Monday, August 1, 2011

Point Fermin

Location: Point Fermin Lighthouse Historic Site and Museum

807 W. Paseo Del Mar
San Pedro, CA 90731
(310) 241-0684

Directions: From downtown Los Angeles, take Interstate 110 south to the end. From 110, follow Gaffey St. Due south to the end. Turn left on W Paseo Del Mar. The lighthouse is in the park at the end of Gaffey

Coordinates: 33°42′19″N 118°17′37″W33.7054°N 118.2937°W
Year first lit: 1874
Active: No
Deactivated: 1942
Automated: No
Keepers dwelling: The house is Stick Style, is 2 stories in height, with 12 rooms that included gabled roofs, horizontal siding, decorative cross beams and hand carved porch railings, is painted white, with a red roof, while the tower rises from the front 50 feet.
Foundation: Brick
Construction: Wood Frame, Stick Style Victorian lighthouse,
Other Structures: 3 cisterns, concrete oil house, barn
Tower shape: Square Cylindrical, Italianate tower on Italianate dwelling’
Tower Height: 30ft
Focal plane: 156 ft
Original lens: 4th Order Fresnel lens, dome of lantern painted red
Range: 19 miles
Current lens:
Fog Signal:
Characteristic: Alternate red/white Flashes at intervals of 10s
USCG number: 6-0140
Owner: city of los Angeles/Point Fermin lighthouse committee
Site manager:


This was a short road trip from Point Vincente to Point Fermin. As we drove I could see the lighthouse from the road as it was perched on a cliff facing the sea. Jean stopped the SUV and I got out to take a few pictures from the distance. We were in a park area, and it was built up with homes, not as isolated as I would expect a lighthouse to be. With Urban sprawl, what can you expect? I got back in the vehicle and we continued our journey to the lighthouse.

We parked in a public parking lot and walked across the park to the lighthouse. A lot of people were picnicking at the time. Quite a number of children where frolicking in the park, joggers ran with iPods plugged to their head, dogs strolled along the walkways with their masters and the afternoon sun toasted the bodies of sun worshipers as they laid sprawled upon the green carpet of nature. Bushy trees lined the walkways, providing shelter for those who wanted to avoid the rays of the sun. It was still the time of the year where the lawns of the park displayed a strong hue and saturation of green, mottled by the bright colors of flowers in full bloom.

We came upon the lighthouse, it exhibited the characteristic of a quaint Victorian building, it was like a gingerbread house; Surrounded by a white picket fence, and a garden with neatly trimmed hedges that reminded me of the gardens in the South of England. Most of the flowers in the garden where blooming, it was certainly picturesque. I introduced myself to the docents in the museum, a charming group of people. I picked up a few souvenirs before embarking on a tour of the lighthouse. I find it amazing what people will do to preserve our heritage. The docents gave up their free time to enrich the visitor with tours and the history of the lighthouse; I for one appreciate their service to the lighthouses and the public.

The lighthouse was restored with relics and furniture from the period the lighthouse was built. What was sad that they do not allow any photographs of the interior of the lighthouse? The lighthouse did not have anything unique or any exhibits that other lighthouses did not have. I could not understand the rational of no photographs. I made the tour from room to room, making note of the similarities I had seen in other lighthouses. I wondered what my brother Eddie would say about the hand carved woodwork, he was always fascinated by the intrigued by wood work of the yesteryear.

I climbed all the way to the lantern room and looked out at the sea this light had dominion over. The view was epic, I could see all the way to the Channel Islands, and in the distance Point Vincente. I was also able to see Los Angeles Harbor light.

A yr later I made the return trip with my brother Eddie. He was impressed by its appearance and hand craftsmanship of woodworkers of yesteryear. His comment was that these artisans made thing to last. Surely he was right, the house was in good condition after 137 years standing against the elements of the sea, today we are lucky if can get any kind of structure to last 50 years.

I was not too concerned taking images here as I was already contented with my earlier pictures. What was interesting, I met some of the docents who had direct connection with the lightkeepers/ Marta Austin was a niece of Thelma Austen, and was very talkative about her connection. She related the story how her grandmother died from hemorrhaging and how her grandfather died of a broken heart 2 months later. She was also proud of her photographs from that period of time. Another docent was the son of the last lightkeeper Jimenez. He had lived in the house for 22 years. All the docents were dressed in costumes from the period the lighthouse was first built. It all made for a pleasant afternoon. Next onto Angel’s gate.

1793: The area was given its name by the British explorer George Vancouver, to honor Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen for his hospitality shown to Vancouver at the Carmel mission.
1840’s: The harbor at San Pedro, which is overlooked by Point Fermin, started to boom. Los Angeles was growing and the railroad was extending its reach to San Pedro bay
1854: local businessmen, petitioned the Federal Government and the US lighthouse Board to place a lighthouse on the point. Lighthouse board approved funding, but disputes over land delayed
1869: Southern California’s 1st railroad was built, 21 mile stretch of track connecting Los Angeles with the bay.
1872: Point Fermin is selected for a lighthouse it is a site,a bold cliff on the western side 100 ft high overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Don Diego Sepulveda donated 2 acres to the government; he was offered $35 as payment for the land which he declined.

1874 Dec 15th, shone its light for the 1st time. The oil lantern with its 4th order Fresnel lens display its majestic light to the West coast, a new sentinel added. Paul J Petz, draftsman for USLHB designed the stick style Victorian Building, It is characterized by its gabled roofs, horizontal siding, decorative cross beams and hand carved proch railings. Miss Mary & Ella Smith were the 1st Lightkeeper. Mary Smith lit the lamp and wound the weights that rotated the lens for the 1st time. The lighthouse was built with lumber from the Californian redwoods brought in by ship and hauled by wagons to the sage covered bluff.The planned fog signal was never built.

1882: Mary and her sister resign, life was too lonely on the promontory. Captain George Shaw was hired as the new lighthouse keeper. He was a retired sea captain; he had a wife and a daughter, The daughter was born at the lighthouse.

1884: lighthouse keepers where required to wear the US Lighthouse Service uniform.

1896: LightKeepers were put on the Civil Service roster.

1898: a petroleum vapor incandescent lamp was installed. Light changed from flashing red/white to a steady white

1901: Shaw is the only resident of the lighthouse, his wife had died and his 15yr old daughter left for school in San francisco.

1904: Shaw retires and Irby Engels takes over with his wife and daughter

1917: Willie Austin, the new lightkeeper, jointly with his spouse and 6 offspring, move into Point Fermin lighthouse. Austin's was to be the last keepers of Point Fermin

1925: 6,600 candlepower electric light which projected a beam 22 miles out to sea was installed. Thelma Austin takes over from her father; she is the last lightkeeper of Point Fermin. Thelma lost her mother to an operation and 2 months later her father to a broken heart.Thelma with the help of her sister Juanita took over the lighthouse duties They felt they had a sacred duty to their parents.

1927: Point Fermin’s importance diminished with the establishment of Angel’s gate lighthouse. Los Angeles Park Department made a contract with the Lighthouse Service, allowing a park superintendent to live in the lighthouse in barter for looking after the light.

1941 Dec 9th: 2 days after Pearl Harbor attack all coastal lights were extinguished or dimmed as protection against Japanese attacks. The station was converted into a submarine lookout post.The lens lantern and gallery were replaced by an ugly lookout shack (chicken coop) which remained for the next 30 years. After the war the lighthouse was replaced by a light on a pole.

1942: Deactivated

1972: June, The lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The coast guard had considered razing this structure. Bill Olesen and john Olguin led a campaign to save the lighthouse.

1974: Nov 2, new lantern and gallery were built by volunteers, restoring it to its original charm just in time for a centennial celebration

2002: the lighthouse receives major restoration; $2.6 million is invested in the makeover of Point Fermin

2003:Nov 1 the Department of Recreation and Parks opened the lighthouse to the public.

2004: the makeover is completed; the lighthouse had been repainted, new plumbing, electrical work, alarm systems, air conditioning, and furnishings dating back to the late 1800’s

2005: the lighthouse celebrated its 130th birthday.

2006: Dec 16th a homecoming for the lens. Olesen and Olguin located the Fresnel lens removed from the Point Fermin Lighthouse at the outbreak of World War II.

2011: June 7, Point Fermin is one of 12 historic lighthouses made available by the GSA to public organizations at no cost if they are willing to preserve them.

This picture perfect lighthouse is located on a 37 acre scenic park, landscaped with colorful gardens, tree shaded lawns and a promenade, which provides panoramic views of the Channel Islands and the surrounding coast. It is the perfect location for picnics and leisurely strolls, its friendly to children and animals. The lighthouse fits pleasantly into the scene as it is snugly placed amidst a group of large palm trees

Point Fermin
United States Coast Guard
San Pedro
National Park Service


1. "Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses", Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993.
2. "Point Fermin Lighthouse," Lenore Nicholson, The Keeper's Log, Winter 1987.
3. "Light Wait," Megan Bagdonas, Daily Breeze, December 2, 2006

4. "Field Guide to Lighthouses of the Pacific Coast", Elinor De Wire,Voyeur Press, 2006.
5. "California Lighthouses in the 1920'2 and 1930's",Wayne C Wheeler,Arcadia Publishing, 2006

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