Digest>Archives> July 2010

Wickie's Wisdom

Coast Guard Plans to Seize Lens Is a Travesty

By Timothy Harrison


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Cape Mendocino Lighthouse as it appeared in 1957 ...

Timeline of the Coast Guard’s Ongoing Double Standard for Cape Mendocino Lighthouse

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The original first order Fresnel lens from the ...

In 1948 the United States Coast Guard decided it no longer wanted the gigantic first order Fresnel lens at California’s Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, so they removed it from the tower. Rather than destroy the lens, they gave it to the City of Ferndale, California for long term display at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds where it has remained to this day.

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The abandoned Cape Mendocino Lighthouse in its ...

In 1948 the Coast Guard installed a rotating aero beacon in the lantern room at Cape Mendocino to replace the Fresnel lens.

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The restored Cape Mendocino Lighthouse is now on ...
Photo by: Gene Schwope

In 1951 the Coast Guard automated the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse.

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In 1960 the Coast Guard deliberately set fire to ...

In 1960 the Coast Guard deliberately set fire to all the historic structures, except the lighthouse tower, and destroyed the historic keeper’s house and outbuildings.

In 1971 the Coast Guard removed the rotating beacon from the tower and placed it atop a platform on a pole near the lighthouse. They then abandoned the tower, leaving it to the elements and the fury of Mother Nature.

In 1994 the Coast Guard declared the tower as excess property. By that time the tower was in a massive state of disrepair, totally rusted, heavily damaged and dangerously close to tumbling over the cliff where it would have been smashed to smithereens.

In 1998 the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse Preservation Society stepped forward to save the lighthouse. However, the lighthouse could no longer be saved at its original location. A helicopter lifted the lantern room off the structure and carried it away. Then the base of the tower was meticulously disassembled, piece by piece, and carted away for restoration.

In 2000 the restored Cape Mendocino Lighthouse was opened to the public in Mal Coombs Park in Shelter Cove, California.

In 2008 the Coast Guard notified local officials that the lens, which has been on display in a replica of the lighthouse in Shelter Cove, CA for the past 60 years, did not conform to the safety and security requirements of the Coast Guard and if changes were not made, the Coast Guard would seize the lens, crate it up, and put it into storage so it could be saved for future generations.

Apparently negotiations have not gone as the Coast Guard wanted. Now, in 2010, the Coast Guard has notified local officials again, perhaps for the last time, that the lens in its current location is “unsuitable and in an unsafe environment.” The Coast Guard wrote, “The continued deterioration of the lens, due to a lack of a controlled environment and the potential of, or further damage must be addressed.”

Ferndale City Manager, Jay Parris, says the lens should stay right where it is. To meet the Coast Guard’s new requirements for how the lens should be displayed would cost $350,000. Additionally, if the Coast Guard were to seize the lens, it is estimated that it would cost over $60,000 to disassemble the lens and pack it into crates and haul it away to storage for safekeeping.

It is important to remember that this is the same Coast Guard that, for all practical purposes, gave the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse lens away in 1948 because they did not want it, deliberately destroyed the historic keeper’s house and other out-buildings, abandoned the lighthouse to the elements, and now, after 62 years, wants to take the lighthouse lens back because they don’t like the way it is being displayed.

Once the Coast Guard takes

the lens back and puts it into so-called safe storage, how many years do you think it will remain in storage before the public will ever get another opportunity to see it again? More than likely, it would be moved to the east coast for display in the new proposed Coast Guard museum, which has been put on hold because of the current economic conditions.

Remember, the Coast Guard is dumping its historic lighthouses to other government agencies, nonprofits and private individuals as fast as they can, and they have been getting rid of lighthouse artifacts since 1939, in some cases actually destroying them, and now for some reason they want this one lens back.

The fact that the Coast Guard wants the lens back now after 62 years is a travesty. If they really want to see the lens better protected than the way it is now, perhaps they, along with local officials, should work together as a team to petition Congress for the necessary funds that would be needed to properly display the lens the way they want it to be displayed. Otherwise, leave it where it is. That’s my opinion and I welcome yours.

This story appeared in the July 2010 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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