Piedras Blancas Light Station and WWII

World War II must have had a profound effect on Piedras Blancas Light Station. Not only was it a Coast Guard facility but its geographic location on an isolated point on the central coast of California made it especially vulnerable to enemy attack. However, little information about the war time effort at the Station has been uncovered.

One of the most frequent questions asked is whether or not the light continued to function during WWII or was it blacked out. The Coast Guard History of Aids to Navigation only mentions “[t]he preparation of a blackout plan …” without describing it. It goes on to say: “On December 8, 1941, the Blackout plan was executed and all lighted aids to navigation were extinguished and radio beacons and fog signals were placed out of operation. The execution of the complete blackout plan worked an extreme hardship on mariners. …”

Among the steps taken to restore essential services were “[e]ssential lighted aids were restored at reduced intensity and/or screened so that they were not visible from planes” and “[f]og signals were restored to operation.” It seems clear that the light at Piedras Blancas was extinguished on this single night, but it is difficult to conclude from this information what, if any, precautions were taken for the rest of the war. Diana Owens, who was born in 1939 and lived at Point Arena Lighthouse throughout the war years, remembers that they put up blackout shades on the windows of the residence but the light stayed on and, as it swept around, it fully illuminated the surrounding buildings.

A study of Piedras Blancas Light Station logs reveals that a dugout, also referred to as a bomb shelter, was constructed on the site between March 30 and April 14, 1942. There is no description but John Bogacki, formerly BLM site manager at PBLS, speculates that it probably was a small pit large enough for four to eight persons with a timber-framed roof covered with sand bags. It was built just south of the fog signal building, far enough from the tower to avoid its potential collapse, but close enough to be quickly accessible in the event of an air raid threat. The building nearest the left edge of the picture is the fog signal building and the bomb shelter appears to the right and below it.

Piedras Blancas Light Station shortly after the end of WWII

Around the same time a small lookout shack was also constructed that appears in this photograph. It was a six-by-six foot single story building with a hipped roof. It was located to the west of the tower on the rocky mound that the lighthouse sits on. On May 1, 1942, there is an entry in the log which says, “Completed walk around lookout bldg.” In the picture, taken shortly after the end of WWII, the lookout shack can be seen immediately adjacent to, and to the lower left of, the base of the lighthouse tower.

On May 29, 1942 the log states, “Placing tubs of sand in accessible spots around buildings.” This is presumably for fire suppression. On June 18, 1942, the log indicates that a rifle rack was made and on July 20 a chemical warfare class was held for all hands.

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