In 1850 there were no lighthouses on the West Coast, nor had there been much of a need for them. In 1852 Congress commissioned the building of eight lighthouses, seven in California. Point Pinos was one of the original seven. All West Coast lighthouses were to be fitted with a Fresnel-type lens. Invented by Frenchman Augustine Fresnel (pronounced fruh-NELL), this special lens focused its light into a narrow beam directed out to sea. The light source in the center of the lens came from an open flame, originally burning whale oil. Later, lard oil and then kerosene were burned. In the early 1900s the flame was upgraded to an incandescent-vapor flame and in 1919 the light became electric.
The Point Pinos lighthouse was built in 1853–1854. While waiting for our scheduled 2nd-order lens, a third-order lens became available (one of the first two ever shipped to California) and was redirected to Point Pinos. It was installed February 1, 1855 and Point Pinos officially became a lighthouse. From 1855 to 1912 our light was just a bright light at the southern end of Monterey Bay. A rotating shutter (called an eclipser) was installed in 1912 that made the light blink: on for 10 seconds, off for 20 seconds. That was our signature characteristic from 1912 to 1940. Today our light is on 3 out of every 4 seconds and it is done electronically.
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Point Pinos is the oldest "continuously operating" lighthouse anywhere on the Pacific. Technically, it was the second lighthouse ever built (after Alcatraz) but was never demolished or decommissioned. Although Alcatraz is slightly older, its lighthouse was demolished and later rebuilt outside the prison walls.
90 Asilomar Avenue (near Lighthouse Ave.) Pacific Grove, CA, 93950
The Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove, California, is maintained by an all-volunteer staff of restoration experts, docents, and historians. As with all active lighthouses and aids to navigation, the actual electric light itself is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.