Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Photo Essay: Finding the Light at Point Vicente

Nearly every day, I hear about some place in Southern California that piques my interest, and I say (sometimes, to myself), "I'll have to add that to my map."

In truth, I have a custom map for LA and each of its neighboring counties: Santa Barbara, Ventura, Kern, Inyo, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego – in addition to Vegas, NYC, South Dakota, and other regions I might visit around the country. Bookmarking all of these places for future visits can get a little overwhelming.

Not to mention my calendar, which is dominated by events I probably won't get to, often triple- and quadruple-booking myself on any given Saturday or weeknight. I know I can't do everything, but I like to keep my options open. I like to have a fallback plan. I like to make a last minute, sometimes knee-jerk decision about what I'm going to do on any given day or night. For me, not having any plan is the worst (unless that was the plan).

Still, I feel a bit stalked by some of my recurring calendar events – those museums, sites and institutions that are only open quarterly or monthly, the first Friday or the second Sunday or some other such schedule – whose reminders come and go sometimes for years on end, each time making me feel exasperated that I've got something else to do and I'm going to be missing out on that thing again.

But there's always next month, right?



I've had the Point Vicente Lighthouse on my map and calendar for over two years, when I went trespassing through a nearby former NIKE missile site, just up the hill, with the lighthouse in clear view. It wasn't open that day.



Since then, I've managed to tour its two neighboring lighthouses (Point Fermin and Angel's Gate), but Point Vicente – still a working lighthouse, whose beacon is essential to mariners in the Catalina Channel – was still hanging over my head.



Although it was bright and sunny when I first found myself at Point Vicente two years ago...



...it seemed more appropriate that my return visit occur on a day whose weather conditions were so drippy and murky, they actually necessitated a harbor light (and foghorn) such as this.



The grounds have the feeling of an abandoned military site...



...but this is far from abandoned...



...which is why access to it is so limited.



It is a designated historic site...



...but it's also an active residential facility for U.S. Coast Guard personnel, who are housed in a few small Spanish tile-roofed barracks.



The lighthouse itself stands 67 feet tall...



...though it's cliffside location allows its light beam to rise 185 feet above ocean level.



Installed in 1926 as a result of a public petition for it, the Point Vicente Lighthouse made the rocky waters of the Pacific Ocean far less treacherous for sea-faring vessels...



...which would otherwise often become distressed and wreck.



Radio operations were added in the 1930s, and the lighthouse was manned (by lighthousekeepers and radiomen) until 1971, when automated equipment and remote control took over.



It's a bit dank and rusty on a rainy day...



...but the concrete structure is still in very good condition...



...and ready for climbing to the top.



Up the spiral staircase...



...you see a few signs of wear and tear...



...which, of course, makes it a delight for someone like me.



I like being able to witness the layers of history, each era marked by their own color.



I think old things should look old.



I hate to see the cracks covered up.



As you reach the top, you get a good view of the grounds below...



...but the staircase becomes so steep and narrow, you really have to hold on...



...and keep your eyes ahead.



You're not allowed to actually enter the very top level...



...since it is still a working lighthouse...



...but you can climb up to the top stair...



...and get a good view of that rotating lantern...



...which contains a third-order Fresnel lens...



...and an incandescent light bulb.



The original light was 1000 watts, and could be seen for 20 miles (though it was dimmed during World War II for security purposes).



After the war, when the light was resumed to its full bright capacity, the 360ยบ beacon became an annoyance to the residential communities of Palos Verdes, whose homeowners and motorists were somewhat blinded by its glaring light prisms.



In response, the insides of some of the inland-facing windows were painted to block out the bulk of the light, but some of it still managed to shine through, creating a ghostly apparition of a tall woman in a flowing gown ("The Lady of the Light") who appeared to be pacing the tower's walkway.

Some say she's the ghost of a heartbroken woman who fell to her death off the cliffs into the same sea that took her sailor lover, forever waiting to be reunited with him.

I wanted to stay in that lantern room all day, but Point Vicente Lighthouse is a popular tourist destination even in the rain, and there was a long line forming behind me. I had to leave.

And although I finally did get to make my visit, it still doesn't feel complete: I think I need to go back on a nice, clear, sunny day to get the full experience.

So, for now, it will stay on my calendar...

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Trespassing Through Southland's Military History
Photo Essay: The Light at Angel's Gate
Photo Essay: Point Fermin, Keeping Watch Over the San Pedro Bay
Losing My Light