Visitors to the lighthouse are always sorry to learn that the original 1890 two-story Victorian duplex, built to house the head Keeper’s two assistants and their families, was demolished by the Coast Guard in 1960. It was replaced by the building that now houses our indoor event venue, an office for our executive director, and storage for our archives. The building is more modern but lacks the charm and history of the long-gone double dwelling.
The Pismo Times published on Apr. 7, 1960, the building of the “new” duplex. Some excerpts are below:
Addison Wood, Arroyo Grande building contractor, is constructing two homes at San Luis Light Station. An unusual feature of the contract is that materials and workmen must be carried to the station by amphibious truck or “duck” purchased for the job. The “duck” is the easiest transportation to and from the station now. The $95,329 contract calls for replacement of a…two-story duplex housing unit with two modern residences, one with four bedrooms and one with three. The Wood firm was also contractor in a recent lighthouse residence construction job at Piedras Blancas Station. Two of the four families normally stationed at the coast guard post are living in Avila Beach while construction is going on, and the men commute across the water…
A longer article appeared in the Apr. 18, 1960, issue of the San Luis Obispo Telegram and is also excerpted:
A seventy-year-old page of history was recently burned at Point San Luis, and its ashes pushed into the ocean. The stalwart two-story frame duplex, which has housed coast guardsmen manning the Point San Luis lighthouse and their families for many years, has been demolished. A modern three- and four-bedroom, single-story duplex is being constructed in its place. Addison B. Wood of Arroyo Grande holds the $95,329 general contract for the project, scheduled for completion by Jul. 30. He is also a builder for a similar but larger-scale housing development at Piedras Blancas lighthouse, north of San Simeon.
A unique operation involved in the San Luis Obispo light-station development is that all materials and labor are transported to the site in a surplus army duck, an amphibious craft. The station is comparatively isolated. Except for a footpath which winds itself around the high cliffs just north of the Port San Luis Transportation Company pier, the station is accessible only by boat…Recently, rattlesnakes have been encountered along the path, and a warning sign to prospective visitors is being prepared by the coast guardsmen. Walking to the station takes about an hour. It is a much shorter boat trip. However, the tide must be reasonably high to reach the coast guard landing…
Assisting Wood with the building project is the W.D. Pierce Company of Morro Bay, excavation contractor and owner of the amphibian vehicle. Gravel, cement, lumber, fixtures, and other building materials are loaded into the duck at Avila Beach and laboriously unloaded by hand at the building site…
Top left, 1889 drawing of the double keepers’ dwelling, front elevation. Courtesy of the National Archives. Top right, Circa 1955 photo of the Victorian duplex, built in 1890 and demolished in 1960. Courtesy of Robert L. “Lucky” Jackson. Bottom Left, 1960 photo of new duplex under construction. Note the army surplus “duck.” Courtesy of the United States Coast Guard. Bottom right, 1960 photo of children playing at the new duplex’s construction site—most likely Eric and Gail Settlemier, son and daughter of Robin “Bob” Settlemier, Coast Guard officer-in-charge 1959–1960. Courtesy of the United States Coast Guard
Addison B. Wood was a building contractor and developer for more than fifty years in the South County prior to his death in 2002. According to his obituary, he served on the Arroyo Grande City Council and was mayor from 1962 until 1970.
Walter D. “Duke” Pierce owned and operated Pierce Construction in Morro Bay, Sierra Nevada, and the Central Valley from 1958 until 2000. He passed away in 2009. According to his obit, he was also a fisherman and abalone diver and at one time held the record for the most abalone harvested in a day.
Coast Guardsman Richard Smith was stationed at Point San Luis 1959–1961. He remembered differently—that the Victorian wasn’t burned down. His recollection seems more reasonable from a fire safety standpoint, particularly since all but one of the buildings at the station were made of wood. Smith was living on the right side of the duplex at the time and had to move to Avila Beach while demolition and rebuilding were going on.
“There wasn’t room to get a bulldozer behind the dwelling because of a retaining wall,” Smith recalled. “They put a cable around the dwelling and pulled it off the foundation. Then they pushed it over the cliff, and the tide slowly took it away.”
After the new duplex was completed, Smith lived in the cinderblock duplex down the hill, built by the Coast Guard in 1948, until he was discharged.
A version of this article appeared in the July 2021 issue of Keeper’s Log, the Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers’ newsletter.