The first Point Arena Lighthouse was constructed in 1870. Its brick and mortar tower featured ornate iron balcony supports and a large Keeper residence with enough space to house several families. In April of 1906, a devastating earthquake struck the tower. In the town itself, many buildings were reduced to rubble, and at the Light Station, the Keeper’s residence and Lighthouse were damaged so severely that they were rendered condemned, and ultimately torn down.
The new Lighthouse began operation in 1908. It stands 115 feet tall, and features a 1st Order Fresnel Lens, over six feet in diameter and weighing more than six tons. The lens is made up of 666 hand-ground glass prisms. This incredible optic, that holds an appraised value of over $3.5 million, is set in solid brass framework, built in France.
Prior to the introduction of electricity, the lens was rotated by a clockwork mechanism. The Keepers, or “wickies” as they were called, had to hand crank a 160-pound weight up the center shaft of the lighthouse every 75 minutes to keep the lens turning. The light was produced by a “Funks” hydraulic oil lamp, that needed to be refueled every four hours, and whose wicks would have to be trimmed regularly. Later, two 1,000 watt electric lamps were installed to replace the oil lamp, and a 1/8 horsepower electric motor was installed to replace the clockworks.
In 1978, the fog signal at the station was silenced, and a bell buoy was placed nearby. June of 1977 brought the installation of an aircraft-type beacon on the tower, and the historic Fresnel Lens was discontinued. The aircraft beacon was later replaced by a modern rotating light that incorporates the Fresnel principles for the efficient projection of light. This was replaced in 2015 by an LED array.
In addition, a beacon, with a 50-mile signal that originates from the station, also assists mariners. The original oil lamp was visible for approximately 18 miles, the Fresnel Lens for 21.5 nautical miles, the current VLB-44 LED array is visible from up to 14 nautical miles.