Story by Tracy Record
Photos by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
Before the Alki Point Lighthouse opened for this year’s summer season of weekend public tours Saturday afternoon, which also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the day the building officially opened, one of the people who live on its grounds presided over a commemorative ceremony: Rear Admiral Keith Taylor, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard‘s 13th District.
Not only did he speak about the lighthouse and its history, he told us in a conversation afterward, but also about the watch that is kept around the clock by the USCG in this region, and about his pride in the people who keep that watch. In relating the past – including the U.S. Lighthouse Service and the Revenue Cutter Service (here’s an official USCG historian slide deck) – to the present, RADM Taylor says he likes to say, “We helped the Pacific Northwest grow up.” (Lighthouses became part of the USCG’s accountability in 1939.)
This month has significance for RADM Taylor far beyond the lighthouse centennial: Before this month is over, he will turn over command of the 13th Coast Guard District to his successor. He’s retiring, 30 years after he began his service following graduation from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and two years after becoming commander of this 4-state district.
The district includes 4,400 miles of coastline, more than 600 miles of inland waterways, and a long list of stations and vessels that you can peruse here, as well as on the official fact sheet (which reveals this is the centennial year for the district itself). Hundreds of thousands of vessel journeys, dinghys to cruise ships and beyond, are made in the region’s waterways each year.
One datapoint of potential interest to sky-watching West Seattleites: No Coast Guard helicopters are based in Seattle; they’re based in Port Angeles. You may see the distinctive mostly-orange helicopters here fairly often, but when they head home, they’re flying northwest to the shore of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. Aviation, by the way, figures prominently into Adm. Taylor’s background; his past assignments include serving as commander of the USCG’s Air Station Miami. He also has served as the Coast Guard’s Chief Financial Officer and in other USCG-wide leadership roles.
For decades, it has been tradition for the USCG 13th District’s commander to live on the Alki Point Lighthouse grounds (the last lighthouse keeper retired in 1970). Adm. Taylor has kept with that tradition; he told us he and his wife hope to stay in the Seattle area after his retirement. The other residence at Alki Point also is usually home to a USCG officer and family; its next residents are moving in soon, Admiral Taylor mentioned.
As for the lighthouse itself, he says it’s vital to the safety of local waterways and he doesn’t see that changing any time soon.
The District 13 change of command ceremony, he said, is scheduled for Friday morning, June 28th, at the USCG station at Pier 36 on the downtown waterfront; we’re expecting more information as it gets closer.
Meantime, free lighthouse tours are scheduled to continue at Alki Point 1-4 pm each Saturday and Sunday through the end of August.