Point Piños Light


caption = Point Pinos Lighthouse, Pacific Grove, CA, USA
location = South entrance to Monterey Bay, near Pacific Grove, California
coordinates =
yearbuilt = 1855
yearlit = 1855
automated = 1975
yeardeactivated =
foundation = Stone
construction = Brick tower in stone house
shape = Conical on square house
marking = White
height = 89 feet above sea level
elevation =
lens = Third order Fresnel lens
currentlens =
intensity =
range =
characteristic =
admiralty = G3992
USCG = 6-0290

Point Pinos Light was built in 1855 to guide ships on the Pacific coast of California. It is the oldest continuously-operating lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States and even the lens is original. Alcatraz Island Lighthouse preceded Point Pinos by 8 months, but was replaced in 1909 by the expanding military prison. It is still an active Coast Guard aid to navigation. Museum exhibits and other functions are operated by the city of Pacific Grove, Monterey County, California. The lighthouse is surrounded by the Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Links. Point Pinos is often misspelled Point Piños.

The present light source, located 89 feet (27 m) above sea level, is a 1 kilowatt bulb, which produces a 50,000 candela beam visible under favorable conditions up to 15 miles (24 km) distant. Formerly, the light had a rigid schedule of being lit one hour prior to sunset, and extinguished one hour after sunrise. With automation completed in 1975, a small battery-operated back-up strobe light was installed outside the tower, and the main light was turned on permanently. The present signal has a simple 3-second on/1-second off signature. As a further navigational aid, a Class D radio beacon operated continuously which had a range of up to 20 miles (30 km). A foghorn was also located below the lighthouse closer to shore which could be turned on manually by the Coast Guard personnel when lack of visibility warranted its use. With the advent of global positioning satellite navigation in 1993, the radio beacon and foghorn were deactivated.


The light is a third order Fresnel with lenses, prisms and mechanism manufactured in France in 1853. A larger, second order light had been planned, but delay in shipment caused the present light, originally destined for the Fort Point Lighthouse in San Francisco, to be installed instead. The first light source was a whale oil lantern in which the oil was forced up from a tank by a gravity-operated piston. A falling weight mechanism rotated a metal shutter around the light causing the beam to be cut off to seaward for 10 out of every 30 seconds. Lard oil soon replaced whale oil, and in turn was replaced by kerosene in 1880. At the turn of the century, an incandescent vapor lamp was used, followed by electric lights in 1915.

Point Pinos was named by the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602 during an exploration of the California coastline for the Count of Monterrey, the acting Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico). The name Punta de los Pinos translated to "Point of the Pines", an appropriate designation for the thickly wooded northern tip of the Monterey Peninsula where the pines grew almost to the water's edge. The Franciscan missionaries explored the point from their camp near the Carmel River in 1769. The diaries of Father Crespi mention a freshwater pond located on the point which is now considered to be Crespi Pond, situated on the edge of the golf course just past the lighthouse.

The point was originally part of a large parcel of 2,667 acres (11 km²) granted to Jose Maria Armenta in 1833 by the Mexican government, and regranted to Jose Abrego in 1844. In 1850, after the Mexican-American War and the American acquisition of Alta California, Congress appropriated funds for the construction of lighthouses on the West Coast. In 1852, the Secretary of the Treasury ordered the building of seven beacons along the California coast, one of which was to be located at Point Piños, the dangerous southern entrance to the Monterey Bay. The government purchased 25 acres (101,000 m²) of the Rancho Punta de los Piños for this purpose, with an additional 67 acres (271,000 m²) being purchased later on. Construction began in 1853, but difficulties with the delivery of the lenses and prisms from France delayed the opening of the lighthouse until 1855.

The first lightkeeper was Charles Layton, appointed to the post at $1000 per year. He was killed in 1856 while serving as a member of the sheriff's posse chasing the notorious outlaw, Anastacio Garcia. He was succeeded by his widow, Charlotte, who remained head lightkeeper until 1860, when she married her assistant lightkeeper, George Harris. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of visiting lightkeeper Allen Luce in 1879 after a long walk through the woods from Monterey, praising Luce's hospitality, piano playing, ship models and oil paintings. He wrote about the light in his book "From Scotland to Silverado".

The most famous lightkeeper was Mrs. Emily Fish, who served from 1893 to 1914. She was called the "Socialite Keeper" due to her love of entertaining guests at the lighthouse.

Additional reading

* Crompton, Samuel Willard & Michael J. Rhein, "The Ultimate Book of Lighthouses" (2002) ISBN 1592231020; ISBN 978-1592231027.
* Jones, Ray & Bruce Roberts, "American Lighthouses" (Globe Pequot, September 1, 1998, 1st Ed.) ISBN 0762703245; ISBN 978-0762703241.
* Jones, Ray,"The Lighthouse Encyclopedia, The Definitive Reference" (Globe Pequot, January 1, 2004, 1st ed.) ISBN 0762727357; ISBN 978-0762727353.
* Noble, Dennis, "Lighthouses & Keepers: U. S. Lighthouse Service and Its Legacy" (Annapolis: U. S. Naval Institute Press, 1997). ISBN 1557506388; ISBN 9781557506382.
* Putnam, George R., "Lighthouses and Lightships of the United States", (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1933).
* United States Coast Guard, "Aids to Navigation", (Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1945).
* [http://www.uscg.mil/History/weblighthouses/h_lhbib.asp United States Coast Guard, "Aids to Navigation Historical Bibliography".]

External links

* [http://www.ci.pg.ca.us/lighthouse Point Pinos Lighthouse]
* [http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-cp/history/WEBLIGHTHOUSES/LHCA.html USCG site]

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