Point Pinos was the third lighthouse established on
the West Coast (after Alcatraz and Fort Point) and is the
oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast.
The California cottage (sometimes erroneously referred to as
"Cape Cod style" - see Shanks p. 29) design is standard to
many of the original west-coast lighthouses - a keeper's house
with a lantern room on the roof.
The structure was completed in 1854. The third-order Fresnel
lens was originally slated for use at Fort Point, but that
lighthouse was torn down by the Army shortly after its
construction. The original keeper, Charles Layton, was
killed in November 1854 as a member of a posse pursuing the
bandit Anastacio García.
A local customs collector wrote "his widow,
Charlotte A. Layton and her
four children have been left entirely destitute.
I authorized her to continue
at the post occupied by her late husband...she is industrious and
bears an unblemished reputation."
(Clifford p. 43)
Charlotte lit the lamp in January 1855. She was paid $1000 per year,
which was higher than the salary of East Coast keepers.
Most men on the west were seeking their fortune in the gold fields,
so keepers were difficult to come by and retain. She remained
as keeper until she married George Harris in 1860. Harris
assumed the duties of the keeper shortly thereafter.
Robert Lewis Stevenson visited the lighthouse in 1879. He
was a resident of nearby Monterey at the time. He would
later write of keeper Allen Luce in an article "The Old and
New Pacific Capitols."
"Westward is Point Pinos, with the lighthouse in a
wilderness of sand, where you will find the lighthouse keeper
playing the piano, making models and bows and arrows,
studying dawn and dusk in amateur oil-painting, and with a
dozen other elegant pursuits to surprise his brave,
old-country rivals." - R. L. Stevenson
When Keeper Luce retired in 1893, he was replaced by Emily Fish.
Keeper Fish received the position on the recommendation
of her son-in-law, Inspector Henry Nichols of the U.S.
Lighthouse Service. (Nichols' wife Juliet would later
serve as keeper at Angel Island.)
Keeper Fish would watch over Point Pinos until 1914.
Emily Fish is known as "the socialite lighthouse keeper," -
a distinction she earned with her fashionable tastes and involvement
in the social events of the Monterey Peninsula. But she was also
a meticulous lighthouse keeper. During 21 years as keeper,
she hired over 30 men as assistants.
"Most were discharged for incompetence." (Stumbo, pp. 4-12)
These high standards did not go unnoticed- the station
consistently received high marks during inspections.
The lighthouse was severely jolted by the 1906 earthquake
which destroyed San Francisco. Keeper Fish wrote in
the log on April 18, "At 5:30 a.m. violent and continued
earthquake shocks jarred the lens causing it to bend the
connecting tube and loosened the lens, so it was unstable,
and also enlarged the crack in the tower." The tower was
replaced and the original lens, undamaged by the quake, was
In 1915, the light was electrified, and in 1926 a fog signal
was installed, much to the chagrin of local residents. The
Coast Guard assumed control of the station in 1939.
In 1975, the light was automated, and licensed to the
Pacific Grove Historical Society. The fog signal and radio
beacon were deactivated in 1993. Of the original buildings,
only the lighthouse itself remains today. The lighthouse has
been restored and refurbished. The lighthouse remains very
much as it did in 1854. The original third-order lens still
shines from the station.
In August 2006, the Coast Guard officially transferred the
lighthouse to the city of Pacific Grove, along with
70 acres of surrounding property. The Coast Guard retained
responsibility for maintenance of the light, as well
as the two housing units adjacent to the lighthouse.
Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Nelson pp. 51-54
Emily Fish - Socialite Lighthouse Keeper, Stumbo pp. 4-12
The Old Pacific Capitol, Stevenson
Women who Kept the Lights, Clifford p. 43
Guardians of the Golden Gate Shanks p. 29
The Keeper's Log Fall 2005
Lighthouse Digest June 2006