Palos Verdes Peninsula’s Point Fermin Lighthouse
Point Fermin Lighthouse was the first navigational light into the San Pedro Bay and was built in 1874. Phineas Banning along with local support had petitioned the Government and the US lighthouse Board to place a lighthouse on the point in 1854, but because of funding and land disputes the construction did not start until 1874.
Paul J. Pelz was a draftsman for the US Lighthouse Board, and he designed the Stick Style Victorian lighthouse which is characterized by its Victorian architectural style with gabled roofs, horizontal siding, decorative cross beams and hand carved porch railings. That same design was used for six other lighthouses between 1873 and 1874.
Lighthouse Keepers were a staff of federal employees whose job was to keep the light lit as a beacon for ships, maintain the lighthouse lens, and the general up-keep of the building. Point Fermin’s first lighthouse keepers were women. Mary and Ella Smith came from a lighthouse family and their brother Victor, a Washington Territory customs officer.
Captain George Shaw took over as the lighthouse keeper position shortly after the Smith sister’s resigned in 1882. Shaw was a retired sea captain but he refused to retire far from his beloved sea and was delighted by the opportunity to serve as the keeper at Point Fermin. He was the first keeper at Point Fermin to wear the US Lighthouse Service uniform, which was required of all employees in 1884.
The last keepers of the Point Fermin Light were the Austin family which moved into the lighthouse in 1917. William Austin had served as keeper at two other California lighthouses, Point Arena and Point Conception, before coming to Point Fermin.This was the first time the lighthouse had children occupying it, and later two of the eight children actually took over after their parents death until 1927, when management of the light was turned over to the City of Los Angeles until 1941.On December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed and the coast was blacked out for fear of being a beacon to enemy ships and planes. Sadly, the light was never to be lit again. I
In 1972, two devoted citizens, Bill Olesen and John Olguin, raised funds and worked diligently to replace the lantern room and the lighthouse to its original glory for her 100th birthday in 1974. Their efforts also placed the lighthouse on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2002, the lighthouse was restored, retrofitted, and rehabilitated for public access with funds from the City of Los Angeles, the Port of Los Angeles, and the State of California. The lighthouse was opened to the public on November 1, 2003 under the management of the Department of Recreation and Parks for the City of Los Angeles. Volunteers from the Point Fermin Lighthouse Society serve as tour guides and help to keep the lighthouse open to the public.
Photo courtesy of the City of Los Angeles.