Point Arena Light

Point Arena Light is a lighthouse in Mendocino County, California, United States, two miles (3 km) north of Point Arena, California. It is located approximately 130 miles (210 km) north of San Francisco in the Fort Point Group of lighthouses. The lighthouse features a small museum and giftshop. Guided tours of the light station as well as self-guided tours of the grounds are available daily.


The first European to record Point Arena was Spaniard Bartolomé Ferrelo in 1543, who named it Cabo de Fortunas (Spanish for "cape of fortunes"). The cape was renamed to Punta Delgado (narrow point) in 1775 by lieutenant Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra (commander of the schooner Sonora), part of a royal expedition chartered by the government of Mexico to map the north coast of Alta California. Later the point, and the small harbor town south of it, were called Barra de Arena (i.e. sandbar) and finally Point Arena (literally "sand point"). Point Arena is a narrow peninsula jutting around 1/2 mile (800 m) into the Pacific Ocean. This sandbar creates a natural hazard to navigation, and hence the need for a lighthouse and fog signal here.

The First Lighthouse

The lighthouse at this site was constructed in 1870. The brick-and-mortar tower included ornate iron balcony supports and a large Keeper residence with enough space to house several families. In April 1906, a devastating earthquake struck the Light Station. The Keeper's residence and Lighthouse were damaged so severely that they had to be demolished.

The Rebuilding

The United States Lighthouse Service contracted with a San Francisco based company to build a new lighthouse on the site, and specified that it had to be able to withstand any future earthquakes. The company chosen, normally built factory smokestacks, which accounts for the final design for the new Point Arena Lighthouse; featuring steel reinforcement rods encased in concrete. This was the first lighthouse built this way.

The new Lighthouse began operation in 1908, nearly 18 months after the quake. It stands 115 feet (35 m) tall, and featured a 1st Order Fresnel Lens, over six feet in diameter and weighing more than six tons. The lens was made up of 666 hand-ground glass prisms all focused toward three sets of double bullseyes. It was these bullseyes that gave the Point Arena Lighthouse its unique "light signature" of two flashes every six seconds. This incredible optic, that held an appraised value of over $3.5 million, was set in solid brass framework, and was built in France.

The Light

Prior to the introduction of electricity, the lens was rotated by a clockwork mechanism. The Keepers, or "wickies" as they were called, had to hand crank a 160 pound weight up the center shaft of the lighthouse every 75 minutes to keep the lens turning. Light was produced by a "Funks" hydraulic oil lamp, that needed to be refueled every four hours, and whose wicks would have to be trimmed regularly. Later, two 1,000 watt electric lamps were installed to replace the oil lamp, and a 1/8 horsepower electric motor was installed to replace the clockworks.


In 1978, the original fog signal at the station was silenced, and a bell buoy was placed nearby. June 1977 brought the installation of an automated aircraft-type beacon on the balcony tower, and the historic 1st Order Fresnel Lens was discontinued. At the time, the lens was the only mercury-floated light still in existence in the Twelfth United States Coast Guard District. The 400 pound aircraft beacon had been replaced by a 40 pound modern rotating light that incorporates the Fresnel principles for the efficient projection of light.


There is a battery-powered emergency system installed as a back-up in the event of a power failure. In addition, a radio beacon, with a 50-mile (80 km) signal that originates from the station, also assists mariners. The original oil lamp was visible for approximately 18 miles (29 km), the 1st Order Fresnel Lens for 20 miles (32 km) and the current modern rotating light can be seen for 16 miles (26 km).


Four men manned this family station and were provided with quarters as follows: One 4 bedroom unit, three 3-bedroom units. Other buildings are the light tower, paint locker, fuel locker, bosun locker and buildings housing the fire pump, water pumps and JP-5 fueling pumps. The station had a ½-ton pickup truck assigned which, among other things, was utilized to transport dependent school children to school three miles (5 km) from the station.


In 1984, a nonprofit organization called the Point Arena Lighthouse Keepers acquired the light station as part of a 25 year land lease from the Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation. In November 2000, the nonprofit group became the official owners of the property due to their diligent historic preservation and educational efforts. Daily visitation, gift store sales, memberships and the rental of the historic Keeper's homes on the property as vacation houses, all provide income to the group, for ongoing preservation, facility upgrades, and educational endeavors.

The Point Arena Light is California Historical Landmark No. 1035.


The final scenes of the movie Forever Young (1992, starring Mel Gibson) were filmed near the lighthouse.


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