The Original 8: Point Loma Lighthouse

SAN DIEGO—Eight lighthouses were built on the Pacific Coast during the mid-1800s. One of those lighthouses – the Old Point Loma Lighthouse – is still standing a few miles away from Downtown San Diego. The lighthouse had a steady run from its inception in 1854 until its last days in 1891. By 1913 the lighthouse became part of the Cabrillo National Monument, but the historic building became functional again in the 1940s, when the Navy used it as a signal tower.

One of the reasons the Old Point Loma Lighthouse didn’t last too long: it was considered to be highest of all lighthouses in the United States, located 422 feet above sea level. A narrative about the Old Point Loma Lighthouse published by the National Park Service stated the high elevation was likely the reason for the building’s downfall.

“Point Loma Lighthouse … had not been in service long before it was obvious that its elevation would be its undoing; too often its light was obscured by fog and low clouds,” the National Park Service narrative about Old Point Loma Lighthouse stated.

The old lighthouse had 11 principal keepers and 22 assistant keepers in its 36 years of operation, according to the National Park Service.

“Low pay, isolation, distance from town and water collection likely influenced the high turnover,” the National Park Service narrative of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse stated. “The last keeper at the old lighthouse was Robert Israel. He stayed for 18 years and then transferred to the new Point Loma Lighthouse and stayed there one more year.”

A new lighthouse was built at a lower elevation in March 1891. There was actually a directive to demolish the old lighthouse altogether in 1913. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse, however, was popular with tourists. There was also a movement in 1913 to build a statue commemorating Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who had sailed into San Diego in the 1500s.

It only made sense, apparently, to create a national monument at the old lighthouse – and build a statue on the land. The statue was never built at the lighthouse, however. But Cabrillo National Monument still exists and thousands of people visit the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.

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