Coast-to-Coast travel blog

Piedras Blancas

Its Location

Ist Steel Reinforced Building in U.S.

Earning Status on the National Register

Fog Signal Building

Evolution of Sound Warning System

Very Rocky Shoreline

White Rock


Laundry Shed with Laundry



134 Steps to the Top

Original Pendulum

Docent Describing Lighthouse Keeper's Uniform

Graceful Windows: Interior

And Exterior

Salvage from Nearby Shipwrecks

Today we spent touring Piedras Blancas, a really interesting light house/station established on the California coast in 1875. Standing 100 feet tall, it served as an active lighthouse until the 1970ies, when it was finally discontinued. Although it is missing its lens/top (lost in a 1948 earthquake), the structure and support buildings are still well preserved and in very good shape (and a new top is "on order"). It's located on a spit of land extending into the Pacific, about 10 miles north of San Simeon. The location is beautiful and, given the climate here (compared to duty at many other light stations), this had to have been a first-rate assignment. Because the lighthouse itself lacks its original top, it is not on the National Register of Historic Buildings; but several of its outbuildings are. One example is its Fuel Oil House, which was constructed to house kerosene to power the Fog Whistle/Siren/Horn when the light was not effective due to weather. The Fuel Oil House was built shortly after the 1905 San Francisco earthquake.....and, as such, was the first building in the U.S. constructed with reinforced steel. Having survived 100++ years of CA earthquakes, it looks rock solid in 2012. The fog warning started as a kerosene powered whistle, which proved unsatisfactory, followed by a fog siren (also unsatisfactory), followed finally by a fog horn. In the process of perfecting this system, 3 cargo ships were lost on the rocks off of Piedras Blancas. The name Piedras Blancas means White Rocks in Spanish and, indeed, there are several large white rocks along its rocky shoreline. We initially thought the white was quartz or granite, but learned that the white comes from the very large population of sea birds that live on them. Inside the light house, a circular stairway leads to the top of the building. A crank-based pendulum system served to turn the light and make it flash, with re-cranking needed every 3 hours. Three shifts of workers staffed the lighthouse on a daily basis.

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