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Angels Gate lighthouse gleams anew at L.A. Harbor

A $1.8-million project restores the brilliant white tower and vertical black stripes of the Angels Gate lighthouse. 'Ain't she pretty?' a booster asks.

May 17, 2012|By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times
  • Derick Rivera of US Water Taxi pilots his boat past the newly refurbished Angels Gate lighthouse Wednesday.
Derick Rivera of US Water Taxi pilots his boat past the newly refurbished… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

The Angels Gate lighthouse, graced by its distinctive vertical black stripes, gleams brighter at the entrance to Los Angeles Harbor today after an extensive restoration project.

"Ain't she pretty?" asked Allan Johnson of the Cabrillo Beach Boosters Club, brushing his fingers across the octagonal base of the structure that has shined a reassuring beacon for coastal skippers entering the harbor for 99 years.

On the eve of Thursday's unveiling forU.S. Coast Guardbrass and other dignitaries, San Pedro civic leaders made a final inspection of the cast-iron, wood and stucco tower that rears 73 feet into the air above the end of the breakwater, two miles offshore.

"Only a year ago, she was a big old wall of rust," said Johnson, whose club led the $1.8-million restoration effort in cooperation with the Coast Guard. "Now, there isn't a square inch of the facade that hasn't been fixed up."

That wasn't easy. The lighthouse, one of the strategic shipping beacons of the Pacific Coast and visible from Santa Catalina Island on a clear day, had for decades presented a shabby welcome to the busiest container port in the United States. Cornices had rusted away and fallen off. Walls were pocked with pits and holes. Windows were broken, and cracks in the masonry and floors leaked water after a storm.

Work began with top-to-bottom sandblasting, followed by a fresh coat of zinc to galvanize the iron foundations and beams.

"A day didn't go by without someone muttering, 'Oops. There are more problems here than we anticipated,'" Johnson recalled.

The club got custody of Angels Gate in 2010 and received funding from the Port of Los Angeles, through its port community advisory committee. The money came from a fund created with the settlement of a lawsuit over the expansion of the China Shipping Co. terminal.

With the exterior work completed, lighthouse supporters are gearing for a $1.2-million overhaul of the interior, said Gary Dwight, president of the boosters club and a fourth-generation resident of San Pedro.

Inside, a narrow spiral stairway circles up to the beacon and a catwalk with panoramic views of the surrounding industrial landscape of massive cranes, refinery towers, diesel trucks, sleek sailboats and fat freighters.

Stingrays and brilliant orange garibaldi, the official state marine fish, cruised the kelp below. Fishermen caught calico bass from a small vessel bobbing near a passing freighter.

The beacon was lit on March 1, 1913, according to Marifrances Trivelli, director of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum. "The original tower was white, which mariners had trouble seeing in the fog," she said. "So the vertical black stripes were added at a cost of $5."

That was back when the lighthouse was nicknamed a "bachelor's quarters" because it was far from shore and there was no room for a family.

Technology caught up with the lighthouse in 1972, when it became fully automated, no longer requiring a tender on the premises. Today, the Coast Guard operates Angels Gate by remote control. Its foghorn, known as "Moaning Maggie" in the days when it sounded a deep two-note blast, now emits a higher, single-note squawk some call "Bleating Betty."

One thing has not changed: The light still flashes every 15 seconds.

"It was a delight to see that light after sailing all night through fog," recalled retired commercial fisherman Sam Ciaramitaro, 73, of San Pedro. "It meant we were home and safe."

louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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