Saturday, May 7, 2011

Point Loma Lighthouse

Location: Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, California, At the tip of the Point Loma Peninsula and across the bay from downtown San Diego.

Directions: From I-5 South or I-8 West, take the exit for Rosecrans/Highway 209. Stay on Rosecrans into Point Loma, turn right onto Canon Street. Follow Canon Street to the end, take a left onto Catalina Boulevard (Also known as Cabrillo Monument Drive) and follow to Cabrillo National Monument, which is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Coordinates: 32° 40′ 18″ N, 117° 14′ 27″ W32.671667, -117.240833
Year first lit: 1855, November 15
Active: No
Deactivated: 1891, March 23,
Automated: No
Keepers dwelling: 1 1/2 story, Cape Cod style, dwelling with an inner, spiral staircase leading to the lantern room, sandstone on cobble.
Foundation: Natural/Emplaced
Construction: Brick
Tower shape: Conical
Tower Height: 46 feet
Focal plane: 462 feet
Original lens: 3rd order Fresnel lens, sperm oil, colza, lard oil, kerosene. Sautter & Co., Paris, France
Current lens: third-order lens from the Mile Rocks Lighthouse, on display.
Fog Signal: No, Keeper used a shotgun during fog
Characteristic: alternating red and white flash with a 1 minute interval between flashes
Admiralty number:
ARLHS number: USA-627
USCG number:


It was late in the afternoon when Jean and I arrived in San Diego. Jean booked us into the Embassy Suites; we unpacked our bags and refreshed our dreary bodies from the long drive. The drive is taxing no matter how fine the weather or how comfortable the vehicle is. Later in the day, with renewed energy we set out to tour the downtown area of San Diego. Just a short stroll from our hotel, we where on the picturesque walkways of San Diego's Seaport Village. As always the weather in San Diego was sunny, mild and great for strolling. The park area we walked in, is neither a harbor port nor a rural village, but a large tourist shopping mall on waterfront property. Strolling along the promenade reminded me of the vacation I had in the South of France, where people knew how to enjoy life at a leisurely pace.

It was late in the evening, and I enjoyed the promenade view, with horse drawn carriages and a beautiful moon hanging ever so lazily above our heads. We sauntered along the footpath at a snails pace recalling our day in Santa Barbara, the drive on the freeway and jeans negotiating skills getting the hotel for a good price. This was our second hotel we had not booked ahead of time. It added to the excitement of our vacation. We stopped at Busters Beach house and dined. The ambiance was casual, and the menu had lots of easy to order items, something for everyone to eat. It’s worthwhile to visit with a family that has a wide variety of tastes. We spent the remainder of the evening looking out at the bay views, observing other fellow tourists hiring the horse drawn carriages and sipping on a glass or two of wine, before retiring for the night.

Next day, sun was shining, we arose late in the day around 10 am. We had planned on heading to Cabrillo Park, where Point Loma lighthouse is located. But first we wanted to spend some more time in Seaport Village. We wandered near the carousal, observed face painting of kids, and a balloon artist twisting or contorting magical shapes for little children who where amazed at his wondrous skill. The bay and harbor looked golden and magical against the beautiful blue skies, as we listened to the background music of entertainers, sometimes taking a seat in the grass to listen and observe the activity going on around us. At one stage Jean approached a fortune teller to inform her that what she was doing was fake, and the only real Truth was in Jesus. I laid back on the grass and closed my eyes, and Jean made her way around the open air stalls, she eventually bought herself a new pair of sunglasses.

About noon we decided to have Lunch, so it was the Edge Water Grill. We sat outdoor on the patio. I would definitely recommend this restaurant for fine dining experience. Rather than talk about what we ate, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself, check the link and see for yourself and see whats on the menu. After lunch we headed off to Cabrillo Park for my lighthouse tours, this I knew this venture would be a lot better than the Santa Barbara light. I had my camera's and lens ready for this part of the journey. Once in the Park, I load my cameras across my body, half strangling myself in the process. I roamed around the park, taking pictures of everything. Cabrillos monument, the magnificent vistas of San Diego Harbor, cactus, wild flowers and the great American Flag. What I missed was the isolation and the raw wilderness of the other sites, it was the loneliness I felt when I was at the other lighthouses, some where not easily accessible and you had to work to get to them. This site felt too close to civilization. I was only 5 minutes from a Starbucks and I could see the city from the precipice of the monument. Many tourists where perched on the wall observing military aircraft taking off and landing from the nearby base.

Eventually I made my way to the lighthouse, it looked majestic as it sat upon its high and lofty place, overlooking the entrance to San Diego Harbor. I climbed the stairs, walked around the lighthouse, looked for ways to take my shots without too much reflection from the separating window panes. I stood & waited patiently until people got out of my view finder. I got my shots, would like to be here for the sunrise and sunset shots. Still it was a peek back in time, and I could see the spot of Point Ballast and also the newer Point Loma. I circled the outside of the lighthouse and continued to shoot and take a little time to soak on the spectacular views. When I exhausted myself shooting we headed down to the site of the new Point Loma.

The Story continues on Point Loma (new)


The name Loma comes from a legend of a flaxen hair Russian girl sole survivor of a ship wreck. Adopted by the local residents, she was later killed by a rejected suitor, who met his faith in knife fight, and both fell to their deaths on the rocks of the sea. So it was that the Point was named after this girl. This is a purely romantic legend. The original name was “La Punta de la Loma de San Diego”: Hill point of San Diego.

1542: September 28, Point Loma was first discovered by Europeans, Portuguese navigator Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo commissioned by the new Viceroy of New Spain explored the west coast of the United States. He left Mexico and it’s believed he docked his flagship San Salvador, on Point Loma’s east shore, probably at Ballast Point. This was the first landing by a European in California; Point Loma has been described as “where California began”.[

1701: During California's Spanish era, rumor has it; the local settlers built signal fires at Point Loma to guide supply ships into the harbor.

1848: Discovery of Gold at Sutter’s Mill increased ship traffic on California’s coast, prompting the need for the construction of lighthouses. When the US gained control of California, the government chose Point Loma as one of the first sites on the California coast to receive a navigational aid.

1850: September 28, Congress appropriated $90,000 for the construction of lighthouses at strategic points along the coast and near the entrance to important harbors. This series of early lighthouses included lights on Alcatraz Island, Point Conception, Battery Point, Farallon Island, Point Pinos and Point Loma. Of these, the Point Loma light was the last to be finished.

1851: U.S Coastal Survey selected the summit Point Loma for the Lighthouse, a tapered finger of land forming the western boundary of San Diego's harbor and shielding it from the Pacific Ocean, 10 miles from Old Town.

1854: April 7, the schooner Vaquero arrived in San Diego with the building supplies,cement,lime and lumber. The firm of Gibbons and Kelly from Baltimore began construction, Point Loma construction began the last of the 8 lighthouses for California. First a road had to be built from the harbor up a steep hill to the point. Then workers quarried sandstone for the building from the hillside, and salvaged bricks and floor tiles from the ruins of the old Spanish fort Guijarros at Ballast Point for the tower and basement floor. Water, needed for the mortar, had to be hauled 7 miles. A rolled tin roof, a brick tower, and an iron and brass housing for the light topped the squat, thick-walled building, in the cape cod style, a one and a half story dwelling with a central, spiral staircase leading to the lantern room perched atop the structure.

1854, August, The lighthouse was finished. Delays in acquiring a appropriate lens postponed the lighting for more than a year. The Lighthouse Board had started to use the Fresnel lens, developed in France, the tower was initially designed to house an Argand light, The tower had to be adapted to accommodate the Fresnel lens, and the mason, Harvey Ladd, from the Mormon Battalion, was hired to do the rework.

The lighthouse was originally to receive a 1st order Fresnel lens, but the tower was too small to accommodate the lens. Instead, a fixed 3rd order lens intended for Humboldt Bay was installed at Point Loma, and the 1st order lens was installed at Cape Flattery in Washington State.  The cost was $30,000, a small fortune at the time.

1855: Nov 15, James Keating the 1st lightkeeper lit the lamp, the light from the 3rd Order Fresnel lens flashed its beaconed light out to sea for the first time. Point Loma was the 1st lighthouse in Southern Ca. At the time the highest lighthouse in the country, was reportedly spotted by a ship thirty-nine miles at sea. This report must have actually been a reflection of the light from clouds as physics limits the distance at which a direct beam of light could be seen from Point Loma to less than 30 miles, Its cost had doubled from $15,000 to $30,000. A head lightkeeper and his assistant had to split the four-room dwelling.

However, the fog which frequently rolled in from the Pacific at a height of a few hundred feet often obscured the light completely. Like several of California's early lights, the active light would eventually be relocated below the fog line.

Staffing at Old Point Loma was problematic. The pay was low, the site was isolated, and the station was cramped. The building's 4 rooms housed the keeper, assistant keeper, and their families until the woodshed was converted to 2 rooms in 1876. As a result, 11 principal keepers and 22 assistant keepers served at the original light from 1855 to 1891, when the light was extinguished.

1871: June 2 Capt Robert Decatur Israel was appointed Assistant Lighthouse keeper

Originally from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Robert was orderly sergeant in the army during the Mexican War, , in the Second Division, in the Rifles, and, after his service, settled in San Diego, where he married Maria Arcadia Machado de Alipas, a member of an old San Diego family. He served as policeman and jailor in the early 50's, in 1858 was Justice of the peace, and in 1865 school trustee. Keeper Israel served for 20 years at the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and during three of those years his wife served as Assistant Keeper. His wife Maria, planted flowers and vegetables near the light, crafted wall hangings of shells, and also served as assistant keeper for a time. His sons often acted as lookouts for whalers and ships, they signaled the harbor by running table clothes up the flag pole, red for ships, white for whales.

1874: Capt Israel promoted to Head Keeper, Maria Israel assistant keeper. For the next 18 yrs the lighthouse was home to 3 boys and a niece, with 3 horses, chickens, pigs and goats.

1875, a barn was constructed, the oil and wood storehouse was converted into a 2-room apartment for the assistant keeper. The basement of the lighthouse held a small cistern, which through a series of pipes, collected the rain that fell on the roof. This small supply was inadequate for the station, and the keepers were forced to travel 7 miles one-way to fill large barrels at the nearest well. A large, concrete water catchment basin was built on the east side of the lighthouse, which fed into 2 subterranean cisterns. Still, in dry years, an occasional trip to the well necessary.

For many years, the lighthouse displayed a fixed white light, but with the growth of the city of San Diego other white lights were soon seen in the area and a more distinctive characteristic was needed.

The sandstone walls of the lighthouse were left in a natural state, until by the 1870s deterioration was noted in the exposed stone. The southern and western walls, those most exposed to the onshore weather patterns, were covered with a heavy coat of cement-mortar followed by two coats of stone-colored paint. Later, all the walls would be covered,

1887 the lighthouse was given its now-familiar all-white look.

1889, April 1, the characteristic of the light was changed to an alternating red and white flash with a 1 minute interval between flashes. Rather than replace the fixed lens, flash panels were placed inside the lens. The panels consisted of a pane of clear glass opposite a pane of red glass, and were rotated using weight driven clockworks.

1891: Mar 23, after just 36 years of service, Lighthouse was deactivated. The light's lofty perch on the point meant it was often shrouded in fog, rendering it useless to mariners. and the light from the newly constructed metal tower at the foot of Point Loma was first exhibited. the Israel family moved to the new lighthouse, where Robert served as keeper for one year, before quitting after an argument with authorities.

After the lighthouse was deactivated, it soon fell into disrepair. Its windows were broken out, the lantern room’s metal roof was stripped off, and the basement was used as a comfort station.

1890's, the original Point Loma light was replaced by a pair of lights.

1890, Ballast Point opened as a harbor light.
1891, a new light was erected at a lower elevation on the southern tip of Point Loma. The new tower - a cylindrical tower with metal scaffolding - housed a 3rd order Fresnel lens.
1913: President Wilson sets aside the old lighthouse as a national monument.

the Order of Panama, a group dedicated to commemorating California’s Spanish heritage, proposed erecting a 150-foot-tall statue of Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo on Point Loma to honor his discovery of the area in 1542. The dilapidated lighthouse was to be torn down and replaced by the statue. Funding was not available and the plan was scrapped, the Order of Panama dissolved. However, as a result of their plan,  1/2 acre around the lighthouse was set aside as Cabrillo National Monument by Presidential Proclamation.

In the meantime, the original building languished. The site fell victim to souvenir hunters, vandals, and neglect. The assistant keeper's dwelling and other auxiliary buildings were lost.

1933 Cabrillo National Monument was turned over to the National Park Service.

1935: Lighthouse structure was restored to its original condition , the metal lantern room had been rebuilt. A concessionaire lived in the lighthouse, offering tours of the building and operating a tea room in southern room on the main floor.

1941 With the outbreak of war, gun batteries and submarine spotters were placed on Point Loma's strategic summit. The lighthouse was painted camouflage green during the war, and was used as a signal tower to direct ships into San Diego Harbor. Ships approaching the harbor flashed a code, which if correct caused the submarine nets stretched across the harbor's mouth to be lowered.

1946: The lighthouse was restored to the park service, and restoration began.

1955: A 4th order lens from Table Bluff light in Humboldt Bay was installed in , during the lighthouse's 100th anniversary. In the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, the light was erroneously referred to as "The old Spanish Lighthouse." In fact, the only Spanish connection were the old tiles from the Spanish fort.

1980s, the lighthouse was meticulously restored and filled with period furnishings to resemble its state when Robert Israel locked the lighthouse door and moved his family to the new lighthouse.  The visitor's center at the monument has exhibits covering Cabrillo's discovery of San Diego Bay and local marine life. The area around the lighthouse offers excellent views of San Diego Bay, San Diego's skyline, and grey whales making their annual migration to and from Baja California.

1981: May, Lens returned to Coast Guard. 3rd order Fresnel lens (from Mile Rock Light) loaned to Cabrillo National Monument. The lantern room currently houses the 3rd lens from the Mile Rocks Lighthouse.

1983-1984 Further restoration took place in , and Today, a statue of Cabrillo stands at Point Loma but is considerably smaller than the original plans, and was placed near the visitor's center.

1984: The light was re-lit by the National Park Service,David Israel, great-grandson of keeper Robert Israel, relit the light. The lens is lit in the evenings, and is visible from the Bay side only, so the light (which is no longer officially active) will not confuse ships.

2003-2004, the area around the lighthouse was significantly changed to more resemble its appearance when the Point Loma Lighthouse was in service. An assistant keeper's dwelling, which is now home to displays on the lighthouse along with the third-order Fresnel lens from the New Point Loma Lighthouse and the fourth-order lens from the Ballast Point Lighthouse, was constructed near the lighthouse where it originally stood. The cement water catchment basin, which funnels rainwater into the cistern, was also reconstructed on the slope east of the old lighthouse. These additions might distract some from the lighthouse, but they will help the visitor more fully understand a keeper's life during the late 1800s.

1966: As Point Loma grew as a tourist attraction, the facility around the old light was further developed. A visitor's center, auditorium, exhibit building and administrative building were completed.

2001: The fourth order lens was replaced by a third order lens.

2002: December , after 111 years, the Fresnel lens was removed from the New Point Loma lantern room. The lens is displayed in the replica assistant keeper's cottage by the Old Point Loma light.

2005:  the National Park Service announced an ambitious plan to restore the site to its appearance in the 1880's, and then the Israel family lived at the station. Plans included removal of the asphalt road surrounding the station, and construction of a replica of the assistant keeper's residence on the site of the old residence, for use as a museum.

2006: The lighthouse itself is undergoing $119,000 of restoration work.


San Diego History
National Park Service


1. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse, F. Ross Holland, 1968.
2. Lighthouses of the Pacific coast, Elinor De Wire, Voyageur Press, 2006.
3. Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses (2nd ed.), Nelson pp. 2-6
4. Four Sentinels: The Story of San Diego's Lighthouses, Moeser pp. 12-20
5.Lighthouses of California , Roberts and Jones pp. 10-11
6. Legendary Lighthouses, Grant and Jones p. 136-137
7. The Old Lighthouse at Point Loma (flyer)
8. Cabrillo Journal Summer/Fall 2001
9. The Keeper's Log Spring 2003, Spring 2005
10. Lighthouse Digest March 2006

Keywords: Old Point Loma Lighthouse, Lighthouse, lighthouse pictures, California, directions, location, photographs, Journal, history, San Diego, LighthousesOfCalifornia, Sean O’Cairde

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