Ballast Point Lighthouse

Oct. 30, 2019

Ballast Point Lighthouse, Ballast Point, San Diego Bay, San Diego, California

Built in 1890, deactivated in 1960.


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By Harmon Lougher, Photographer’s Mate First Class

Ballast Point is a tiny peninsula extending from Point Loma into the channel entrance to the harbor of San Diego. The point derived its name from the fact that the early Yankee skippers would have stones gathered from Ballast Point to serve as ballast in their vessels during their returns around the Horn to their home town, Boston.

Cabrillo sailed from the Port of Navidad in 1542 and, after bucking head winds and seas for five months, sighted the Coronado Islands. As he continued on, the headland of Point Loma rose from the sea. Working his way past the kelp beds he dropped anchor in the quiet waters inside the present Ballast Point on September 28th, 1542. Cabrillo tarried for six days in this spacious harbor which he named San Miguel. Sixty years passed before the placid waters around Ballast Point were again disturbed by deep-sea keels, when Sebastian Vizcaino anchored on November 10th, 1602. He renamed the harbor San Diego in honor of that Saint's day. In 1769, Spain decided to occupy the vast territory by converting the Indians to the Catholic faith and teaching them domestic pursuits. By this time little transports were coming with supplies on a haphazard schedule, and when the Clipper ship Aranzaya arrived in 1795, she brought three workmen and the necessary timber to build a fort at Ballast Point, or as it was known at that time, Point Guizarros.

Up to the late eighteen forties, the bay was a favorite resort for whales during the calving season. Shore whaling was a natural for the people in this area since the whales reversed the usual procedure and came to the whaler. The carcases were towed to Ballast Point where the blubber was boiled in 150-gallon try pots.

In 1890, Ballast Point Lighthouse was constructed. The original buildings consisted of two dwellings and a light tower which was part of the keeper’s quarters. The light was a fifth order fixed classical lens with a green shade, inside a brass and glass lantern with a focal height of 34-feet. The tower itself was a white square tower.

In June of this year, the old dwellings were torn down leaving the tower free standing; however, during repairs to the tower it was found to be unstable due to failure of the brick and mortar foundation. It was decided to relocate the light on top of the fog signal building and demolish the tower. The Cabrillo National Monument, National Park Service, requested the lens and light for their museum soon to be built. Arrangements have been made for that Service to remove the lantern and lens prior to the demolition of the tower. The new light is a standard 375MM lens with storm panes, which will be an occulting white, six-second light, three-seconds off, three seconds on.

The old light used a 120-volt, 300-watt lamp, giving 1700 candlepower. The new light, even though it uses a slightly smaller lamp, 32-volt, 250-watt, will give 9000 candlepower, due to the increased efficiency of the filament and the removal of the green shade. The fog signal is a single tone diaphone which emits 1 blast every 15 seconds. In the event the diaphone becomes inoperative, the men on station are required to ring a large bell by hand, with one stroke every 15 seconds. As a matter of interest it is noted the diaphone has never been inoperative since installation in 1926. Adjacent to the light structure are located a new three-bedroom and a four-bedroom duplex type dwelling, completely furnished which house resident personnel and their families. The new light has been shown from its new location since 5 August, and the demolition of the old tower is presently being accomplished. Ballast Point was the last lighthouse displaying a fixed light on the Pacific Coast.