|Point Vicente, CA|
Description: The Palos Verdes Peninsula is the most prominent coastal feature between Point Loma to the south and Point Conception to the north. When Captain George Vancouver sailed along its shores in 1793, he named the southwest tip of the peninsula Point Vincente, in honor of his friend, Friar Vincente of the Mission San Buenaventura. The Pacific Geographical Society changed the spelling of the point’s name from Vincente to Vicente in 1933.
Point Vincente is located between Point Fermin and Point Hueneme, a stretch of some 62 miles without an aid to navigation other than a combination gas and whistling buoy at this point. It is a point of departure for all vessels bound for the north from San Pedro and for coast vessels bound south. The currents here are changeable, and heavy fogs occasionally prevail. This improvement is requested by petitions dated September 21, 1907, September 3, 1909, and October 28, 1909, signed by masters and shipowners. A light and fog signal is probably needed more at Point Vincente than at any other unlighted point on the coast of California. Vessels bound from the north have a stretch of 45 miles from the nearest aid, Hueneme, to Point Vincente; the currents between are uncertain and variable, and the soundings off Point Vincente are of little assistance and give little warning. There have been many narrow escapes off Point Vincente, and even since the gas and whistling buoy has been established several large passenger vessels have passed inside the buoy in fog, narrowly escaping going ashore. It is proposed to establish a flashing light, with a height of about 140 feet, and a first-class compressed-air fog signal.
Point Vicente is located just seven miles from the light on Point Fermin, but ships approaching from the north are unable to see that light until within four miles of Point Vicente, as it is blocked by Point Vicente. The planned opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 promised to dramatically increase the number of ships that would benefit by a light on Point Vicente.
Delays in acquiring the twelve-acre parcel of desired land postponed construction until 1922, and then the high cost of material and labor further delayed the project until 1924. Frank A. Vanderlip purchased the Palos Verdes Peninsula in 1913, and as he had planned to construct an artisans’ village atop Point Vicente modeled after the Italian seaside village of Neri, he was reluctant to relinquish the property. A United States district attorney prepared data for a condemnation suit for the parcel, and proceedings were set to begin on March 19, 1918, when the suit was postponed pending further negotiations with the landowner. The Department of Justice was requested to reopen condemnation proceedings in late 1919, and this action likely led to the Vanderlip making a satisfactory offer to the government. An abstract of title to the property was obtained by January 1921, and the Lighthouse Service Bulletin announced the following October that a clear title had finally been obtained.
Bids for constructing two dwellings for keepers and a fog-signal building were opened on August 22, 1922, but they were rejected because of excessive cost. The plans were revised to call for frame construction, stuccoed exteriors, and tile roofs for the three keeper’s dwellings and fog-signal building, and a bid of $36,990 for this work was accepted in 1924.
Over the next year, the dwellings and outbuildings were completed, and duplicate internal-combustion fog-signal engines and compressors were installed in the new fog signal building. A 12,000-gallon redwood water tank, covered by protective housing, was also erected for fire protection, and water pipelines were laid throughout the reservation. The fog signal was activated on June 20, 1925, but the light atop the sixty-seven-foot-tall cylindrical Point Vicente Lighthouse was not exhibited until April 14, 1926.
By this time, gone were the days of oil lamps and weight-driven clockworks. Instead, a 500-watt bulb was used inside the lighthouse’s third-order clamshell Fresnel lens, and an electric motor was used to rotate the giant lighting apparatus atop sixteen ballbearings. Barbier, Benard and Turenne, the oldest lens making company in the world, manufactured the lens in Paris, France. It has often been repeated that the lens was transferred from a light station in Alaska after forty years of service there, but the first U.S. lighthouse in Alaska was not activated until 1902. It is more likely true that the lens came directly from France, as stated in a newspaper article published just weeks before Point Vicente Lighthouse was activated.
Due to the tower’s position on a high bluff, the actual height of the lens’ focal plane is 185 feet. The revolving lens produced the repeating light characteristic of 0.3-second flash, 4.7-second eclipse, 0.3-second flash, and 14.7-second eclipse, and the ten-inch chime whistle sounded a group of two blasts each minute. An electric plant was installed at the station for furnishing the current for lighting both the tower and fog signal building. The total cost of the station was $102,871.
George L’Hommedieu was brought in from Mile Rocks Lighthouse near San Francisco to serve as the first head keeper of the light, while First Assistant Harry Keeper and Second Assistant Keeper Ben South were respectively transferred from Alcatraz Island and Piedras Blancas.
Anton Trittinger was transferred from Farallon Island Lighthouse in 1930 to become head keeper at Point Vicente. Keeper Trittinger spent the next fifteen years looking after the station and raising his two daughters with his wife Frieda. In 1935, Trittinger was awarded the district efficiency pennant for having the best-maintained station in California. This was the third straight year Trittinger had received the award.
The light source was dimmed during World War II to avoid aiding Japanese submarines, which menaced shipping along the coast. After the war, nearby residents complained about the bright flashes when the light was returned to its normal power, so the landward side of the lantern room was painted an opaque, pearly white. The light from the rotating lens seen through the opaque lantern room windows created, for some, the illusion of a woman pacing the tower’s walkway and gave rise to Point Vicente’s “Lady of the Light,” yet another lighthouse ghost story. Some said the ghost was the spirit of a woman who leaped into the sea when her lover was lost in a shipwreck off the point, while others claimed she was the broken-hearted wife of a lighthouse keeper who had fallen to his death from the point’s lofty bluffs. In 1955, a thicker coat of paint ended the spirit’s nightly romp around the tower, and the ghost has not been seen officially since.
Seventy-year-old Joe May retired as head keeper of Point Vicente in 1955, after having served at the station since 1942. At the time of May’s retirement, there were just a couple civilian keepers left on the west coast. “I'm fit. I hate to terminate,” Joe complained. “Hate to think of just 'goin' fishing.'”
Although automated in 1971, the station, complete with its three keeper’s quarters and a fog signal building, still houses Coast Guard personnel. Tourists are allowed to climb the tower’s seventy-four steps during an open house held monthly by the Coast Guard Auxiliary. The original Fresnel lens still revolves in the lantern room, producing two white flashes every twenty seconds. Powered by a 1,000-watt bulb, the light is rated at 437,000 candle power and can be seen up to twenty miles at sea.
Located in Rancho Palos Verdes at 31550 Palos Verdes Drive West, approximately 15 miles west of Long Beach. Point Vicente Lighthouse and the surrounding grounds are closed to the public, except for the second Saturday of each month when the tower and a small museum in the fog signal building are open for tours between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. In March, the lighthouse is open on the first Saturday instead of the second Saturday. If your visit does not fall on
a Saturday when tours are offered, the tower can still be viewed through the fence surrounding the Coast Guard
compound, or a more distant, but perhaps more
spectacular view including the high bluff on which the lighthouse stands can always
be had from the Point Vicente Interpretive Center. For recorded information regarding lighthouse visits, call (310) 541-0334.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/tower open during tours. Dwellings closed.
Point Vicente Lighthouse and the surrounding grounds are closed to the public, except for the second Saturday of each month when the tower and a small museum in the fog signal building are open for tours between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. In March, the lighthouse is open on the first Saturday instead of the second Saturday. If your visit does not fall on a Saturday when tours are offered, the tower can still be viewed through the fence surrounding the Coast Guard compound, or a more distant, but perhaps more spectacular view including the high bluff on which the lighthouse stands can always be had from the Point Vicente Interpretive Center. For recorded information regarding lighthouse visits, call (310) 541-0334.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/tower open during tours. Dwellings closed.
Notes from a friend:Kraig writes:
Point Vicente Lighthouse and two of the nearby buildings appear in the 2001 movie Pearl Harbor during the scene where Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale) first meets Rafe (Ben Affleck) after thinking that he had been killed in Europe. Evelyn is also shown earlier in the movie walking outside the lantern room reading a letter from Rafe while the Fresnel lens slowly turns.
See our List of Lighthouses in California
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.