The Point Fermin Lighthouse is different from most other lighthouses on the California coast. Instead of standing like a lonely pillar, Point Fermin's light is part of a Victorian-style house.
Paul J. Pelz, a draftsman for the US Lighthouse Board, designed the combination lighthouse and home in the Stick Style, a simple, early Victorian architectural style. It has gabled roofs, horizontal siding, decorative cross beams and hand-carved porch railings.
Point Fermin is one of only six lighthouses ever built in this design and one of three still standing (the others are East Brother in the San Francisco Bay and Hereford Light in New Jersey).
What You Can Do at Point Fermin Lighthouse
Point Fermin Lighthouse has been a tourist destination since the early 1900s. The city park it is in has lots of room for kids to play, barbecues and picnic tables. The lighthouse is also the location for the annual Light At the Lighthouse Festival.
History of Point Fermin Lighthouse
Point Fermin Lighthouse was the first one built in the San Pedro Bay. British explorer George Vancouver named it in honor of Father Fermin de Lasuen, who was father-president of the California missions when Vancouver visited in 1792. The site overlooks the modern-day Port of San Pedro.
It was erected in 1874, twenty years after a group of local businesspeople first petitioned for it and after lengthy disputes over the land.
Unusually for the time, Point Fermin's first lighthouse keepers were women, sisters Mary and Ella Smith/ They served there for eight years until 1882.
George Shaw, a retired sea captain who wanted to live near the ocean, took over after the Smith sisters resigned. During Shaw's tenure, Point Fermin and its lighthouse were a popular Los Angeles destination, accessible by the "Red Car" streetcar or by horse and buggy. Shaw gave tours to any visitors who showed up.
Point Fermin Lighthouse's third and last keeper, William Austin and his family arrived in 1917. When Austin died, the lighthouse was once again staffed by sisters. His daughters Thelma and Juanita took over. They stayed until 1927 when the light was electrified and taken over by the City of Los Angeles.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the light was blacked out for the rest of World War II. During that time, it served the US Navy as a lookout tower and signaling station for ships coming into the harbor.
During World War II, the original light tower was replaced by a square room, so unattractive that some called it "the chicken coop." Point Fermin was never a working lighthouse again after that.
A series of organizations ran the old lighthouse. In the 1970s, local citizens raised funds to remove the "chicken coop" and restore the old tower and lantern room, including locating and replacing the original fourth order Fresnel lens.
Point Fermin Lighthouse is now in a city park. Volunteers from the Point Fermin Lighthouse Society serve as tour guides and help to keep the lighthouse open to the public.
Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles say Point Fermin Lighthouse may be haunted. They claim that the ghost is a lonely male lighthouse keeper (William Austin) carrying the torch (literally and figuratively) for his dead wife.The current staff says the story was fabricated by a former caretaker to keep local teenagers from vandalizing the property.
Visiting Point Fermin Lighthouse
The lighthouse is open several days a week, and volunteers give tours of it. Check their current schedule. Entrance is free, but donations are appreciated.
Children under 40 inches tall aren't allowed in the tower.
You may also want to find more California lighthouses to tour on our California Lighthouse Map
Getting to the Fermin Lighthouse
Point Fermin Lighthouse
807 W. Paseo Del Mar
San Pedro, CA
Point Fermin Lighthouse Website
The Point Fermin Lighthouse is on the south side of San Pedro, just west of where S. Pacific Avenue reaches its southern end. It is in the Point Fermin Park.
More California Lighthouses
Point Vicente Lighthouse is also in the Los Angeles area and is open to the public. Its unique construction makes it worth a visit.
If you're a lighthouse geek, you will enjoy our Guide to Visiting the Lighthouses of California.