Point Vicente Lighthouse: a “haunted” landmark on the coast of Southern California5 min read
Point Vicente Lighthouse is located in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, United States, north of Los Angeles Harbor. It is 20 m tall and stands on a cliff with a height of 40 m, that places the center of the lantern 56 m above the ocean.
Between Point Loma Lighthouse to the south and Point Conception Lighthouse to the north, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Point Vicente Lighthouse was built in 1926, following years of complaints by shippers about the dangerous waters around the Palos Verdes peninsula.
The peninsula is the most prominent coastal feature between Point Loma to the south and Point Conception to the north. When Captain George Vancouver sailed along its shores in 1793, he named the southwest tip of the peninsula Point Vincente, in honor of his friend, Friar Vincente of the Mission San Buenaventura. It was the Pacific Geographical Society that changed the spelling of the point’s name from Vincente to Vicente in 1933.
Despite the point’s prominence, funding for a lighthouse to mark this turning point into the harbors of San Pedro and Long Beach was not approved until 1916, and the light atop cylindrical tower was not exhibited until April 14, 1926.
The most striking feature in the lighthouse was the classical third-order rotating Parisian Fresnel Lens located in the lantern. This particular lens was manufactured in Paris, France, by Barbier, Benard, et Turenne, the oldest lens making company in the world. This lens is made up of hand-ground prisms held in place by a cast brass frame. It has often been said that the lens was transferred from a light station in Alaska after forty years of service there, although the first U.S. lighthouse in Alaska was not activated until 1902. It is more likely true that the lens came directly from France, as stated in a newspaper article published just weeks before Point Vicente Lighthouse was activated.
Either way, when it was active, the 1.1 million candlepower-beam had a nominal (clear weather) visible range of 24 nautical miles (44 km or 28 mi). Now removed from the lantern room, the lens is on display at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center.
This lighthouse once incorporated also a foghorn to audibly warn ships during times of low visibility which are common to the area, dismantled in the early 2000s.
George L’Hommedieu was brought in from Mile Rocks Lighthouse near San Francisco to serve as the first head keeper of the light, while First Assistant Harry Davis and Second Assistant Keeper Ben South were respectively transferred from Alcatraz Island and Piedras Blancas.
Keeper L’Hommedieu and his assistants at Point Vicente had trouble getting along from the beginning even though L’Hommedieu and Davis had served together at Mile Rocks Lighthouse. In December 1925, Davis sent a letter to the district superintendent charging Keeper L’Hommedieu with using profane language and leaving the station without notifying the first assistant, but these charges were just a prelude to more serious charges a few years later.
In August 1929, Second Assistant Keeper Raymond J. Deurloo sent a letter to the district superintendent that resulted in Keeper L’Hommedieu being charged with having made slanderous remarks against the wife of First Assistant Keeper Frederick Zimmermann, with having used foul language in the presence of the assistants, with having threatened the lives of the first assistant and his wife, with being intoxicated on the station grounds, and with failing to pull down the lantern room curtains after sunrise.
Just days before Deurloo filed his complaint, Keeper L’Hommedieu’s collie chased the Zimmermanns’ two cats near the station gate, which resulted in another heated confrontation.
However, L’Hommedieu denied the various allegations and then brought some grievances of his own to the attention of the superintendent. Assistant Superintendent F.J. Otter was assigned to investigate the charges and stated that there has been considerable friction at Point Vicente Light Station between the keeper and his two assistants for some time, and while some of the charges are of a serious nature, there are many of them of a petty nature and found to be considerably magnified.
L’Hommedieu has been as good as the average keeper in the District and it has not been found necessary to make serious charges against him in the past, and the Light Station, worked well due to his efforts.
Eventually all three keepers were reprimanded, and Keeper L’Hommedieu was soon transferred to Piedras Blancas Lighthouse where he apparently managed to get along with his assistants quite well until his retirement in 1934.
The light source was dimmed to just 25 watts during World War II to avoid aiding Japanese submarines, which menaced shipping along the coast. After the war, nearby residents complained about the bright flashes when the light was returned to its normal power, so the landward side of the lantern room was painted an opaque, pearly white.
The light from the rotating lens seen through the opaque lantern room windows created the illusion of a woman pacing the tower’s walkway and gave rise to another good ghost story, “Lady of the Light”.
Some said the ghost was the spirit of a woman who leaped into the sea when her lover was lost in a shipwreck off the point, while others claimed she was the broken-hearted wife of a lighthouse keeper who had fallen to his death from the point’s lofty bluffs.
According to another version, a lady lost her lover to the rocky coast below. When his ship was wrecked she took to wandering the cliffs, determined that he would one day return. She waits to this day and can be seen floating along the lighthouse parapet on foggy, miserable nights, accompanied by the occasional, solemn wail of a foghorn.
In any case, in 1955, a thicker coat of paint ended the spirit’s nightly walk around the tower, and the ghost has not been seen officially since.
Although automated in 1971 by a remote electronic aids-to-navigation monitoring system, the station, complete with its three keeper’s quarters and a fog signal building, still houses Coast Guard personnel. Tourists are allowed to climb the tower’s seventy-four steps during an open house held monthly by the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Its lens still revolves in the lantern room, producing two white flashes repeating that pair every 20 seconds, with an emergency light of reduced intensity that operates if the main light is extinguished. Powered by a 1,000-watt bulb, the light is rated at 437,000 candle power and can be seen up to twenty miles at sea.
Images from web – Google Research