Editor’s Note: This photo series of the construction of the new Point Arena Lighthouse after the Great San Francisco Earthquake on April 18, 1906, came from Walter White’s personal photo album. He numbered the order in addition to putting arrows showing him in the photos. His written memories and captions help to explain the stages shown in the photos and the overall progress made during the two-year construction project.
The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 shook many lighthouses on the California Coast including Point Arena Lighthouse. The original 100-foot tower was cracked in four places, at each of the landings, inside the tower, and also outside. The Lighthouse Engineer Department condemned the tower as being unsafe.
Contracts were put out to tear down the tower, and rebuild another, also the keeper’s dwellings. [Bids] were too high so the Lighthouse Engineers decided to do the work themselves. The dwelling which was to be torn down, four light keepers lived in, it was one dwelling.
Men were hired in San Francisco, also half a dozen carpenters, and shipped to Point Arena. Mr. George Hooke was in charge of the operation. I, Walter White, at that time was working for the Engineer Department at Lime Point Light station. I was called at the District Office and was told to proceed to Point Arena to tear down the lighthouse with four other men.
When we arrived, we stayed at the Point Arena Hotel for a few weeks. Every morning we were driven out to the Light Station by a team of horses. Carpenters were hired and Mr. Walt Myers was to be the Foreman over the carpenters, these were local Point Arenaites.
The contract was put out for the hauling of material, lumber, cement, etc. Mr. Frank Reynolds had the contract. The first work was done to build temporary housing for the four keepers: an 80-foot building, also 60-foot bunkhouse for the working party, around 30 men. After these buildings were finished, the four keepers moved in and we left the hotel and moved into the bunkhouse.
The 100-foot tower and dwelling had to come down. I was in charge of the wrecking of the tower. The lantern and lens had to be carefully marked piece by piece so that it could be placed on a temporary 30-foot tower, built by the carpenters. The tower is built of brick, probably a million bricks, so jacks, drills, sledge hammers were to be used in tearing it down.
The first job was to cut a hole through the tower a few feet from the base, so a mast 25 feet long had to be used to lower the window frames (iron), stairs, and landing, to be used in the new tower. The mast was pulled to the top of the tower inside. Drills hammered with sledgehammers, jacks were used and several hundred bricks were loosened and dropped to the ground below, in large chunks until the whole tower was demolished. Four men including myself wrecked the tower.
Work was now to be started on the new tower. The same center post was used in the center of the new foundation. The center stake in the tower was used again to measure the circumference so that the stake was just in the ground from 1874 and used again 1907. The new tower was to be built 50 feet towards the Point, facing the ocean. The sand and gravel was hauled by Frank Reynolds’ mule team from the Garcia River.
The cement was hauled down from the Point Arena Wharf. Several hundred sacks were used for the tower, sidewalks, and foundations for the four cottages. The tower foundation was crisscrossed with heavy Norwegian iron; concrete was done by hand. No machine poured the foundation.
The reinforced iron was threaded by hand to the top of the tower. The tower structure [scaffolding] was built with an elevator to hoist the concrete to the landing. The concrete was made by hand and put in a wheelbarrow, hoisted by Frank Reynolds’ mule up the elevator.
I emptied the wheelbarrow into the forms, from the foundation to the top of the tower. I also tampered the concrete in the forms between each barrow load. I wheeled the wheelbarrows into the forms from the ground to the top of the tower, that means I wheeled the whole concrete tower in a wheelbarrow.
Outside forms were taken down when the concrete was finished; the tower then was scraped down outside from top to bottom. The stairways and landings were made fast, also the railing inside the tower. All the iron work such as stairs, windows, landings, lantern came from the old tower. The lantern and lens were installed after the building of the tower was completed.
Now, the four cottages were started (the old dwelling was torn down): carpenters busy building, road crews making a new road from the tower to the maingate and to Rollerville, also several drainage pits along the road. Each cottage built on 100-foot lots, 50 feet for the cottage, 50 feet of trellis, between each cottage.
After completion of the cottages, the District Office in San Francisco phoned Mr. Hoadley, the supervisor of building the new station, to layoff all hands as the District ran out of funds. So, everyone except myself was paid off. I was kept on to paint the four houses, inside and outside, including roofs, fog engines, the stairway and landings inside the tower.
I worked nearly two years for the Engineer Department on Point Arena Light station. It has been said that the Point Arena Lighthouse fell over during the 1906 earthquake which is not true, so this is the reason why I have written this memory.
This story appeared in the
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