Digest>Archives> September 2003

Sooner State Shines

By Bill Edwards

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East Wharf Lighthouse on Lake Hefner, Oklahoma.
Photo by: Bill Edwards

What are some of the things that Oklahoma is known for?

College Football?

Tornadoes?

Oil?

But did you know that the Sooner State is also known for the most inland working lighthouse in the United States? That is according to Flotilla 16-6, the Oklahoma City Auxiliary branch of the 8 Western Rivers Region of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Right in the nation’s heartland, in Oklahoma City, is Lake Hefner. Built in 1947, the lake is more than two miles wide, has 17 miles of lakeshore and is 94 feet at its deepest point. The lake is a drinking water source and recreational venue for Oklahoma City. In 1999, it also became the site for the East Wharf Lighthouse.

In the 1990s, the city formed a partnership with a local developer to turn a portion of the east side of the lakeshore into a commercial/recreational area. It now has restaurants, an office building, jogging path, playground, marina—and a lighthouse!

Developer Randy Hogan of Stonegate-Hogan: “I was in New England, on a trip. I was in Nantucket one night, looked out and noticed Brant Point Light. I thought we could pull (something similar to) that off here! We were trying to create something that would be a great addition to the lake and to the park area.”

Now Randy readily admits that it is not an exact replica of Brant Point, but that was the inspiration for the East Wharf Light, also known as the Lake Hefner Light. It’s about 40 feet tall, has a red light with a two-second on/off pattern, and the light is on from dusk till dawn. The six-sided tower is pale yellow, made of concrete tilt-wall construction. That involves casting large concrete panels and tilting them up to form the load bearing walls of the structure. It was used because of the limited amount of time that was available for the lighthouse phase of the project, maintenance considerations and strength, which is an added plus when you take into account that the Oklahoma City area has had to deal with an F-3 & F-5 tornado in recent years. It could be considered fair to say that tornadoes are the land-locked version of hurricanes in some instances.

The light has been on local magazine and telephone book covers, it has been the site for countless weddings and was recently the backdrop for a motorcycle ad. Mr. Hogan says it has been well received. “I’ve never heard, ‘Wow, that is out of place,’” he says.

According to Hogan, “Before the light was built, used to be you would just get out on the lake and sail. Well, now people tack to see the light.” Hogan says that even in its short existence so far, the East Wharf Light has already come to the aid of a boater, “I’ve had one guy tell me he got caught out here in the fog and he literally guided his boat into our harbor off of it.” No matter where, lighthouses still do their duty, when allowed.

Hogan has been pleasantly surprised by the public’s reaction. “It’s amazing to me how many mothers and fathers take their younger kids out there and you can tell them what a lighthouse does, why it’s there... it’s kind of an educational piece. It just draws people’s attention... that’s what got me excited at Brant Point... that you’d watch people go out, just to walk around it, it’s just something cool to do. We were hoping it would be an icon for the shoreline for Lake Hefner, to be a symbol... we had no clue that it would get the variety of attention it gets. We are really thrilled we did it!” It sounds like you can add Randy Hogan and scores of Oklahomans to the growing ranks of lighthouse enthusiasts!

As a matter of fact, a business partner with one of the restaurants there is former Oklahoma Sooner and Dallas Cowboys head coach Barry Switzer. Barry loves the lighthouse, says Randy. The office building next door was even constructed in such a way as to not to block the view from the light to the restaurant. Now what higher praise for a lighthouse than from a former college National Champion and Super Bowl champion football coach?

This story appeared in the September 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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