Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2016

California’s New “Old Point Lobos Lighthouse” Confused Mariners

By Timothy Harrison


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In 1933 when this lighthouse tower was constructed so quickly on a spot at Point Lobos near Monterey, California, it immediately confused the mariners at sea.

A local newspaper of the time wrote, “The captain of a coastwise freighter, viewing the lighthouse with alarm (for no lighthouse belonged where he thought he was) sent out a message for his bearings. The message came back confirming his bearings, which even confused the captain more.

“When was that lighthouse erected?”

“The answer: “Yesterday. It’s a motion picture set.”

“He replied: “Do they have to be so realistic?”

“The same thing happened twice that same day and once the next day until the gossiping radio operators let the news of the movie lighthouse be generally known.”

The lighthouse was built as part of a scene for the 1933 movie, Paddy, The Next Best Thing costarring Janet Gaynor and Warner Baxter, which was based on the 1912 British novel by Gertrude Page.

It seems that one of the art directors, a young chap named Gordon Wiles, was assigned to find a cove on the Pacific Coast with a spot for a lighthouse and an Irish fishing village – a spot that would look exactly like the bleak, rugged west coast of Ireland with a quietly passive fishing village.

Wiles found the spot that would be perfect at Point Lobos. Then began the weeks of technical research; every bit of scenery, every house, sidewalk, street, and every costume had to be authentic. With sketches, blue prints, and a learned Irish professor as technical advisor, Gordon Willes went to work.

First the lighthouse was built, a towering monument that could be seen by passing ships many miles away. The lighthouse was so realistic that they never dreamed that it would cause so much confusion for the mariners at sea.

However, because the squealing gulls and barking sea lions were so noisy at the site, a duplicate of Paddy’s home had to be built at the Fox Movietone City where all of the “sound shots,” not requiring the close-up of the ocean scenes, were made on the movie lot.

The caption with this original press release photo from the archives of Lighthouse Digest reads as follows, “A lighthouse by the sea on old Point Lobos California. It might have stood there since the days of the dons, but it hasn’t. It was built for a scene in Paddy, the Next Best Thing and caused no end of confusion. Coast wise skippers, believing they were off their course, wired for their bearings.”

Movietone City records indicate that the lighthouse was scheduled to be burned down when the filming of the movie was completed. And now, the movie and its lighthouse have virtually been lost to the pages of time, remembered only though old images and photos such as the one shown here.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2016 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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