded by wooden frames, and then covered by concrete to create the tower. As the tower grew, so did the wooden scaffolding encircling it. Contained in the scaffolding was a mule-powered elevator used to raise the numerous wheelbarrows of concrete to be poured into the forms. After the tower was completed, a doughnut-shaped buttress was built around the base of the tower to give it additional support and create a circular workroom.
The staircase from the original lighthouse survived intact, and was reassembled in the new tower. The tower was supported by a massive base to provide further support and featured a 1st Order Fresnel Lens, over six feet in diameter and weighing more than six tons. Four single family homes were built in row to replace the light keeper's dwelling. The extra space was to provide more privacy to the families of the keeper and his assistants
1908 September 15th 6:00 pm, the beacons of light from a new 1st order Fresnel lens manufactured by Barbier, Benard & Turenne in France, beamed out to sea from its new 115ft tower. The lens was made up of 666 hand-ground glass prisms all focused toward 3 sets of double bull’s-eyes. It was these bull’s-eyes that gave the Point Arena Lighthouse its unique "light signature" of double flashes every six seconds as it rotated atop 3 gallons of mercury. The lens was set in solid brass framework , the wickies had to hand crank a 160 lb clockwork weight suspended in the center shaft of the tower up every 75 mins,the lens was rotated by this action of the clockwork mechanism, caused the rotation to revolve every 18 second. Light was produced by a "Funks" hydraulic oil lamp, that needed to be refueled every 4 hours, and whose wicks would have to be trimmed regularly, it was visible for 20 miles
This incredible optic, that held an appraised value of over $3.5 million,
Prior to the introduction of electricity,.. Later, two 1,000 watt electric lamps were installed to replace the oil lamp, and a 1/8 horsepower electric motor was installed to replace the clockworks.
1937-52 Light Keeper Bill Owens served at Point Arena for 15 years during which time control of lighthouses passed from he Lighthouse Board to the Coast Guard
Owens found the lintel from the doorway of the original tower in the surf, which is now near the tower,
1939. The daymark of the tower was slightly changed as part of this transition, the gallery around the lantern room was formerly painted black, but the Coast Guard decided to paint the entire cement portion of the tower white.
During the war, guardsmen were assigned to patrol the area. Light Keepers where required to report any sightings of enemy ships or submarines. During one of Keeper William Owens watches, he spotted a submarine near the point. When he reported it he was told no enemy submarines where in the area. A lumber schooner Ameilia was sunk near Fort Bragg the next day. Later the US Navy confirmed a enemy sub off the California Coast.
1960, The light keepers' dwellings were demolished and new quarters built. 4 coastguardsmen and their families manned the light station and they occupied the: a 4 bedroom, and 3 x 3-bedroom residences. Other buildings at the time include a paint locker, fuel locker, bosun locker, fire pump, water pumps and JP-5 fueling pumps. A ½-ton truck was used to bring the children to school in the nearby town.
1976, the fog signal was discontinued,
1977 June, An aero beacon was installed outside the tower, and the light was automated. 1st Order Fresnel Lens was discontinued, but remained in the tower. At the time, the lens was the only Mercury-floated light still in existence in the Twelfth United States Coast Guard District..
The 400 pound aircraft beacon had been replaced by a 40 pound modern rotating light that incorporates the Fresnel principles for the efficient projection of light.
There is a battery-powered emergency system installed as a back-up in the event of a power failure. In addition, a radio beacon, with a 50-mile signal that originates from the station, also assists mariners. the current modern rotating light can be seen for 16 miles
The station was closed to the public
1978, the original fog signal at the station was silenced, and a bell buoy was placed nearby.
1982, Point Arena Lighthouse Keeper's, Inc. received permission to conduct tours of the station..
1984, a nonprofit group called the Point Arena Lighthouse Keepers received the light station as part of a 25 year land lease to mange the light station from the Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation.
1992, the film "Forever Young" was filmed at Point Arena. The film stars Mel Gibson, Jamie Lee Curtis and George Wendt. A shell of a Victorian mansion and a gazebo were built on the grounds north of the lighthouse. After eight days of filming, the crews dismantled the Victorian and left as quickly as they arrived. Today, only the gazebo stands along the northern cliffs of Point Arena.
2000 November, the nonprofit group was given ownership of the light station due to their historic preservation and educational efforts. A lot of the group’s income came from lighthouse visitation, museum store sales, lighthouse memberships and rental of the light keeper's homes. This income is used for ongoing preservation of the tower, facilities, and educational endeavors.
2004, the mercury (used to float the Fresnel lens) was finally removed. Over three gallons of mercury was removed. The mercury was no longer needed, and represented a health hazard.
2005, Fresnel lens stabilization work began as the white letharge (special Fresnel lens putty for holding the prisms) was deteriorating.
2006, the lighthouse was the subject of another film - this time a documentary. The independent film includes a description of Fresnel lenses, a history of the light, and an interview with the Owens sisters - daughters of Keeper William Owens.
Point Arena Lighthouse Keepers was awarded $200,000 from The State of California to help with their restoration efforts.
2008, $1.6 million was spent to renovate the public restrooms, fog signal building, and the tower, whose concrete had begun to crumble, the lantern room received a new copper roof and the 1st order Fresnel lens was moved, along with its pedestal and clockwork drive mechanism, to the fog signal building (museum). Jim Woodward a Fresnel lens expert was brought in to oversee the move.
2009 February, the tower was once again opened to the public; it is unpainted. The lantern room has been fitted with a metal floor, and makes for a great observation room with 360 degree view of the area.
Restoration work at the station is ongoing - much of the work done by volunteers and renovation funds greatly appreciated.
Much of the history came from many sources and I am not sure if I have referenced all.
• Point Arena, Gregory W. Coan, The Keeper's Log, Spring 1993.
• Lighthouses of the Pacific, Jim Gibbs, 1986.
• Annual Report of the Light House Board, various years.
• Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Nelson pp. 143-145
• California Lighthouses, Roberts and Jones pp. 22-23
• The Keeper's Log Winter 2005, Fall 2005, Winter 2006, Summer 2006
• Lighthouse Digest, August 2005, August 2006
• US Coast Guard Historical Light Station information & photographs
• Point Arena Lighthouse
• National Park Service Point Arena
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