man plays through at Pacific Grove Golf Links where
Point Pinos Lighthouse burns in Pacific Grove,
Calif., on February 25, 2015. Point Pinos Lighthouse
is the oldest existing lighthouse on the West Coast
and is listed with the U.S. National Register of
Historic Places. The lighthouse features a Fresnel-type
third-order lens and was first lit...
thousands of seagoing adventurers, caught up in gold
fever, made their way along California’s long, dark
coast, not a single light led the way.
in 1855, a powerful beam cut through the night, a beacon
that warned of hidden rocks and dangers along the coast
— and provided the only glint of gold that most of those
would-be miners would ever see. For 160 years, the Point
Pinos Lighthouse has stood guard on the shores of Pacific
Grove and Monterey, a navigational aid for countless
mariners and a magical place that is being restored and
preserved by dedicated historians.
lighthouse is something akin to a time machine. It allows
visitors to travel back to the shining days of early
statehood and the dark hours of World War II. And it’s a
repository of fascinating stories and characters, from the
first keeper, Charles Layton, who joined a posse and was
killed, leaving his wife to keep the light burning, to
"Socialite Lightkeeper" Emily Fish, who was
principal keeper for 21 years and was known for hosting
elegant lunches and dinners for naval officers, artists
and writers inside the lighthouse proper.
stories, if not the light itself, might have been lost
without the dedicated crew of volunteers from The Heritage
Society of Pacific Grove, which has preserved several
significant buildings in that city.
the sprawling coastal grounds and the lighthouse — up to
the rim of its lantern room — are the property of the
city of Pacific Grove. The Coast Guard owns the beacon and
the room around it. And Dennis Tarmina, a Heritage Society
member, came up with the idea of adopting the lighthouse
as a service project one morning, while eating breakfast
at a local cafe with some other society members.
were kind of looking for something to do," Tarmina
sold the idea to the rest of the society with the promise
that they were just going to caulk some windows, maybe
splash some paint around. Once inside, they discovered
there was much more to do.
was about 150 years of built-up paint," volunteer
Steve Honegger says.
was leaking, and there was massive corrosion,"
volunteer Ken Hinshaw says. "We found a lot of
reports of what needed to be done — but none of the work
had been done."
group has spent the past six years repairing windows,
sanding floors, shoring up the lantern room, and
researching the past to bring it front and center. Most of
the rooms are now decorated to reflect various eras. Using
a manual prepared for them by The Lighthouse Preservation
Society, they are reclaiming the lighthouse, step by step.
core volunteer group — Tarmina, Honegger, Hinshaw, Bill
Peake, Fred Sammis, Lowell Northrop, Dan Myers, lead
docent Nancy McDowell and others — also are looking at
ways to bring the lighthouse into the future. Among the
discussions: solar power, which would make it the first
lighthouse to use the energy of the sun to light the
night, and interactive displays that can be activated via
trying to come up with the best way to tell the
story," Hinshaw says.
a compelling tale. The lighthouse was built from a kit,
one of eight shipped from Baltimore in 1852. The ship, a
1,200-ton bark named the Oriole, contained everything the
new state of California would need to construct eight
lighthouses and finally illuminate the coast from San
Diego to Crescent City.
Oriole carried the windows, doors, floors and 14 craftsmen
— walls and roofs would be made from local materials —
around Cape Horn and into San Francisco Bay, completing a
five-month journey. The plans were modeled after New
England lights and included two revolutionary new ideas.
of a stark tower with a long, winding staircase and the
keeper’s house nearby, the lighthouse tower would be
built on top of the Cape Cod-style house, allowing the
keepers to tend the light without having to suffer through
the elements. The lights also would be outfitted with
Fresnel lenses, a French design that uses large glass
prisms to focus the light beam.
lenses had been lauded in Europe for improving the
strength and quality of the light, and the United States
had decided that all of its lights would be fitted with
the costly yet effective lenses.
Pinos Lighthouse, standing back from the water’s edge on
a pine-topped hill, became the second lighthouse built in
California. The first, nearly a replica of Point Pinos,
was built on what was then known as Bird Island and is now
known as Alcatraz.
Pinos has a fixed light that is on for three seconds and
off for one, which helps mariners identify it. It stands
43 feet tall, almost 90 feet above the water, and its
brilliant 1,000-watt bulb and third-order Fresnel lens can
be seen 17 miles out to sea. With the exception of World
War II, when the light was turned off and the Coast Guard
stationed nearby to keep watch for an invasion that,
thankfully, never came, the light has never faltered, or
at least not for long, making it the state’s oldest
continuously operating lighthouse.
the historic lighthouse and tower, stroll the grounds, and
take in the coastal sights. Much of the lighthouse has
been restored, although work continues. Rooms in the house
reflect different eras in lighthouse history, including
the watch of Emily Fish, 1893-1914, and the World War II
years, when the light was turned off and coast watchers
were used as a deterrent to an invasion. Details: Open 1-4
p.m. Thursday though Monday at 80 Asilomar Ave., Pacific
Grove; www.pointpinoslighthouse.org. Admission and parking
are free, but donations are requested. Send donations to
Point Pinos Lighthouse, c/o Heritage Society of Pacific
Grove, P.O. Box 1007, Pacific Grove, CA 93950.