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 ball bearings. 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 Davis and Second Assistant Keeper Ben South were respectively transferred from Alcatraz Island and Piedras Blancas. Keeper L’Hommedieu began his lighthouse keeping career as an assistant at Race Rock Lighthouse in New York from 1902 to 1905, but then left the service for several years before becoming an assistant keeper of Mile Rocks Lighthouse in 1917.
L’Hommedieu and his assistants at Point Vicente had trouble getting along from the beginning even though L’Hommedieu and Davis had served together at Mile Rocks Lighthouse. In December 1925, Davis sent a letter to the district superintendent charging Keeper L’Hommedieu with using profane language and leaving the station without notifying the first assistant. These charges were just a prelude to more serious charges a few years later.
In August 1929, Second Assistant Keeper Raymond J. Deurloo sent a letter to the district superintendent that resulted in Keeper L’Hommedieu being charged with having made slanderous remarks against the wife of First Assistant Keeper Frederick Zimmermann, with having used foul language in the presence of the assistants, with having threatened the lives of the first assistant and his wife, with being intoxicated on the station grounds, and with failing to pull down the lantern room curtains after sunrise.
Just days before Deurloo filed his complaint, Keeper L’Hommedieu’s collie chased the Zimmermanns’ two cats near the station gate, which resulted in a heated confrontation. Mrs. Zimmermann told L’Hommedieu not to sic his dog on her cats to which L’Hommedieu reportedly said his dog could run and chase anywhere on the lighthouse reservation. Keeper Zimmermann jumped in to support his wife, telling his superior to stop shouting or he would “punch the face off of him.” Zimmermann said L’Hommedieu looked like an insane man at this point and said, “Hit me. Hit me, and if you ever hit my dog, or he gets hurt, I have a gun, and I’ll fill you and your wife full of lead.”
L’Hommedieu denied the various allegations and then brought some grievances of his own to the attention of the superintendent, concluding “I was compelled to take some action or endure more years of purgatory and nearly five years ought to be sufficient, and entitle me to the privilege of having trustworthy and peaceable people for assistants and not have to endure the perpetual nagging that has been my misfortune to undergo since coming to Point Vicente and which was the cause of a nervous breakdown on former occasion. I believe that there are such persons obtainable and that I have earned the right to consideration in this respect.”
Assistant Superintendent F.J. Otter was assigned to investigate the charges and included the following in his report:
There has been considerable friction at Point Vicente Light Station between the keeper and his two assistants for some time, and while some of the charges are of a serious nature, there are many of them of a petty nature and found to be considerably magnified. It is known that the Keeper has at times a violent temper which might be overlooked by an assistant of proper temperament, and that Mrs. L’Hommedieu the wife of the Keeper, interjects herself into the Government affairs and has caused a considerable amount of the trouble at the Station. …All three keepers were reprimanded, and Keeper L’Hommedieu was soon transferred to Piedras Blancas Lighthouse where he apparently managed to get along with his assistants quite well until his retirement in 1934.
L’Hommedieu has been as good as the average keeper in the District and it has not been found necessary to make serious charges against him in the past. Point Vicente Light Station, one of the show stations of the District, is particularly well kept due to the efforts of Keeper L’Hommedieu.
It is believed that friction will always arise at this Station at intervals due to the ill feelings between the Keeper and Assistants, and particularly between their wives.
After having begun his career on Farallon Island, Anton Trittinger was transferred from Humboldt Bay 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.