Twenty miles south of Half Moon Bay, the Pigeon Point Lighthouse looms. The iconic structure has withstood more than a century of harsh weather and decades as the preferred backdrop for family vacation photos.
California State Parks is hosting a 147th anniversary celebration of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse from 1 to 7 p.m. this Saturday. There will be a food truck and native plant sales along with a variety of other activities, from kids games to live music from the Lighthouse String Band and Open Heartstrings Americana. There’s also a book-signing with maritime author JoAnn Semones and, for good measure, a 1900s steam-powered printing press producing limited-edition anniversary prints.
“It’s a celebration of an important piece of California history,” said State Parks interpreter Joseph Rogers. “Especially at this phase, when we’re doing major reconstruction next year. So this is sort of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the tower at this stage in its history.”
The renovation, slated to begin next spring or summer, is the result of $9 million in funding from the state’s deferred maintenance budget, meant to fix and create public access to the upper third of the lighthouse tower.
For those curious to see the inside of the tower, there are 30-minute guided tours available from 1 to 5 p.m. Visitors will be able to go inside the keeper’s office and up to the first floor.
“This is only the second year in nearly 20 years we’ve allowed people inside the lighthouse tower at all,” Rogers said. “It’s definitely pretty special.”
The lighthouse has a rich history dating back to the 19th century. It was named after the clipper ship Carrier Pigeon was wrecked on the rocks in 1852. Three more shipwrecks occurred in the area before Congress appropriated $90,000 in 1871. The lighthouse was operational on Nov. 15, 1872. It used a first order Fresnel lens that weighed more than 2,000 pounds and included over 1,000 individual prisms and had to be lit with an 8-foot-tall lard oil lamp. It was originally fueled by kerosene, then oil vapor, then in 1926 transitioned to a 1,000-watt bulb.
From 5 to 7 p.m. during Saturday’s celebration, visitors will get to see a rare sight as the Fresnel lens, now located in the visitors center, is lit. In 1974, the lighthouse became automated and the Fresnel lens was retired but remained atop the tower. In 2001, a piece of iron broke off and fell, and the lighthouse has been closed to the public ever since.
The U.S. Coast Guard transferred ownership to California State Parks in 2005, and six years later State Parks gained full ownership of the lighthouse.
Rogers said the annual celebration draws about 1,500 people. In years past, when the Fresnel lens was at the top of the structure, some 3,000 people came for the event.