(April 2011 photo by Long Bach Nguyen, over Alki Lighthouse)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Every year, you get just a few chances for a close-up look at one of West Seattle’s true gems – the Alki Point Lighthouse.
This year, those chances start June 1st, when weekend afternoon tours resume. But that first day comes with something extra – a celebration of the lighthouse’s centennial.
US Coast Guard Auxiliary member and area resident Will Winter talked about it at last Thursday’s Alki Community Council meeting. (He’s at right in the photo below, taken by Liesbet T. and published here as the tour season wrapped up in 2011:)
The USCG Auxiliary volunteers staff the lighthouse for tours, and that’s why Winter joined.
He presented an overview of its history, as well as mentioning the low-key celebration that’s ahead, planned in conjunction with the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, which has a “complementary celebration” on deck that day:
(October 2012 photo by Gary Jones, watching passing orcas with the lighthouse in the foreground)
Checking our archives, we’re reminded that last summer, lighthouse volunteers put out a call for reminiscences, as part of preparations for the centennial celebration of the current tower being placed into service as its light was turned on.
The lighthouse’s origins go back so far, nobody’s left to reminisce about the earliest days in person – as Winter told the ACC last week, the first light was put up on the site in 1868! Other milestone dates include:
*US Lighthouse Service bought the land and took over light operation in 1910
*Lighthouse Service became part of the US Coast Guard in 1939
*Alki’s last lighthouse keeper (second-to-last one in the entire U.S.) retired 1970
The grounds, as you may know, are home to the commander of the Coast Guard‘s 13th District.
But the history – which you can read in its entirety here – is more than dates – it’s also the tale of the lantern that held 9 days of kerosene, and the 10-foot-tall Fresnel lens now on display, “a rather impressive piece of glass,” as Winter described it.
The light is automated, so the lighthouse is “more like a museum than anything (else),” he acknowledged. Even the foghorn’s been out of service since 2005, since ships now have high-tech features like GPS and don’t need audible alerts during times of low visibility.
It’s in an interesting spot, though – Winter also showed navigation charts, noting that Puget Sound is 700 feet deep right off Alki Point.
You can see for yourself on Saturdays and Sundays again this summer, starting on the centennial-celebration day, June 1st, 1-4 pm. That’s provided there are enough volunteers available – Winter said the corps might be a little thin – it takes four people to staff the grounds during tour days!
During Winter’s presentation at the ACC meeting, Log House Museum manager Sarah Baylinson mentioned they were firming up plans for their part of the centennial celebration. And we received some details in time to include with this story:
The Southwest Seattle Historical Society is planning a complementary celebration of the Alki Lighthouse Centennial on Saturday, June 1. That afternoon, during its open hours of noon to 4 pm, the organization’s Log House Museum — just a half mile east of the lighthouse — will host an expanded lighthouse exhibit. The exhibit will feature artifacts, rare photos, memorabilia and artwork, all focused on telling the story of the lighthouse, including the decades prior to its construction when a single lantern provided the same function of aiding the navigation of sailing ships and steering them away from danger.
A brief program on Saturday, June 1, will begin at 2 pm, with presentations by area residents with connections to the lighthouse. A highlight of the afternoon is an emphasis on children’s activities, including an opportunity for each child to color his or her own version of the Alki Lighthouse. Each child who completes the coloring exercise will receive a handmade, hand-decorated cookie that is a replica of the lighthouse.
“We are hoping that everyone who visits the Alki Lighthouse on its first touring day of the summer will also stop in just a few blocks away at our Log House Museum,” says Clay Eals, executive director of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society. “By the end of the afternoon, we hope that at least 100 children will have visited us so that we can display 100 colored versions of the lighthouse in honor of the 100th birthday.”
The expanded lighthouse exhibit will run through early September, with new items added in coming weeks. “We are calling it a centennial summer,” Eals says. More details will be available later this week.
The museum is at 61st and Stevens, while the lighthouse is accessible from the spot where Alki Avenue and Beach Drive meet on Alki Point.