Story and photos by Keri DeTore
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
When asked by US Coast Guard Auxiliaryman Craig Smith whether I’d visited the lighthouse before, I sheepishly admitted that, in my 27 years in West Seattle (13 of them three blocks from the lighthouse), I had never taken the tour.
If you haven’t managed to get there either, I urge you to find a sunny weekend afternoon and do so – since it’s only open during the summer, and only on weekends. Not only will you learn a lot about the history of the lighthouse and its inner workings, you’ll have a lovely view from the top of the tower.
Built in 1913 and automated in the early 1980s, the Alki Point Lighthouse is one of the few remaining lighthouses that are “active aids to navigation” in our area; most have been retired due to budget issues. The light’s beam is visible for up to 15 miles and still comes on at dusk every day. The foghorn is only activated in heavy fog when the Coast Guard finds marine craft without GPS systems (such as small recreational craft) out in the water.
There is information in the lighthouse regarding the limited use of the foghorn these days; while some find the sound reassuring and even romantic, others find it annoying and complaint-worthy. Thus, use of the foghorn isn’t consistent during foggy conditions.
Also notable for the Alki Point Lighthouse are the two historic homes on the site.
These are the homes of the Coast Guard’s Admiral and Captain — the top-two-ranking Coast Guard officers of the 13th Coast Guard District, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Northern California. Coast Guard in Montana? The Coast Guard monitors inland waters (think: Columbia River) as well as coastal waters. Because these are private homes with increased security, tours are limited to weekends during the summer months.
For the months of June, July and August, the lighthouse is open for tours each weekend from 1-4 pm (and we’re told that includes tomorrow, Independence Day). The tours are conducted by Coast Guard Auxiliary members; the Auxiliary is a non-profit, volunteer branch of the Coast Guard.
There are certain rules to be aware of before you go: All visitors must be wearing shirts and shoes, children under the age of 6 are not allowed in the top part of the tower, you must stay off the grass and if you do take photos of the historic homes, make sure there are no residents of the homes appearing in the photos. There is a gift shop on the grounds with lighthouse-related memorabilia available and all profits going to support the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
During other parts of the year, special tours for schools or other groups may be scheduled by contacting Auxiliary member Craig Smith: 206.841.3519. Events such as weddings are not allowed on the site.
The Alki Point Lighthouse is a fascinating piece of our area’s history. You can’t help but be enchanted by the notion of someone rowing out every evening in 1887 to light the kerosene lamp that swung on a post in the Sound (the original “lighthouse”), and by looking at the guest book entries from 1913 — the lighthouse’s first year. Even if you don’t consider yourself a maritime-history buff, you will find yourself more connected to West Seattle’s past by visiting the Alki Point Lighthouse (here’s a map).