Thursday, March 24, 2011

Santa Barbara Lighthouse

Location: Santa Barbara Harbor, California. The current light is on a bluff inside a fenced Coast Guard compound with housing and a playground.
Directions: visible from Shoreline Drive and the La Mesa Park pedestrian bridge From Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, take the Carrillo Street exit and go west towards the ocean. Near the summit of the hill, Carrillo Street turns into Meigs Road. Follow Meigs Road towards the ocean until you see Lighthouse Place

Coordinates:34°23′47″N 119°43′21″W34.396309°N 119.722492°W,
Year first lit: 1856
Active: Yes
Automated: Yes
Keepers Dwelling: house-tower, 5 rooms, painted white with a red roof
Other Buildings: brick house, cement floor for oil house 50 ft from tower, barn, wood shed, oil house,  tank house, water cistern
Foundation: Brick
Construction: Concrete
Tower shape: Pyramidal, cylindrical white tower rising from white dwelling, red roof, now a skeletal metal tower

Height: 24 ft
Focal plane: 142 ft
Original lens: 4th order Fresnel lens, Henry LePaute, lantern black.
Current lens: modern light
Fog Signal:
Characteristic: Flashing white once every 10s
Admiralty number: G3952
ARLHS number: USA-736
USCG number: 6-0195
Owner:  Coast Guard
Site manager: Coast Guard


This trip was to enjoy a week long vacation with my lovely wife along the California coast. We had not booked any hotels so we decided to stay where could find a hotel by ph. As we drove she would call ahead to different hotels and check for availability. Also she loved to bargain the rates over the phone. She bargained for some good deals. Our first stop was San Luis Obispo, in the Embassy Suites. I wanted to show her the beautiful Avila beach near San Luis Obispo. An area where I went to photograph San Luis Obispo lighthouse. It was so beautiful I wanted her to share my experience of Gods wonderful world of nature and majestic landscapes.

We spent the day resting along the northern shores of Avila Beach; this little known harbor is a jewel within San Luis Obispo County. The views are vast and epic; we observed the trail leading to the San Luis Obispo lighthouse as it hugged the side of the mountain. I recalled the day when I trekked along that Pecho Coast trail to my wife. The sun, a golden orb was shining brightly against the rich blue skies with the sea green waves gently lapping against the light sandy shores, as we strolled along Hartford wooden pier, our first day of vacation was great, and we had a late lunch in the Fat Cats restaurant near the pier before we returned to our hotel. I would not call it fine dining , but more like typical American food, not too expensive, but the atmosphere was good.

We set out early morning to Santa Barbara, our drive was uneventful; I just laid back in the SUV and drank in the peace and quietness while Jean drove. The sun continued to shine against a deep blue sky and the coast line wove a thread through the emerald waters of the shore, reminding one of the French Riviera, it was comforting to have my wife on this journey. This reason for the coast trip was because I refused to fly, I do not like the intrusion of the TSA pat downs and the violation of my personal privacy. So we decided on a driving trip. It was early afternoon when we arrived downtown Santa Barbara, time for a little shopping for Jean and a sightseeing trip around town for me. We made our way down to the waterfront and had a bite to eat at the fake lighthouse near the waterfront. It was called Rusty’s Pizza on Cabrillo Blvd. The food was okay for around $10 and the restaurant is family friendly. The restaurant contained a lot of Lighthouse memorabilia. It was the closest thing in Santa Barbara to a real Lighthouse

After lunch we sauntered along the wooden planked Stearns Wharf, observing the activity on the shore that the Santa Barbara light had to protect, I could not help but think that this was one of the cushier light house assignments. The wharf is now home to pleasure boats, whale watching tours and a fishing fleet. It has shops, restaurants and is a hotspot for tourists. As we walked the pier we where treated to views of the green lush hillsides framed by palm trees along the ocean front. This harmonized by the thump, thump sound of an occasional car that drove by. At the entrance to the wharf is a dolphin fountain welcoming its guests.

After our stroll, We decided to drive down to the Mesa park area where the remnant of the lighthouse remained. I knew it was on government property, I was hoping to find an area or vantage point where I could get a descent picture. From my online investigations I was not expecting much in the way of a building or structure. The original building had been destroyed in an earthquake. We parked in the parking lot of Mesa park, I wondered about, looking for a spot to shoot from. It was pretty difficult in getting a decent view. All views where obstructed by trees or overgrown vegetation, the entrance to the light is on an active coast guard compound, which is closed to the public. It is also surrounded by a chain fence, living quarters and overgrown shrubbery. Well you see the results, maybe another visit with a view from the air or sea.


Santa Barbara punctuates the eastern end of the Santa Barbara Channel, bordered to the north by the California coast, the south by the Channel Islands, and to the west by Point Conception. The location for the Lighthouse was chosen so it could serve the dual function of a seaboard light and a marina light. Before the Spanish came to California, the region from Malibu to San Luis Obispo was occupied by the Chumash Indians. They were hunters and gatherers oriented to the sea. They built plank boats (tomols) which were capable of traveling to the Channel Islands. Chumash villages were autonomous, headed by a hereditary leader. Houses were semi-oval huts built of tule. Basketry was a major art form as were stone bowls and tools. Houses were dome shaped with tules covering a willow frame.

1542, the 1st European explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed through the Channel

1579, Sir Francis Drake sailed past the region

1602, Sebastian Vizcaino named the area "Santa Barbara", on Dec 3rd (eve of the feast day of Saint Barbara) his ship survived a violent storm in the Channel.

1760, Aug 14th, Spanish set up a colony in Santa Barbara

1856, Builder George Nagle of San Francisco came to Santa Barbara in the company of his family to construct the lighthouse on a mesa approximately 2 miles west of the marina. Comparable in blueprint to most pioneer West Coast lighthouses, the style was of the East Coast Cape Cod, with the tower rising from the heart of the gabled roof. Nagle, who was compensated $8,000 for his vocation, employed Indian labor and as a rule used local material to complete the lighthouse within the year. The lighthouse consisted of a plastered 1 ½ storied dwelling with a lower tower rising through the roof. It was elevated 146 ft above sea, about 550 ft from the brink of the bluff, the light was 180 ft above same level, and could be seen on a clear day 10-12 miles.

1856, Dec 1, The lighthouse was completed and The tower lantern with its 4th order Fresnel lens displayed a beacon with a fixed red light on the California coast, later on the red light was replaced by a white light.

Albert Williams was the 1st lightkeeper to be appointed. After 9 yrs, he grew tired of the lighthouse monotonous routine and tried his hand at farming.

1865, June 5 Albert Williams refused the position of lightkeeper, but his wife Julia accepted. She was the 3rd keeper of the Lighthouse. Since the lighthouse had no fog signal, Julia was able to maintain the light by herself, while raising 3 boys and 2 girls. Julia’s appointment as lightkeeper generated a great amount of publicity in the locality; she was the 1st California female lightkeeper. Julia Williams came from Maine, and she had come to California during the gold rush with her husband. For the next 40 yrs Mrs. Julia F. Williams took great pride in her work, she vigilantly performed her duties of tending the light, missing 2 days away from the lighthouse; she attended the weddings of 2 of her sons. During her tenure 1 shipwreck was recorded, the skipper who allowed his vessel to drift on the rocks. The skipper was at fault due to his carelessness.

1868, The Lighthouse Board noted renovations made to the lighthouse. The floor of the cellar was torn up as it was prone to flooding during the winter rains, a drain was installed, a new brick floor was laid. A "storm-house" was built over the kitchen door to protect from the bad weather elements; a brick chimney replaced the stove-pipe which passed through the roof.

1893, 50 foot well was dug near the lighthouse to boost the water supply.

1894, iron windmill was erected over the well to supply water into a 5,000 gallon cistern that sat atop an extensive base and was joined to the lighthouse and grounds by pipes. As the water supply at the station was often insufficient, Julia would often take the station's horse to the nearest stream to fetch water. Once there, the children would get a bath if required and 2 wooden buckets would be filled with water. At times, the horse would throw off the weighty buckets; Julia would unwearyingly replenish the buckets and give the horse a lump or 2 of sugar to calm her down.

Lighthouse report: "The light-house at this station was built in 1856. It is of brick, with the outer wall stuccoed. The light is shown from an old-fashioned lantern, with triangular-shaped glass, built on top of the dwelling. The structure is unsightly and uncomfortable, and in winter the walls are damp. To put this building in good repair would cost as much, if not more, than to build a new modern structure. This can be done, it is estimated, for not exceeding $7,500, and it is recommended that an appropriation of that amount be made therefore."

As Congress failed to provide funding, it wasn't a new lighthouse but rather Mother Nature that did in the old structure.

1905, Julia at the age of 81, her illustrious career came to an end; she fell from a couch and broke her hip. Unrelenting she managed to work, after a few days, she had to be hospitalized. The fall terminated her light keeping career. Mrs. Jones relieved Julia

1925, June 29, 6:45 am a magnitude 6.3 earthquake woke up those Santa Barbara residents. Keeper Albert Weeks was thrown from his temporary bed in a storage building, where he had to spend the night, because he accommodated a large number of relatives who stayed the night after a family gathering. Anxious for the wellbeing of his family, Weeks hurried to the lighthouse to save his mother, sister, brother and his family. He ushered everyone outside. Just moments later, the tower and lantern came crashing down, followed soon by the walls of the small dwelling. When the cloud of dust had settled, little was left of the old structure.The Fresnel lens was shattered, and the structure was a total loss.

1925, July 3, A temporary light, is exhibited from a frame tower.

1935 Aerobeacon on a steel tower, more permanent automatic tower, seen at the station today, was put into service

The light used atop the tower at Santa Barbara from 1925 to 1977 is now on display at the Point Vicente Lighthouse.

Santa Barbara Light Wikipedia
Santa Barbara Independent

Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993. pp. 34-36
U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office website.
Women Who Kept the Lights, Clifford pp. 77-81

Content is copyright by Ocairdestudio 2009
Post a Comment