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 Point Loma (New), CA    
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Description: Even before construction of Old Point Loma Lighthouse, officials were concerned that fog might shroud its light on the lofty hill. Their concerns were soon validated, and after thirty-six years of operation, the old lighthouse was abandoned in favor of a light at a lower elevation. Pelican Point, a low-lying, level area at the southern extreme of Point Loma, was selected as the site for the replacement light.

Station in 1893 - note brown tower and location of barn
Photograph courtesy National Archives
Brick and lumber were delivered to the point in September 1889, and by the following spring, two Victorian cottages, each flanked by its own cistern and privy, along with a concrete foundation for the lighthouse were completed. The tubular lighthouse tower, manufactured by Phoenix Iron Company of Trenton, New Jersey, rolled into San Diego aboard two flatcars of the Southern California Railroad on July 5, 1890. The tower was off-loaded at Old Town, and strong wagons were employed to transport it to the point. During the month of August, the spiral staircase, central tube, and supporting framework were assembled to support the two-story lantern room. The seventy-foot-tall, pyramidal tower, built more for function than aesthetics, is the only one of its kind on the west coast.

A Fresnel lens, equipped with beautiful ruby panels to match the characteristic of the old lighthouse, was ordered from France, however, Henri Le Paute, the lens maker, was so proud of his creation that he wished to enter it in the Paris Exhibition of 1889. After the lens won a gold medal, Le Paute requested permission to exhibit it at Chicagos Colombian Exposition in 1893. The Lighthouse Service agreed to let the lens remain on the exhibition circuit, and a replacement lens was procured. Frank A. Burke, Superintendent of Lighthouse Repairs, arrived in San Diego in October 1890 and soon made an unpleasant discovery. As recorded in a report to the Lighthouse Board date October 20, 1890, the lens furnished for the new tower was found to be too large for the space provided for it, therefore it was necessary to procure another.

The steamer Corona arrived in San Diego on February 3, 1891 with the new lens, described by the local paper as a $4,000 affair from France. The lens may have originally been intended for the Anclote Key Lighthouse in Florida, as the plate on the pedestal in New Point Loma Lighthouse bears the following inscription: ANCLOTE KEYS FLORIDA Henry Le Paute Engineer PARIS 1887. After it was assembled in the lantern room, the lens was illuminated for the first time on March 23, 1891. The community helped celebrate the inaugural lighting with a sailing party to the point and a moonlight picnic. The third-order lens has twelve bulls-eyes, and a red pane of glass was placed in front of every other one to produce the desired characteristic. After winning another prize in Chicago, the lens originally manufactured for New Point Loma Lighthouse was placed in Chicago Harbor Lighthouse, where it was used until the early 1960s.

The first principal keeper at New Point Loma Lighthouse was Robert Israel, who had served for twenty-one years just up the hill at Old Point Loma Lighthouse, however, after less than one year at the new lighthouse, Israel quit over a quarrel with authorities. Israel was still bitter over an incident that occurred three years earlier. One of Israels sons and the son of the assistant keeper had lost the stations only boat, and to cover the loss, the district inspector had deducted $50 from the keepers paychecks. Israels repeated request for reimbursement was denied, and he retaliated by being cantankerous and shirking some of his duties. An inspection of the station, conducted late in 1891, found that the lens was not clean and the grounds were in disorder. Israel resigned in January 1892 and was replaced by George P. Brennan, who transferred to the station from Point Arena.

Aerial view of station circa 1934 - note barn, catchment basin, and gardens.
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Brennan and his wife Mary brought six children with them to their new home on Point Loma. The oldest children, Richard, George and twins Joe and Nellie, would ride to the nearest school in a buggy pulled by Ping, their swayed-back horse. Mary Eva Addis, a classmate, recalled, The Brennans came with bloody noses, and maybe only one would get there. Theyd have awful fights. They were Irish you know  They had awful tempers, but I loved everyone of them.

Joe Brennan remembers that fresh water was often a problem at the station. We had what they called the watershed out in back of the buildings and it was all right in wet years, but the years werent always wet. The watershed was a big patch of cement about the size of a couple of tennis courts, on the side of the hill, with a cistern at its lower corner. It was supposed to catch enough rain-water to supply the two keepers families, but it was seldom enough. During the dry years  we used to load water from a well in Roseville, half a dozen barrels of it at a time, and bring it out in a wagon. The catch-water basin had an area of eight feet square and was completed in October 1891, just months before the Brennans arrived.

The color of the lighthouse tower was changed in 1894 from brown to white. Two years later, Keeper Brennan was authorized to move the barn from the windward side of the dwellings to avoid the nuisance caused by the wind carrying the foul odors into the living apartments. The stations water supply issues were resolved in 1906, when pipes were run to the distributing system of Fort Rosecrans.

Captain Richard A. Weiss was appointed head keeper of the lighthouse in 1904 and that year, while reading through the stations records, he learned that a meteor had fallen on the point in 1875. After a search, Weiss located the meteor. While it was too large to extract from the ground in one piece, several chunks of the meteor that had broken off during impact were recovered.

Following an appropriation of $17,500 on August 23, 1912, a square building with a double-hipped roof was built just north of the tower to house a powerful compressed-air fog signal that was placed in operation on March 1, 1913. A new dwelling was also built southeast of the twin Victorians of hollow terracotta blocks for the head keeper, and the new second assistant keeper, assigned to help with the increased workload at the station, took over one of the Victorians. Lacking a proper fog signal, keeper Israel is said to have used his trusty shotgun as his own personal fog signal. When a low bank of fog covered the waters, Israel would keep an eye out for the masts of a sailing vessel protruding above the fog and fire warning shots if the vessel drew too close to the point.

Just a year before the fog signal was added, an incandescent oil-vapor light replaced the kerosene burner. Around this time, the red panes of glass were removed from the lens, and the lights characteristic became flashing white. The light was converted to electricity in 1933.

View of station in 1958
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
James Milford Johnson transferred to the station in 1931 and was certainly happy to be closer to civilization after his assignment at the Farallon Islands. Johnson would witness several changes at the station during his twenty-one years on the point. When the Coast Guard assumed control of all U.S. lighthouses in 1939, Johnson became a Boatswains Mate, the Coast Guard rank commensurate with his pay level in the Lighthouse Service. During World War II, a black out order was imposed on the station. Not only was the light in the tower extinguished, but the keepers also had to place black tarpaper on their windows if they wanted to turn on their lights. To make the station less visible during the day, the station was painted olive drab  the dwellings, the lighthouse, the outbuildings, even the sidewalks.

A sense of normalcy returned to the point following the war. Assistant keeper Johnson was offered the head keeper position in 1952, when Head Keeper Dudley retired. Johnson, however, did not want to move into the head keepers dwelling, a move that was considered mandatory, so he reluctantly took an early retirement instead.

The lighthouse was fully automated in 1973. From that time, the Fresnel lens would rotate twenty-four hours a day, until rust and warping brought it to a halt in 1997. Repairs would have been too costly, so a replacement beacon was used instead, and a zippered canvas was placed over the antique lens. In 2002, the lens was dismantled, removed from the tower, and placed in storage. After being restored, the lens was placed on display in 2004 in the replica keepers dwelling constructed adjacent to Old Point Loma Lighthouse.

In February 2013, an LED light array was installed atop the lighthouse. This new light is more energy efficient than its predecessor and will also turn on automatically at dusk and off at dawn instead of being illuminated around the clock. The daily cost for operating the light is expected to fall from $4.60 to just 48 cents, but its range will be fourteen miles instead of twenty-four.

Today, the keepers quarters continue to house Coast Guard officers, who are fortunate to enjoy the prime oceanfront property. The lighthouse can be seen from a lookout point near Old Point Loma Lighthouse in Cabrillo National Monument, or you can take a road down to the tide pools at the base of the point for a closer view of the station from the road.

Keepers:

  • Head: Robert D. Israel (1891), George Patrick Brennan (1892  1903), Herbert Luff (1903  1904), Richard A. Weiss (1904  1908), William A. Beeman (1908  at least 1919), John Kunder (at least 1921  at least 1923), George Cottingham (at least 1924  1934), George Cobb (1934  1938), James E. Dudley (1938  1952).
  • First Assistant: Thomas W. Anderson (1891), Haydon B. Cartwell (1891  1894), Melvin P. Giles (1894  1895), William Laney (1895  1908), Malcom Cady (1908  at least 1921), James E. Dudley (1930  1938), James Milford Johnson (1938  1952).
  • Second Assistant: Morton M. Palmer (at least 1915  at least 1918), Claud V. Wheeler (1925  1926), Austin M. Small (at least 1930), James Milford Johnson (1931  1938), Calvin T. Cooper (1939  1941).

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses, various years.
  3. Old Meteor Found, Ithaca Daily News, July 14, 1904.
  4. The New Point Loma Light Station, Karen Scanlon, The Keeper's Log, Winter 2002.
  5. Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993.
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Location: Located in Cabrillo National Monument at the southern tip of Point Loma in San Diego.
Latitude: 32.66503
Longitude: -117.24266

For a larger map of Point Loma (New) Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From I-5 South or I-8 West, take the exit for Rosecrans Street, also known as Highway 209. Stay on Rosecrans for 2.9 miles to reach Point Loma, and then turn right onto Canon Street. Follow Canon Street 1.3 miles until it ends, and then take a left onto Catalina Boulevard and follow it for 3 miles to Cabrillo National Monument, which is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be signs along the route.

Just after the monument entrance, take Cabrillo Road, which branches off to the right, down to the water's edge. New Point Loma Lighthouse will be on your left. Access to the grounds and lighthouse is restricted as they serve as Coast Guard housing. You can also get a view of the lighthouse from Old Point Loma Lighthouse.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/tower/dwellings closed.

Find the closest hotels to Point Loma (New) Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
The westernmost keeper's house at the New Point Loma Lighthouse was used in the filming of the movie Top Gun. It served as home of Mike Metcalf (Viper), the commanding office of Top Gun. The house and surrounding area are seen when Maverick (Tom Cruise) goes to the officer's house to discuss his options, after the crash that killed Goose. If you are looking for other sites in San Diego that appeared in the movie, stop in for some food at the Kansas City Barbeque, near Seaport Village. The restaurant was where Goose and Maverick jammed to "Great Balls of Fire".
Marilyn writes:
This lighthouse is difficult to photograph up close unless you obtain permission to go on the property or charter a boat to view it from the water.

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Cliff Graham, used by permission.