Point Cabrillo Light Station History

point cabrillo

light keepers


third order fresnel

Although Point Cabrillo was surveyed by the U. S. Lighthouse Service in 1873, construction of the Light Station didn't begin until after the 1906 earthquake. The demand for lumber to rebuild San Francisco meant that maritime commerce on the north coast was at an all time high and a Lighthouse was critical to the safety of the ships and their valuable cargo. Construction of the Light Station began in 1908, and the lens was illuminated for the first time on June 10,1909, under head keeper Wilhelm Baumgartner.

Baumgartner invited the neighbors and residents of Pine Grove to attend the midnight ceremony.

Built and managed by the US. Lighthouse Service under the Department of Commerce the original Point Cabrillo Light Station included the buildings still standing today (with the exception of the current pump house and water tank). These include the three keeper's residences, the coal buildings (now garages), the carpentry shop and smithy, and the oil house. Several other structures - two water towers, a barn, and the original pump house have since been removed. The barn, which was located to the south of the residences at the end of a side road, was used as a U. S. Air Force radio monitor's training facility after WW II. It was burned by the Volunteer Fire Dept. as an exercise in the late 1980s.

The U. S. Lighthouse Service was officially absorbed into the Coast Guard in 1939. Bill Owens/ who also served at the Point Arena Lighthouse, was the last civilian lighthouse keeper at Point Cabrillo. He retired in 1963. Coast Guard officers and their families continued to live in the keepers houses until the Conservancy took possession in 1992.

The light tower houses a third order, British-built Fresnel lens by Chance Bros., with a range of 13-15 miles. The lens was originally powered by a kerosene oil lamp. There are only 2 other British-built lenses in operation in the U.S. today: A 1st Order lens at Heceta Head Lighthouse in Oregon, and a 2nd Order range light ("fixed") at Battery Point, Staten Island, New York.

Originally the lens rotated by means of a clockworks mechanism with a descending weight. A chain with a 65-80 LB weight on the end of it passed through the floor of each level of the light tower. The light keeper would crank up the chain onto a drum every 2 hours. At some point, a portion of the concrete foundation on the ground floor was removed to add an additional 4-5 feet to the chain, gaining (perhaps) an additional ten minutes between windings. The clockworks were replaced with an electric motor and the oil lamp with a light bulb when electricity was introduced at the Station in 1935

The lens rotated at a fixed speed and produced a flash at ten second intervals. The rotation pattern of a lighthouse is printed on the nautical chart, it's the lighthouse "signature" and must not vary.

The main part of the structure is called the "fog signal building". It housed two pairs of engines and compressors that created a siren using compressed air.

A head keeper and two assistants rotated shifts to keep the light burning and the compressors powered. They also cleaned and painted and kept the lens and station machinery in working order. The lighthouse service gave them each a house for their family and a yearly salary of $450-$600/ and they raised crops and livestock.

In 1973, the Fresnel lens was disengaged, and an aero-marine type rotating beacon was mounted on the roof of the fog signal building. The original lens remained in the lantern room but the clockworks and fog signal machinery were removed.

Pt. Cabrillo was also a monitoring station for LORAN C (Long Range Aids to Navigation) an electronic system used by ships and aircraft to pinpoint their exact location and projected route. LORAN is being phased out in favor of GPS satellite transmission. The Loran equipment has been relocated to the oil house as part of the lighthouse restoration program. The Loran System was terminated by the US Coast Guard in 2010.

In 1996 the Conservancy was awarded a federal grant through the ISTEA program (Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Activities) for the restoration of the lantern room and the creation of public service facilities at Point Cabrillo (parking and restrooms). Work on the project began in August of 1998 when the Fresnel lens was dismantled and removed from the lantern room. The lantern room restoration was completed in April 1999 and the Fresnel lens was refurbished and reinstated as the active aid in time for Point Cabrillo's 90th Anniversary. The restoration of the Fresnel lens was funded by the NCIA with assistance from the Coast Guard. The restoration of the fog signal building was funded by the NCIA and the Coastal Conservancy. The restoration of the rest of the lighthouse tower and fog signal building was completed in August of 2001 with funds provided by the Coastal Conservancy and the NCIA.

In 2002 ownership of the Lightstation was transferred from the California State Coastal Conservancy to California State Parks. The terms of the transfer provided $4 million dollars from State Parks to the restoration of the remaining buildings at the light station. This money, administrated by the Conservancy was provided over a 5 year period to the PCLK to do the actual restoration work. During this period the East House was restored and is now serving as the Lightkeepers Museum, the Head Lightkeepers house was restored and is now a vacation rental. The three outbuildings were also restored and two are now vacation rental bedrooms, while the third was converted to a public restroom. Restoration work ceased in 2007 with restoration of the West House awaiting additional funding.

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