Point Loma Light, San Diego

Point Loma Light, San Diego

by | Sep 5, 2021

New Point Loma Light is a lighthouse station at the southern tip of Point Loma, a peninsula with a prominent headland that forms the western shore of San Diego Bay, about 12 miles (19 km) south of La Jolla and 5.6 miles (9 km) southwest of downtown San Diego, California. The original Spanish name of the peninsula was La Punta de la Loma de San Diego, translated as Hill Point of San Diego. This was later anglicized to Point Loma. The Point Loma peninsula forms a natural protective barrier at the entrance to San Diego Bay, rising 422 feet (129 m), and provides strategic views of the harbor and ocean. In 1852, the U.S. government recognized the importance of this massive sandstone rampart and designated the area as a military reserve. In 1899, the War Department dedicated Fort Rosecrans and built a series of gun batteries over the years. During World War I and II, military facilities on the point provided vital coastal and harbor defense systems that remained active until 1945. In 1959, Fort Rosecrans was turned over to the U.S. Navy, and in 1998, the six naval installations on Point Loma were consolidated as Naval Base Point Loma. The lighthouse is situated on a U.S. Coast Guard reservation that is within Naval Base Point Loma, bordered to the north by Cabrillo National Monument. The park was established to commemorate Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who led the first European expedition to explore what is now the west coast of the United States.

Evidence from shell middens suggests that the first inhabitants of the region may have arrived 10,000 years ago. Yuman people began migrating from the east and settling the area about 3,000 years ago and became known as the Kumeyaay. The Kumeyaay occupied scattered villages across the region but there were no permanent indigenous settlements on Point Loma because of a lack of fresh water. Kumeyaay people may have used seasonal camps to harvest mussels, clams, abalone, and lobsters. In 1542, the Portuguese navigator Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo departed from Mexico and led an expedition for the Spanish crown to explore the west coast of what is now the United States. Cabrillo described San Diego Bay and historians believe he docked his flagship on Point Loma’s east shore, probably at Ballast Point. In 1769, Mission San Diego was founded by Spanish friar Junípero Serra in an area long inhabited by the Kumeyaay people. The mission was situated in the San Diego River valley, but used a beach on the bayside of Point Loma called La Playa as a landing. The historic La Playa Trail, the oldest European trail on the west coast, led from the Mission and Presidio to La Playa, where ships anchored and unloaded their cargoes via small boats. In 1854, a small two-story lighthouse was built at the summit of the headland to mark the entrance of the harbor.

The lighthouse was at 422 feet (129 m) above sea level, and the location proved to be a poor choice since fog and clouds often obscured the light beam for approaching vessels. A new light was built on Pelican Point, a level area at the southern extreme of Point Loma only 88 feet (27 m) above sea level. Brick and lumber were delivered to the point in September 1889, and by the following spring, two Victorian-era cottages along with a concrete foundation for the lighthouse were completed. The tubular lighthouse tower, manufactured by Phoenix Iron Works in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania rolled into San Diego aboard two flatcars of the Southern California Railroad on July 5, 1890. The pyramidal tower is 70 feet (21 m) high and built more for function than aesthetics, is the only one of its kind on the west coast. On March 23, 1891, after 36 years of operation, the old summit light was extinguished and replaced with the light near sea level. This lighthouse was fully automated in 1973, and in 2002, the Fresnel lens was dismantled, removed from the tower, and placed in storage. After being restored, the lens was placed on display in 2004 in the replica keeper’s dwelling constructed adjacent to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. In February 2013, an energy-efficient light array was installed atop the lighthouse. Today, the light keepers’ quarters continue to house U.S. Coast Guard officers, who are fortunate to enjoy the prime oceanfront property. Read more here and here. Explore more of Point Loma Light and San Diego Bay here:

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This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2019 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

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