Edward Hopper, 1927
This week’s arts and culture column begins like this:
Most of us Angelenos live inland.
We can forget that way down at its southernmost tip, our gloriously sprawling city meets the Pacific.
San Pedro’s Paseo del Mar borders that ocean. On it sits a throwback to another age: the Point Fermin Lighthouse Historic Site and Museum.
Built in 1874, the lighthouse has bragging rights to being the first navigational light to guide ships into San Pedro Bay. Architect Paul J. Pelz, a draftsman for the U.S. Lighthouse Board, designed the Stick Style Victorian building. With its gabled roof, gingerbread and balustrades, from the photos it looks now just about exactly the way it did then.
In those days, several points along the Southern California coast had lighthouses. They were staffed by federal employees called lighthouse keepers. Each point had its own “signature” — three short blasts of light; one long, two short.
Interestingly, the first two and the last two keepers of the lighthouse were women.
Sisters Mary and Ella Smith kept watch from 1874 to 1882. Captain George Shaw took over from 1882 until 1904, followed by Irby Holt Engels until 1916. The Austin family and their eight children came in 1917. When Will and Martha Austin died in 1925, their two daughters Thelma and Juanita stepped up and kept the lighthouse until 1927.
From 1927 until 1941, the lighthouse was maintained by the city of LA.
After Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941, the coast went dark for fear of enemy attack. The Point Fermin lantern was never lit again.