Category Archives: Contemporary images

Los Angeles Lighthouses

Apart from a few more trees, Point Fermin Lighthouse has not changed significantly since its construction in 1874.  Photo by Candace Clifford

Apart from a few more trees, Point Fermin Lighthouse has not changed significantly since its construction in 1874. Photo by Candace Clifford

Point Fermin in 1893. Herbert Bamber photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

Point Fermin in 1893. Herbert Bamber photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

I recently attended the Council of American Maritime Museums conference hosted by the Los Angeles Maritime Museum. Upon arrival in Los Angeles I went directly from the airport to the Point Fermin Lighthouse, where historic site manager Kristen Heather gave me a delightful tour.

The tower was designed by Paul J. Pelz, A U.S. Light-House Board draftsman who designed six stick-style lighthouses. Pelz also worked for the U.S. Life-Saving Service and designed several their stations.

The tower was designed by Paul J. Pelz, a U.S. Light-House Board draftsman. The stick-style design was used for six lighthouses. Pelz also worked for the U.S. Life-Saving Service and designed several of their stations.

Front parlor at Point Fermin Lighthouse. The station is now a museum run by the City of Los Angeles.

Front parlor at Point Fermin Lighthouse. The station is now a museum run by the City of Los Angeles.

The visit was especially meaningful because the first keepers of Point Fermin Light, when it was established in 1874, were sisters Ella and Mary Smith. Although I realize these women had challenges living in such a remote location, I think it would have been a rather plum assignment when compared to many other light stations of that period. The interior exhibits interpret the lives of the station’s four keepers and their families. The fourth-order Fresnel lens is on display in one of the ground floor rooms and visitors can climb to the top of the tower for a spectacular view.

Kristen Heather, the historic site manager, has worked with the property for over a decade.

Kristen Heather, the Point Fermin’s historic site manager, has worked with the property for over a decade.

Lovely gardens surrounding the property are maintained by volunteers. For more information on this wonderful station, visit the Point Fermin Lighthouse website or read Point Fermin Lighthouse Families by Henrietta E. Mosley. The next morning I ventured further down the coast to Point Vicente Light Station. Unfortunately it was closed. Although generally open on the second Saturday of the month, April was the exception. Apparently it was open the previous weekend for a whale watching festival. However I enjoyed walking along the cliffs capturing views of the lighthouse at a distance.

Completed in 1926, Point Vicente used reinforced concrete in the construction of the tower.  A material adapted after the 1906 earthquake. Photo by Candace Clifford

Completed in 1926, Point Vicente used reinforced concrete in the construction of the tower–a material adapted after the 1906 earthquake. Photo by Candace Clifford

The lantern plan for Point Vicente.  Note the diagonal astragals.

The lantern plan for Point Vicente. Pointe Vicente had a larger lens than Point Fermin so could be seen at greater distances. Note the diagonal astragals.

Marking the entrance to San Pedro Harbor, the San Pedro Breakwater Lighthouse was completed in 1913. Photo by Candace Clifford

Marking the entrance to San Pedro Harbor, the San Pedro Breakwater Lighthouse was completed in 1913. Photo by Candace Clifford

Fortunately the CAMM conference included a narrated cruise of the harbors of San Pedro and Long Beach so I was able to capture the San Pedro Breakwater Light, also known as the Los Angeles Harbor Light and locally as “Angels Gate.” Still an active aid to navigation, the tower is located at the end of two-mile breakwater. It welcomes all types of vessels into the nation’s busiest container port. In 1928, Los Angeles Harbor Light Keeper Frank Weller described his duties as consisting of: Standing watches and upkeep of station and grounds, illuminating apparatus, fog signal engines, motors and generators, radio beacon apparatus, aga beacons, oil beacons, gas buoys, motor launch, sail and rowboats.

The Fresnel lens from the Los Angeles Harbor Light is on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

The Fresnel lens from the Los Angeles Harbor Light is on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

The watches average eight or more hours a day. The first watch is from sunset to 11 p.m. . . . The man on watch starts to light up I.O.V. lamp by heating up the lamp with alcohol; keeps a good light at all times; sees that clockwork and lens is on time; keeps watch on the weather; operates radio beacon for fifteen minutes every hour from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.; and in foggy weather or smoky weather operates fog signal continuously. . . .  Weller had started out as an assistant keeper in 1916. He became keeper around 1922. In 1928 he had two assistants–James E. Dudley and Herman L. Francis. Apparently life at this “bachelor station” was challenging for the assistant keepers. Their high turnover rate indicates that it was not a popular assignment. The Los Angeles Harbor Light was manned until the light was automated in 1973.

The Los Angeles Maritime Museum is located in the old ferry terminal on the San Pedro waterfront.

The Los Angeles Maritime Museum is located in the old ferry terminal on the San Pedro waterfront.

Kate Walker Story to be told at Robbins Reef

Robbins Reef

Robbins Reef Lighthouse with the New York skyline behind it. Copyright Candace Clifford

The Noble Maritime Collection recently became the new steward of Robbins Reef Lighthouse, a caisson tower off Staten Island in New York Harbor. They plan to restore and interpret the station to how it looked in the early 1900s when Kate Walker was the keeper. We are excited by this development in that we devoted a chapter to Kate in our book Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers and later made her part of the cover image of the kid’s version, Mind the Light Kate: The History of Thirty-Three Lighthouse Keepers.  

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker

Illustration from the TIMES PICAYUNE, December 21, 1902

When Kate’s husband John Walker left the light sick with pneumonia, he instructed Kate to “Mind the Light Katie” which she did for the next 29 years.  According to a letter from the District Inspector dated June 18, 1894, after John’s death in 1890, Katie was paid as a laborer or acting keeper, not receiving the official keeper’s appointment until four years later in 1894. Her son Jacob was appointed her assistant in 1896.

Note in the Register of Keepers below that two men turned down the appointment after John’s death.

Entry for Robbins Reef Lighthouse, Register of Keepers, microfilm publication M1373

Entry for Robbins Reef Lighthouse, Register of Keepers, microfilm publication M1373

Modern Day Lighthouse Keeper – Bob Trapani

On my recent trip to Maine, I had the pleasure of stopping by Owls Head Lighthouse and catching up with Bob Trapani, president of the American Lighthouse Foundation.  The lighthouse, as you can see from these photos, looks fantastic.  Bob’s hard work has paid off.  Folks can now enter the tower and climb a few steps to enjoy the view and see the beautiful fourth-order Fresnel lens.  The keeper’s dwelling now houses the offices of the American Lighthouse Foundation on the second floor with the first floor devoted to a gift shop and some interpretation.  (And yes I did drop off the new edition of Women Who Kept the Lights, the first copy I distributed actually.) Bob has plans to enhance the interpretation and is currently writing a book about the station using lots of material from the National Archives.

Image

Bob Trapani, keeper of Owls Head Lighthouse, copyright Candace Clifford, 2013

Image

Owls Head Lighthouse, copyright Candace Clifford, 2013

In addition to Owls Head, the American Lighthouse Foundation is affiliated with some 20 other light stations. One of the biggest challenges Bob faces is the continuous maintenance and repair these station require in their harsh marine environments.

A talented photographer, Bob posts a lot of his wonderul photos to Owls Head facebook page.  Bob also finds time to work with the local Coast Guard’s Aids to Navigation team, getting a first-hand perspective on caring for offshore lights and the evolving technology. I am very pleased to feature him in the first post of my series on modern-day lighthouse keepers.

Keeper Job Descriptions

Curtis Island Lighthouse and Schooner APPLEDORE, October 2013.  Copyright Candace Clifford

Curtis Island Lighthouse and Schooner APPLEDORE, October 2013. Copyright Candace Clifford

Around 1928 lighthouse keeper salaries were reclassified.  As part of this process, keepers filled out a form that included their job description and the number of years they had served at that station.  These forms are part of National Archives Record Group 26, Entry 111 (NC-31) and are organized by district.  They include other personnel such as those working at lighthouse depots or for the US Airways Division.  Some stations are missing including those in what was then the second district.  The form for Curtis Island Lighthouse Station, Maine, is seen below.  Note that the station was originally called “Negro Island.”

Source: National Archives RG 26 Entry 111 (NC-31)

Source: National Archives RG 26 Entry 111 (NC-31) Click image to view larger version

Field Questionnaire Part 2

Cast Iron Tower at Portland Breakwater

I posted a plan and photo of the first tower on the Portland Breakwater a few days ago.  Here is a historic image of the current cast iron tower constructed on the breakwater in 1875.  Note that the building attached to the tower no longer exists.  And the current tower is now painted white rather than a dark color. Below is a Historic American Building Survey (HABS) drawing of the current tower.  Note the classical columns.  You can download high-resolution HABS/HAER/HAL drawings and photos from the Built in America section of the Library of Congress website.

Imageportland brw 2006

portland drawing

Pemaquid Point at Sunset

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse is a popular spot for photographers at sunset. During a recent visit, we all took turns capturing the lighthouse in the reflection.  My best shot was this cell phone image.  Makes me wonder why I bother with the regular camera!

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in October 2013. Copyright Candace Clifford

Here is a far older image of the same tower taken circa 1859 before the two fog signals were added.  The configuration of the tower and keeper’s dwelling is remarkably similar. The current tower dates to 1835.  It replaced an earlier tower built by Jeremiah Berry in 1827.

Pemaquid Point

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse ca. 1859 (USCG photo)