Point Arguello Lighthouse

Oct. 1, 2019

Point Arguello Lighthouse, Point Arguello, Santa Barbara Channel, Santa Barbara, California

Originally built in 1901, the tower and keeper's house was replaced with a stand-alone tower in 1911.  In 1934, that tower was replaced with a square pyramidal skeletal steel tower, a modern optic has since been installed on a post.


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Historical Information:

The area of land now known as Point Arguello was originally known by the Canalino Indian name "Nocto" and was part of the territory ruled at the time of the advent of the Mission Fathers by Chief Salipuata. The Indians were part of the third people indigenous to the area, the Canalinos. In prehistoric times, a people of Mongolian stock in all probability had first settled along the Southern California coast in areas where oak trees were plentiful, from which characteristic they had been called "The Oak Tree (Grove) People". They vanished some hundreds of years before the beginning of the Christian ear, and after a period yielding no archaeological remains, a second group, also probably Mongolian in origin and semi-nomadic in habits arrived. These "hunting people" gradually merged with a third race, the Canalinos, on the latter’s arrival.

On August 28, 1769, the Portola expedition camped near Point Arguello, where they found a small Indian rancheria, the locale of which abounded in excellent flints, whence they named it Los Pederales (The Flints). This name continued to be used off the point on Spanish maps until the Mexican revolution. The American and European designation was Point Arguello, from the name assigned by Vancouver in 1793, in honor of Jose Mario Arguello, then Commandant at Monterey.

The history of Point Arguello during the next century, indeed to modern times, has been one of shipwrecks, the area having been termed the "Graveyard of the pacific"; probably the most famous tragedy was the wreck of the "Yankee Blade" on the 1st of October 1854. 415 people perished when the steamship hit the rocks 200 to 300 yards offshore. She carried a fortune in gold bullion which has since been recovered.

In recent times what has been called the U.S. Navy’s greatest peacetime disaster occurred off the Point; the sinking seven 4-stacker destroyers and the loss of 22 men on the same rocks that smashed the "Yankee Blade", September 9, 1923. Mariners say that the chief reason that so many boats have struck there is that in bad weather typical of that shoreline, sailing a boat into the channel between San Miguel Island and Points Arguello and Conception is like sailing into the eye of a needle. In 1901, the lighthouse service built a light station at Point Arguello. Between 1934 and 1938, increased in coastwise shipping necessitated the service establish a lifeboat station.

On July 1, 1939, the Lighthouse Service was combined with the Coast Guard to augment the Service by 8,000 men who took their place in forming a nucleus for our present day light stations and aids to navigation work. During the interim of World War II, the Coast Guard manned Point Arguello Light and Point Arguello Lifeboat station, as well as a newly established LORAN Station. After 12 years-operation following the War, it was deemed economical to disestablish the lifeboat station and so in 1958, Point Arguello Lifeboat Station was retired.

Point Arguello light is unique in that it is a key synoptic reporting point for national weather maps. The Loran station broadcasts navigational references to passing ships, and the light station disseminates information upon which fog and cloud conditions for Southern California are based. Facilities at the light include a 36-inch revolving beacon of 1,100,000 candle power that can be seen approximately 17 miles at sea. The light itself is 124 feet above the water. A two-tone diaphone fog signal is placed in operation when visibility is less than five miles. The diaphone when operating is synchronized with a radio beacon every three minutes for distance finding. Point Arguello presently has an allowance of 12 enlisted personnel. Accommodations are available for eight families at the unit.  (February 10, 1968)