Cattle Point lighthouse was built in 1935, but there has been an aid to navigation on the point since 1888. The area was used as a landing place for cattle brought in from Vancouver and at one time a ship was stranded nearby and the crew had to force the cattle to swim to the point, hence the name, Cattle Point.
This lighthouse on San Juan Island, Washington, is a little “Plain Jane” structure in a beautiful setting. Since it has no lantern room, only an aerial beacon for light, we had assumed that it, like most lighthouses, originally had a lantern room and Fresnel lens.
In the Spring of 2005, we were researching archival photos of lighthouses at the Coast Guard Historian's Office in Washington D.C. and we were thrilled to find a whole series of photos of Cattle Point, showing the lighthouse with a lantern room and lens and men working on it.
The workmen didn't look like Coasties; no uniforms, just ordinary work clothes. The lighthouse was really attractive with its black lantern room and a roof on the tower. Somehow, it just didn't feel right to me. There was something about the photos, that weren't quite right, that made me wonder about it.
Then, this winter, I was reading Jim Gibb's book Lighthouses of the Pacific and found this story:
Jim says, “The lighthouse went Hollywood in 1984. It became the background for an Exxon Commercial.”
Although the producers searched, there was no lighthouse that fit their needs for the filming. Cattle Point was in a picturesque area and not too big, but it had a flat top and an aerial beacon for the light. The Coast Guard in Seattle gave permission for the TV producers to alter the lighthouse. A hip roof was added and a lantern room as well and two radio beacons fitted together to look like a real lens. The graffiti-covered tower was given a fresh coat of paint.
When the commercial was finally shown on TV, most lighthouse lovers were unable to identify the lighthouse. After the filming, Cattle Point Lighthouse was restored to its original look and was once again a little “Plain Jane” lighthouse sitting on a beautiful island, with no lantern room, just an aerial beacon atop it, just like it was from the beginning.
This story appeared in the
August 2006 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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