The historic Fresnal Lens, once housed in the Point Vicente Lighthouse, has finally found its resting place.
Looking much like a gigantic, glass head sculpture of C-3PO from Star Wars, the mysterious lens now has a new home in a handsome display in the Point Vicente museum.
The rotating beacon, commissioned in 1926, could be seen 20 miles out to sea. It kept pleasure craft, ships and submarines safely away from the craggy Palos Verdes Peninsula.
And, the lens has become a bit of a legend ... with its own ghost story.
A few years after World War II, people in Palos Verdes reported seeing a woman in a white gown pacing in the tower where the lens was located. Some said the apparition was the widow of a lighthouse keeper. Others said she was the spirit of a woman who leaped off the 130-foot cliff when her lover did not return from a voyage at sea.
Rumors about the “Lady of the Light,” were ultimately dispelled by the U.S. Coast Guard offering an explanation about an extra coat of paint to keep the light's reflection from bothering nearby neighbors.
President of Los Serenos de Point Vicente Marcia Booth said new technology has replaced the hand-ground Fresnal lens manufactured around 1886 in Paris. The docents created a display to show the precision and expertise of those optical scientists who mastered the properties of light more than 133 years ago.
“On a national bases, various light houses around the US have been donating their lenses, going toward new LED technology,” Booth said. “We get to keep ours.”
A video screen on the wall near the Fresnal lens shows the intricate removal from the Point Vicente Lighthouse and reinstallation stages of the new Interpretive Center display featuring the help of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Chief Officer Eugene Wright, in charge of Aids to Navigation Los Angeles/Long Beach who is based in San Pedro, said he is pleased this piece of history remains in the community.
He and some of his fellow Coast Guardsmen assisted lens master James Woodward in removing the lens from the lighthouse and installing it in the Interpretive Center. Woodward is one of the last certified lampists left in the nation.
Recently, Palos Verdes City and Coast Guard officials, as well as hundreds of marine-loving residents, tourists and artists gathered at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center during the annual Whale of a Day Festival for a ceremonial ribbon cutting to welcome in dynamic new interactive displays.
Also on hand was world acclaimed artist Blu Rivard who was commissioned to create the 7-foot by 12-foot graphic undersea seascape affixed to the wall across from the interactive whale sculpture leading to the Middle Room displays.
The original oil painting depicting marine animals, pinnipeds, dolphins, whales and kelp beds—above and below the water—features the Palos Verdes coastline blown up on graphic vinyl wallpaper.
Rivard said he basically donated his time to the painting and subsequent wallpaper mural. He will, however keep the original oil painting.
“This is a passion for me,” said Rivard who included the Point Vicente Light House in the painting. “I wanted this to be my best work to date. The painting is going to help educate children and adults, and that’s the image I wanted to give. When I see how damaged and abused our oceans are with netting, pollution and everything that’s out there, it’s heartbreaking.”
Additionally, the museum now houses interactive displays of whale and sea bird migration and navigation, plastic pollution and environment. Plus, an adjacent room features extensive information on the whaling industry that took place in Portuguese Bend in the 1860s.
The Point Vicente Interpretive Center, a totally volunteer generated organization is one of Southern California’s most prominent coastal sites for whale watching, counting and observing behaviors.
Booth said the docents have set up a Go Fund Me page in hopes of raising another $200,000. The improvements will focus on conservation, preservation and environment. One hundred percent of the funds raised will go toward the project.
The Whale of a Day celebration also included food, jewelry tables, community awareness tents and handmade crafts, plus generous silent auction and raffle items.
Tourists Susan Butler from Colorado and MaryAnn Davis from South Carolina said they came to specifically see Rivard's mural, but have fallen in love with the Palos Verdes Peninsula coast.
“It’s like we’re visiting visiting a beautiful heaven, I don’t want to go back,” said Butler waving at the PV hills vibrant with yellow wild mustard. “I’m grabbing as much green and ocean as I possible can.”
Her lifelong friend Davis, who used to live in California, said she felt the same way.
“Its so good to be reconnecting after 35 years,” Davis said. “It’s like being in a little piece of paradise.”