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A Unique Lighthouse: The Two Lives of Point Montara Light Station

Updated on February 27, 2011

Point Montara Lighthouse

Point Montara Lighthouse as it looks now. (Photo copyright Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel.)
Point Montara Lighthouse as it looks now. (Photo copyright Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel.)

Lighthouse Was Moved Across Country

The Point Montara Lighthouse near San Francisco may not seem extraordinary at first glance. After all, at only 30 feet tall, it’s much smaller than the nearby 115-foot Pigeon Point Lighthouse. But this diminutive structure can claim a status unknown to any other lighthouse in the country – it’s the only one that has been in service on two coasts.

The double life of the Point Montara Lighthouse was unknown until 2008. That’s the year when Colleen MacNeney and her parents, Bob and Sandra Shanklin stumbled upon a discovery while researching historic photos. The family found an old photo of a small lighthouse tower in Yerba Buena with the inscription, “This tower formerly used at Mayo Beach, 2d District.”

They were puzzled. Mayo Beach is located in Cape Cod, and the 1881-era lighthouse that once stood in that location was presumably taken down and destroyed after the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1922. Intrigued, MacNeney started to hunt for answers. It took an extensive search of the National Archives to discover the truth: the Mayo Beach tower hadn’t been destroyed at all. It had been moved 3,000 miiles from Massachusetts to Yerba Buena, California and installed at Point Montara in 1928.

MacNeney found a 1928 note from the acting commissioner of lighthouses that confirmed the transfer, but discovered no written record to explain why or how the small lighthouse had been moved. It’s still a mystery.

After the discovery became public, Jeff Gales, executive director of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, told the L.A. Times, "The Lighthouse Service was always struggling for money, so the idea they'd want to save a few bucks and reuse a lighthouse is not a big jump. But transporting a lighthouse across the U.S. -- that's unusual."

Today, the unique lighthouse with the double life is still doing double duty. The Coast Guard continues to run the lighthouse as an active navigation aid for ships sailing these waters, while Hostelling International and California State Parks run a 50-bed hostel out of the former Coast Guard quarters.

Point Montara Lighthouse Amateur Video

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