Set on the curve of a steep cliff, where it has stood since 1926, the San Vicente Lighthouse is a historical beauty that continues to renew its usefulness with every passing night. The Vicente Lighthouse has long been one of the area’s jewels. To the landsman, the lighthouse is a scenic delight and continual attraction to tourists, photographers and painters. To the mariner, the lighthouse is an aid to navigation, which marks the northern end of the Catalina Channel on the Pacific coast.
Captain George Vancouver originally named the point in 1790. Vancouver explored the Pacific coast for England in his 90-foot sloop Discovery. He named the point for his good friend Friar Vicente of the Mission Buenaventura. He also named Point Fermin in a similar manner.
During World War Two, many heavy gun emplacements of Fort MacArthur defended the peninsula. During that period, the 1000-watt light was replaced by a tiny 25-watt bulb, and black out curtains hung ready for use in all the windows. The Coast Artillerymen didn’t want the light to be too good of an aid to enemy navigation.
After the war, the endlessly rotating beam became a glaring disturbance to local residents and a positive hazard to motorists on Palos Verdes Drive. Keepers coated the inside of the inland facing windows with a coat of white paint to end the flash of the beacon on peninsula bedroom walls. That is when the “Lady Of The Light” appeared. In the dim light through the painted windows, some saw the shape of a tall serene woman in a flowing gown that would slowly pace the tower’s walkway.
Today Point Vicente Lighthouse still sends out its beacon across the Catalina Channel. Electronic sensors and automated controls have replaced the lighthouse keeper and activate the foghorn. Far from abandoned, the housing facility is home to regular Coast Guard personnel assigned to nearby ships, stations and offices. The former radio center is now manned by volunteer civilian members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary who are responsible for the lighthouse in addition to tracking distress calls from boaters in the Catalina Channel. The radio center also tracks Auxiliary aircraft patrolling offshore waters on weekends.
As for the “Lady of The Light” Over the years, stories have developed as to her identity. Some said she was the ghost of the first lighthouse keeper’s wife who stumbled from the edge of a cliff one foggy night. Others say she waits for the return of a lover lost at sea, while still others think she is the shade of a heartbroken woman who threw herself from the cliffs when she found herself abandoned by her intended. Explanations that the phantom is caused by reflections from the huge lens have done little to dissuade lovers from joining the lady in her somber watch.
The breathtaking views from the Point Vicente Lighthouse and the Palos Verdes Peninsula are hard to hate. From atop the bluff, Catalina Island rises meekly through the smog, and the sparkling ocean spans into the distance—lapping at the foot of the sheer, towering cliff bands. The short walking trails from the interpretive center to the end of the point offer continual breathtaking vistas.
Known among many as the “ground zero” for whale watching, many enthusiasts hoping to get a glimpse of a pod of gray whales post up with their binoculars and tripods along Point Vicente’s cliff band. Reportedly, this is where observers from the L.A. Chapter of the American Cetacean Society spot whales and compile the official count. Each year whales are seen earlier and earlier in the year, a phenomenon thought to be caused by global warming. Though the traditional whale-watching season spans from mid-December to mid-April, now it often begins as early as late October.
The Point Vicente Lighthouse is located at 31550 Palos Verdes Drive, West in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, about a quarter mile south of the southern end of Hawthorne Blvd.