Historic Structures

Point Reyes Lighthouse, Point Reyes Station California

Date added: July 20, 2021 Categories: California Lighthouse

The Point Reyes Light Station was established to warn mariners of local hazards and also to provide an important landmark in setting bearings for San Francisco harbor. Protruding far beyond the rest of the coastline and often shrouded in heavy fog. Point Reyes figures as a dangerous spot on Pacific maritime coastal routes. Congress authorized funds for a lighthouse at Point Reyes as early as 1854. Disputes with local landowners, however, delayed construction until 1870. In the interim, seven major shipwrecks occurred at the point. Construction of the light station proved to be a monumental civil engineering feat. Work began with wagons carrying materials over two miles of steep hills from the landing to the top of the headland. Two terraces had to be carved out of the solid rock cliff, one at 100' above the sea for the fog-signal and the other at 240' for the lighthouse. Point Reyes is and always has been the windiest point on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent. Fourty mph winds are the norm and gusts exceeding 100 mph have been recorded. Weeks of unbroken fog, especially during the summer months, can reduce visibility to 1/2 mile or less. The iron plated lighthouse is bolted to the rock to prevent wind damage. The dwellings that have been built at Point Reyes over the years have been located back from the cliff to minimize wind interference.

The lighthouse tower is the only survivor from the original 1870 station. It is a substantial structure built to contain a Fresnel lens (in this case the largest 1st order variety) and its architectural integrity is very nearly complete (including the lens). The structure is very similar to many others built in California at about the same time. Its squat appearance together with its large 1st order lens categorize it with the type of lighthouses built on major headlands in California. This was a building type well suited to California's long, steep, harborless shoreline. In the flatter East, lighthouses tended to be taller and the proliferation of harbors allowed for a smaller "harbor marker" type of lens. Point Reyes lighthouse is almost a carbon copy of the Cape Mendocino light established in 1868. Both are built of prefabricated iron panels, bolted together at the site. This was a common method of lighthouse construction throughout the country, both in the 19th and early 20th century. It allowed for fabrication at a distant location and permitted an easy and quick assembly once on the site. This would prove especially useful at the more isolated stations such as Point Reyes.

The existing combination equipment building and power house was built in 1928. It contained all the mechanical equipment for the fog-signal and the back-up generator for the light and fog-signal. It replaced the original equipment shed built on the site in 1870. It is quite similar to other California fog-signal buildings in its open interior space arrangement, its large double-door entryway, and its open attic beams and roof trusses. Although this was built in 1928 it differed little in appearance or function from those built in the mid-to-late 19th century.

The Transformer building, built in 1934, contained the transformer equipment that was necessary once the light was electrified. In appearance it resembles the many concrete oil houses built in California light stations.

The Fuel and Paint Storage Building was built in 1900. This building was constructed to store fuel, oil, and other items.

The Pump House was also built in 1900. This building houses the modern pump which draws water from a well. It is used only on an emergency basis.

A Multi-Purpose building, also built in 1900 had been remodeled to accommodate the Lighthouse Visitor's Center.

In order to supply the lighthouse and its outbuildings with water and to supply the steam for fog whistles, a large supply of water was needed close by. Since the area was typically devoid of fresh water, large cisterns and watersheds were constructed to hold a supply. Later improvements include paving the watersheds with concrete and covering the cistern domes with concrete.