|Ballast Point, CA|
Description: Ballast Point is a tiny peninsula extending eastward from Point Loma into the channel at the entrance to San Diego Bay. The point derived its name from the fact that early skippers would have stones gathered from the point to serve as ballast in their vessels during their homeward voyages.
Sixty years passed before the placid waters around Ballast Point were again disturbed by deep-sea keels, when Sebastian Vizcaino anchored there on November 10th, 1602. He renamed the harbor San Diego in honor of that Saint's day. In 1769, Spain decided to occupy the vast territory by converting the Indians to the Catholic faith and teaching them domestic pursuits. By this time little transports were coming with supplies on a haphazard schedule, and when the Aranzaya arrived in 1795, she brought three workmen and the necessary timber to build a fort at Ballast Point, or as it was known at that time, Point Guijarros.
From the 1850s to the 1880s, Ballast Point was home to a whaling station. New England whalers would hunt Gray Whales off Point Loma and then tow them to Ballast Point, where their blubber was boiled in 150-gallon cast-iron tryworks pots.
On October 2, 1888, Congress appropriated $25,000 for a light and fog signal at Ballast Point. Work on the new station began in February of 1890 and was completed by the end of March. The original buildings at the station consisted of a two-story wooden bell tower, a boathouse, and two dwellings, one of which was attached to a square, wooden light tower. The California lighthouses at San Luis Obispo and Table Bluff were built using the same plans employed for Ballast Point Lighthouse. An iron lantern housing a fifth-order Fresnel lens manufactured in Paris, France by Sautter, Lemonier, & Co. topped the Ballast Point Lighthouse. The station’s fixed white light was first exhibited on August 5, 1890.
In 1928, the wind-up machinery for tolling the bell was removed from the bell tower and replaced with a fog horn, air compressor, and tank. The horn was mounted on a porch on the second story of the bell tower, and the first floor was enclosed at that time to house the foghorn equipment.
The two keeper’s dwellings were torn down in June of 1960 leaving the tower free standing, but while repairs to the tower were being made, it was found to be unstable due to failure of the brick and mortar foundation. The bell tower was remodeled to serve as both a lighthouse and foghorn, and the original light tower was demolished. Cabrillo National Monument requested the lens used in the lighthouse, and arrangements were made for the lantern and lens to be removed before the demolition of the lighthouse tower.
The fog signal at that time was a single-tone diaphone which emitted one blast every 15 seconds. In the event the diaphone became inoperative, the men on station were required to ring a large bell by hand, with one stroke every fifteen seconds. A new three-bedroom and a four-bedroom duplex type dwelling were built adjacent to the light structure.
The combination structure was only in service for a short time when a new light was established offshore in 1961. The man hired to raze the tower informed his friend Monroe A. Platt that the tower was free for the taking, but it would probably cost about $300 to relocate the structure. The tower was hoisted onto a flatbed truck using a 35-ton crane and transported to the backyard of Platt’s Lakeside home. Platt, a telephone engineer, added an external steel spiral staircase to link the first two floors of the tower and converted the second floor of the tower into a shack for his ham radio station – W6ZFP. A bathroom was later attached to the lower story, which the family used as a guesthouse.
The original Ballast Point fog bell, forged in San Francisco by Garritt and Co., ended up in a scrap yard after the tower was discontinued in 1961. Alva “Ollie” Oliphant, a mechanical arts teacher for many years in the San Diego school system, often picked up scrap metal for his students and was thrilled when he discovered the bell. After paying the scrap metal price of 5 cents a pound, Ollie had it put on a trailer and towed it home behind his Volkswagen van. The bell was mounted on wooden gallows at the Oliphant La Mesa home until 1990, when it was loaned to the San Diego Maritime Museum and placed on display on the promenade near the Berkeley. The current location of the bell is not known.
The whereabouts of the Ballast Point lantern room was a mystery for several years, but it is now on display outside a marine antique shop in San Diego’s Old Town. The fifth-order Fresnel lens used at Ballast Point is located in the exhibit space adjacent to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.
By 2011, many people had forgotten that a light structure that had served at Ballast Point was still in existence. That year Judy Bowen, who lives in the home owned by her father, Monroe Platt, decided that the tower, rather than face an uncertain future, needed to find a new home where it could be preserved and appreciated. Fellow Lakeside resident Dennis Richardson is leading an effort to relocate the tower.
Head Keepers: John M. Nilsson (1890 – 1892), Henry Hall (1892 – 1895), David R. Splaine (1895 – 1914), Hermann Engel (1914 – 1931), William Mollering (1931 – 1938), Stephen Pozanac (1938 – 1945), Radford Franke (1945 – 1957).
The lantern room is on display outside West Sea Company at 2495 Congress Street, San Diego.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.