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Long Beach History - Paying Homage to our Lighthouses

Beatrix Whipple
Feb 16 5 minutes read



Long Beach is home to the second largest container port in The United States, after the Port of Los Angeles. The Long Beach Port covers 25 miles of oceanfront and brings in an annual $100 billion dollars in trade from its massive cargo ships. Before more efficient and cost-effective navigational tools were discovered, lighthouses were constructed in order to protect mariners and their cargo, lighting their way to shore.

Unbeknownst to most locals, there are six lighthouses speckled along the coast of Long Beach Harbor. In the city of San Pedro are the older lighthouses: Point Fermin, Angel’s Gate and Point Vicente. In Long Beach, the more modern: Rainbow Harbor Lighthouse, Parker’s Lighthouse, and the Long Beach Harbor Lighthouse. Of these six, only Angel’s Gate and the Long Beach Harbor Lighthouse are functioning.

The oldest lighthouse and first navigational light in the area is Point Fermin. Constructed in 1874, this Victorian-style lighthouse is marked by gabled roofs and decorative cross beams. It’s bright light was blacked out after Pearl Harbor was bombed - for fear the beam would attract enemy ships and planes. It hasn’t been lit since, but has been restored and serves now as a popular historical site.

The next lighthouse to be built is Angel’s Gate, a 73-foot Romanesque tower, which was completed in 1913. The tower is attached to a giant concrete slab with its structural steel framework anchoring it in place atop the rocky breakwater. Mariners to this day are guided by the lighthouse’s one-of-kind rotating emerald light.

In 1926, the classically-styled Point Vicente Lighthouse was built. Breathtaking views at breathtaking heights, this lighthouse is 67 feet tall and stands on a cliff that is 130 feet above the sea. The structure was fitted with a mesmerizing Parisian Fresnel Lens - five feet in length and known as “the invention that saved one million ships''. Point Vicente was manned by a keeper up until 1971, when it became automated by a remote control.

The Long Beach Harbor Lighthouse, nicknamed “The Robot Light”, has been a navigational aid to mariners since 1949. It lays at the end of the breakwater, reaching three stories tall on its six concrete cylindrical legs. They call it “The Robot Light” not only because of its boxy appearance, but also because it is unmanned. When it was built, “The Robot Light” was a momentous achievement in automated navigation and its inception marked Long Beach Port as "America’s most modern port" following World War II. While it might be a departure in the style and appearance of a traditional lighthouse, it’s odd and unsightly structure was built to withstand powerful winds and tempestuous seas. If there are no ships obscuring your view, you can spot the comically robotic lighthouse while standing at the Bluff Park on Ocean and Cherry. 

Fifth on the list is Parker’s Lighthouse, but don’t be fooled by its name or design. This isn’t a real lighthouse, but an award-winning steakhouse meant to look like one. Built in 1983, this three-tiered building, although not bright enough to guide ships, boasts panoramic views of Rainbow Harbor to its guests.

Across Rainbow Harbor is another faux-lighthouse. Undoubtedly the most recognizable of Long Beach’s lighthouses and most traditional in style is the Rainbow Harbor Lighthouse, which is located next to the Aquarium of the Pacific. Built in 2000, this lighthouse stands 65 feet tall on a perfectly manicured grassy knoll in the Shoreline Aquatic Park. Picnic benches dot the pathway looping around the giant white structure, topped with what one would assume to be a very powerful light beam. It functions purely as an aesthetic and symbolic structure, not a navigational one. Also called Lion’s Lighthouse for Sight, this beacon was built as a representation of the Lion’s Club commitment to curing blindness and aiding those who are visually impaired. The club has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide glasses and eye exams to any Long Beach Unified School District student who needs them. 

While Long Beach’s newest lighthouses don’t function as navigational aids, they pay homage to the lighthouses that came before them and lit the way for the city’s prosperity.

Painting by Jamie Tablason

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