Piedras Blancas Light Station

About twelve miles up Highway One from Cambria, Piedras Blancas Light Station has a very interesting history. The land on which it is built once belonged to indigenous peoples. When the Spanish occupied the area, the property became part of the lands of the Mission San Miguel. Then, when the missions were secularized by the Mexican government, it became part of Rancho Piedra Blanca, a Mexican Land Grant given to Don Jose de Jesus Pico in 1840. After the Mexican-American war was settled by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, a portion of the Rancho was reserved for a light station by President Andrew Johnson on June 8, 1866. In the meantime, possession of Point Piedras Blancas had reverted to Don Juan Castro who vigorously protested the building of a light station on his property. He is quoted as saying in 1874, “I am advised by my counsel that upon the facts of this case the United States have no property rights whatever in the land upon which you are now engaged in erecting a light house; that we are the legal owners of the land and can eject any person interfering with our possession from the premises.”

In spite of Castro’s protests, construction of the light station moved ahead. On June 8, 1872 congress appropriated  $75,000 for a first order light and fog signal. By 1874, work began to blast off the top of the rock at the tower site but the rock turned out to be very hard and nearly impossible to drill into. For this reason it was decided to save money by modifying the plan for the tower and, instead of removing the rock down to the bottom of the tower, it was removed only down to the level of the floor and that portion of the tower below the floor was simply constructed around the remaining rock During this same year the iron work for the tower was completed as was the brick work. The lantern and lens were on site and they were assembled on top of the tower around the beginning of 1875. On February 15, 1875 the lighthouse itself was completed and put into operation.

Tower at Piedras Blancas before the top was removed in 1949

Tower at Piedras Blancas before the top was removed in 1949

During the construction of the tower, the workers lived in shanties which they built before beginning work on the tower. Plans for the light station included a dwelling for the keepers but, when the tower was completed, there was not enough money left to build the dwelling. In 1874 the lighthouse board requested an additional $10,000 from congress to complete the dwelling along with a cistern and out-buildings and, in the meantime, the keepers lived in the shanties which were now abandoned by the construction workers. The keeper’s residence was completed in 1876.

In 1906 the fog signal was finally installed at Piedras Blancas. According to the Lighthouse Board, the addition of the fog signal required an additional keeper so a frame dwelling was also constructed for the head keeper.

In 1960, the Coast Guard razed the original keeper’s dwellings and built four homes for the keepers and their families. The head keeper’s house was purchased from the Coast Guard by Kitty Lawler for the token sum of one dollar. The house was disassembled and moved from the station to Chatham Street, in Cambria, where it currently resides.  After several changes in ownership, the house was remodeled and restored in 1989 by Cambria contractor Sandy Dustman who totally gutted the kitchen and added a two car garage. In 1993 the house was purchased by Mary Therese Clark and her mother and sisters and is now a vacation rental.

Piedras Blancas Light Station was originally operated by the United States Lighthouse Board and was transferred to the Coast Guard in 1939.  On October 12, 2001, Piedras Blancas Light Station was officially transferred to the Bureau of Land Management. A formal transition ceremony was held on May 25, 2002 and that very night a new aero beacon was first illuminated. BLM is now in the process of restoring Piedras Blancas Light Station to its former glory. Guided tours are available every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. To participate, meet at the abandoned Piedras Blancas Motel about one and one half miles north of the lighthouse at 9:45 AM.

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