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. The April 1906 earthquake struck the light station. The keeper’s residence and lighthouse were damaged so severely they had to be demolished. 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 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. The optics, which held an appraised value of over $3.5 million, was set in solid brass framework, and was built in France.
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 “Funck” 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.
Below are three recent photos of the Point Arena Lighthouse.