In October of 1939, the discontinued 1874 Point Hueneme Lighthouse in Port Hueneme, California was sold at auction for a paltry $51 with the stipulation that it be moved from the site.
The lighthouse was purchased by the Hueneme Yacht Club, which hired John R. Brakey House Movers to move it to its new home across the harbor. Before the move, the government removed the lantern and lens from the structure so that it could be used again in the new lighthouse that would be built. The move was scheduled to take place in January of 1940; however, bad weather prevented the move from actually taking place until February 15 to February 18, 1940.
Farm equipment was brought from the countryside to help scoop out a small basin for the barge to fit under the front of the lighthouse. The house mover’s crew then jacked the structure up onto to heavy rollers, and the lighthouse was pulled onto the barge for its trip across the harbor.
With the final part of the move scheduled at nighttime, several hundred spectators had gathered around campfires to watch the event. But, things got a little complicated when the workmen protested. They walked off the job, saying that the nighttime move would be too dangerous. However, Capt. Lebbeus Curtis, Operating Manager of the Port, said that if the work did not proceed, he would have his own men move the lighthouse. The workmen, wanting to get paid, then moved forward to complete the task.
However, apparently the old lighthouse did not want to be moved.
Suddenly, and without warning, the cables drawing the lighthouse toward the barge snapped with a loud boom, scattering spectators in every direction to avoid being hit by the flying cables. The men underneath the 104-ton structure were saved from instant death by skids and cribbing. The old building then groaningly settled back the six feet it had been drawn to the sea, and the men standing underneath it scrambled out in fear for their lives. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the moving proceeded. The lighthouse finally came to rest at its new location across the bay 48 hours after the actual move had begun.
Upheaval in World Events
With the world in turmoil at the time after the move, the founders of the proposed Yacht Club had trouble raising money to properly care for the lighthouse. It was neglected and left to the elements. Then, to further complicate matters, World War II broke out and the plans for the proposed Yacht Club were unable to materialize. In 1942, during the height of the war, the U.S. Navy took over Hueneme Harbor and the surrounding area, and a decision was made to demolish the deserted lighthouse.
For John Robert Brakey, the moving of the Point Hueneme Lighthouse was a crowning achievement of his 67-year, house-moving career, and he was very proud of its successful completion. He attached a sign to the lighthouse after the move that read, “Anything that man can build, Brakey can move.” He had been in the moving business since he was a young man working for his father Robert E. Brakey. It was a very physically demanding occupation, and at the time of the lighthouse move, John R. Brakey was 70 years old and he still did much of the blocking and bracing himself.
In an interview that appeared in the March 15, 1954 edition of the Los Angeles Times, Robert R. Brakey was quoted as saying, “Moving the lighthouse was the climax to a career. Hardly anyone thought it could be done and I had my doubts at times even after we started.” Later in life, he designed a gravestone for his family’s plot that highlighted the historic move of the lighthouse so that his accomplishment would be remembered for posterity.
The real shame is that the Point Hueneme Lighthouse is no longer standing. It is highly probable that if World War II had not broken out, the lighthouse would still be here.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2019 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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