1874: The Start of Operations for a Pioneering Lighthouse in the Los Angeles Area

December 15, 1874

In southern California’s Los Angeles area, Point Fermin Light on the west side of the entrance to San Pedro Bay had its inaugural lighting. This structure had been designed by architect and civil engineer Paul J. Pelz, who was serving the U.S. Lighthouse Board at the time as its chief draftsman. 

Point Fermin Light was the first navigational light for vessels to be constructed within San Pedro Bay. The first keepers of the lighthouse were sisters Mary and Ella Smith. They first lit the lamp within the fourth-order Fresnel lens that served as the beacon, and they subsequently performed their joint duties as lighthouse keepers for almost eight years. 

After the Smith sisters resigned, a retired sea captain named George N. Shaw became Point Fermin Light’s keeper. During his 22-year tenure as keeper, Point Fermin Light grew popular as a local tourist attraction and Shaw — with the encouragement of the Lighthouse Board — routinely gave tours of the place. 

Shaw’s successor as keeper was Irby H. Engels, who was replaced in 1917 by William L. Austin. After Austin’s death in 1925, the keeper duties were assumed by his daughter Thelma. She was assisted by her sister Juanita, and together they became the second pair of sisters to operate the lighthouse.

The management of Point Fermin Light was handed over to the City of Los Angeles in 1927. The light for the structure was electrified and remained in use until December 1941. That was when, in the aftermath of the U.S. entry in World War II, the light was shut off due to concerns that it might serve as a beacon for enemy ships and airplanes. Point Fermin Light has never been reactivated for use, but it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard

For more information on Point Fermin Light, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_Fermin_Light and https://pointcabrillo.org/learn/california-lighthouses/point-fermin/#:~:text=On%20December%2015%2C%201874%2C%20two,sisters%20Mary%20and%20Ella%20Smith.

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