Lighthouse Mystique: It’s All About the Beam

Postcard of Lighthouse Point, Santa Cruz, California circa 1920. Image by Mike Patnaude and part of his series of paired retrospective and modern day images in Santa Cruz County.
Postcard of Lighthouse Point, Santa Cruz, California circa 1920. Image by Mike Patnaude and part of his series of paired retrospective and modern day images in Santa Cruz County.

The lighthouse at Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz, is an icon to locals and visitors alike. It is rich with history of the lighthouse keepers who raised families there, soldiers stationed there, and a surfer who is memorialized there (Lighthouse Point, Santa Cruz, California). But to mariners, it’s all about the beam of light that provides a critical navigation aid. To them, the light is the vital and beloved part of any lighthouse. The type of lens, its brightness, its reach out to sea and manufacturer are all considered carefully. Adna Hecox, Santa Cruz’s first lighthouse keeper from 1868 until his death in 1883, cleaned the light daily with feather brushes and soft linen and kept it covered during the day to protect it from the sun.

The postcard pictured here shows the lighthouse circa 1920 with a steady beam of reddish light. That steady beam, with its unusual reddish hue, was the calling card of the lighthouse at Santa Cruz for decades. If it was a steady white light, the sailor knew it was Point Pinos, flashing white and you were off Pigeon Point.

In 1939, the coast guard became responsible for keeping a navigation aid at Lighthouse Point. This marked the beginning of many changes to the structure housing the light; for 19 years there was only a beacon, without any lighthouse! But through it all, the light was always a steady beam. So, in 2011, when after a prolonged outage, a flickering strobe light was installed, locals were not happy. In fact, Live Oak residents Jim Thoits and Bill Simpkins got motivated to try and change it back.

Lighthouse Point in 2013. Image by Mike Patnaude and part of his series of paired retrospective and modern day images in Santa Cruz County.
Lighthouse Point in 2013. Image by Mike Patnaude and part of his series of paired retrospective and modern day images in Santa Cruz County.

They contacted the Parks and Recreation Department and ultimately had to involve Congressman Sam Far to help get the ownership of the light changed from the U.S. Coast Guard to the City of Santa Cruz.  Their efforts bore fruit fairly quickly. In December 2013, a rotating light with a steady beam returned to Lighthouse Point. The historic fabric of lighthouse lore was restored!

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This piece is part of the West Cliff Drive Tour. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.

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  1. Sources Used

    • Lighthouse Point: Illuminating Santa Cruz. Frank A. Perry. Santa Cruz, California: Otter B Books; 2002.

    • This little light of ours: Santa Cruz could take ownership of Abbott Lighthouse beam. J. M. Brown. Santa Cruz Sentinel. July 8, 2013. http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_23622859/this-little-light-ours-santa-cruz-could-take
    • Solid beam shines from lighthouse once again. S. McCord. Santa Cruz Sentinel. December 19, 2013.
      http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/santacruz/ci_24762930/solid-beam-shines-from-lighthouse-once-again



About The Author

I really enjoy field trips. I love being in a cool place and having someone tell me about it. The problem is, you can’t always find a professor or park ranger-type to tell you all they know about the local rocks, plants, and history. So I decided to combine my love of things natural with mobile technology.

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2 Comments

  1. Marilyn Faught

    I would like to tell you once again how much I enjoy your blogs and how well written and informative they are.

    My father and his family moved to Santa Cruz from WI in 1926 and I was born and raised thete from 1947 until 1992 when my family moved to WA state.

    Thank you again for your “labor of love” in bringing the rich history of Santa Cruz back to life for all who love the good old days of yesteryear!

    Marilyn Faught

    Reply

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