Alki Point Lighthouse

West Seattle, Washington - 1913 (1887**)

Photo of the Alki Point Lighthouse.

History of the Alki Point Lighthouse

Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2017-09-20.

As the West Coast was growing, it became necessary to light the waterways. Alki Point marked the southern approach to Seattle Harbor and was an important departure point for vessel venturing south on Puget Sound. After being marked with a post light since 1887, the Lighthouse Service established the Alki Point Lighthouse in 1913.

Many date the founding of Seattle as September 25, 1851, the year the scouts from the Denny Party started construction of a small cabin at Alki Point. After being guided to Alki Point, the scouts, John Low and David Denny, were joined by Leander "Lee" Terry.

Once at the site, the scouts, with the help of local Native Americans, started construction of a cabin. Soon after that, John Low and Lee Terry staked a land claim under the Donation Land Claim Act. They named their claim "New York Alki" as members of their party were originally from New York, and Alki being a Chinook word meaning "eventually" or "by and by."

The rest of the Denny Party would arrive via the schooner Exact on November 13, 1851. By the following spring, as Arthur Denny was unhappy with the location claimed by Low and Terry, he and several other settlers headed east and eventually settled on the east shore of Elliott Bay, just north of the plat of David Swinson "Doc" Maynard. Today, the area is known as Pioneer Square.

Charles C. Terry bought out both Low and Terry's Alki holdings and took ownership of Alki Point. For several years, he tried to develop Alki, but due to strong tidal currents, piers couldn't be built. This predicament hampered further development.

After a few years, most of Alki's settlers defected and joined the others on the east shore of Elliott Bay. In 1857, Charles Terry swapped his 320-acre Alki land holdings for "Doc" Maynard's 260 acres of unplatted land on the eastern shore of Elliott Bay. Maynard established a farm at Alki, an occupation he kept for eleven years.

In 1868, Maynard sold the 320-acre parcel to Hans Martin Hanson and his brother-in-law, Knud Olson for $450. When the two men split the property, Hanson received the section which included the point, which he began farming.

U.S. Coast Guard Archive Photo of a post lanternExample post lantern (Courtesy CG)

As the number of vessels in Puget Sound gradually increased, sometime in the 1870s, Hanson started hanging a brass kerosene lantern from a post on the side of his barn to mark the Alki Point Shoals and the southern entrance to Elliott Bay. This action unofficially created the first Alki Point Light.

In 1887, the Lighthouse Board realized the importance of the location and established an official post lantern on Alki Point. Many times, the board used post lights as a stopgap measure until they could erect a permanent lighthouse.

The 1906 edition of the List of Lights and Fog Signals had the original post lantern at the coordinates of 47.57611N and 122.4189W, which today, is approximately the address of 3142 Alki Ave. SW.

A post lantern had a drum-type lens that produced a bright fixed light. Sitting atop the lens was a large tank that held enough fuel for eight days. The keeper then raised the entire unit to the top of a post. The pole used at Alki Point was ten feet tall, which showed the light as 12 feet above mean water.

As the light was on his property, the board hired Hans Hanson as the official keeper at a salary of $15 per month. Keeper Hanson's duties each day were to check the fuel tank, clean the glass, trim the wicks, and light the lantern each night and extinguish it each morning. Every six months, the Lighthouse Board would deliver several barrels of coal oil to supply the light.

Over the years, the responsibilities of keeping the light were given to Hanson's only son, Edmund, although he would then often dupe one of his six sisters into doing the work. When Keeper Hans Hanson died on July 26, 1900, his farm was split up amongst the children. Edmund inherited the section with the light and became the official keeper.

Starting in 1895, the Lighthouse Board recommended a fog signal for Alki Point as the post light was of little value in foggy weather and requested an appropriation of $6,000 to fund it. The request appeared in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board as "Battery Point," which was another name for Alki Point:

1001. Battery Point post light, Puget Sound, Washington - The establishment of a fog signal at this point is strongly urged. It is estimated that a fog bell with suitable dwelling, grounds, etc., could be erected for $6,000, and it is recommended that an appropriation of this amount be made therefor.

The Lighthouse Board repeated the same request every year until Congress finally appropriated the necessary funds on June 28, 1902. Soon after that, the board began preparing the plans and specifications.

By the following year, problems arose:

189. Battery Point post light, Washington - The act approved on June 28, 1902, appropriated $6,000 for the establishment of a fog-signal at this point. A preliminary survey was made to determine the area and the boundaries of the site selected. The prices asked by the owners of this land are in excess of the appropriation. It is thought that by condemning the land it can be obtained at a figure under the appropriation, leaving, however, but little for the construction of the station. The Board therefore recommends that an additional appropriation of $6,000 be made for completing this station.

The Lighthouse Board repeated the same entry in 1904, but as the cost of materials and labor had increased in the three years since the original request, they increased the appropriation to $8,000 instead.

That same entry appeared in 1905, but by 1906, the site purchase was still dragging on. The Lighthouse Board recommended condemnation proceedings against Edmund Hanson, provided that $5,984.50 would be sufficient for that purpose and referred the matter to the United States attorney.

The U.S. attorney reported the plan as impracticable. Therefore the board didn't pursue the case and instead proposed, that if practicable, to obtain a site offshore, outside of Hanson's riparian rights. They stated that a light station could be built on such a site with the amount appropriated.

Congress appropriated the additional $8,000 on March 4, 1907, and the Lighthouse Board pushed forward with its efforts to secure a location. The act of June 17, 1910, authorized an increase of $33,000 to bring the total cost of a lighthouse and fog signal at Alki Point up to $47,000, but it did not provide an appropriation. That came on March 4, 1911, which fully funded the light's completion.

On October 8, 1909, the Lighthouse Board received the deed to half the site, which cost $9,081. In September 1911, the U.S. Government paid an additional $10,064.40 for the other half, making the total cost of the 1.5-acre parcel an astonishing $19,145.50. In today's dollars (2017), that would be $477,106.92.

U.S. Coast Guard Archive Photo of the Alki Point LighthouseAlki Point Lighthouse circa 1914 (Courtesy Coast Guard)

That same year, Carl W. Leick, a draftsman for the Engineer Office of the Thirteenth Lighthouse District, began drawing up plans for the Alki Point Lighthouse. The German-born architect designed several unmistakable buildings in Astoria, Oregon, which include the Grace Episcopal Church and the Captain George Flavel House before moving to Portland and taking a job with the Engineering Office of the Thirteenth Lighthouse District.

As the architect of the Thirteenth Lighthouse District, he designed 40 lighthouses throughout the Pacific Northwest - 22 in Washington, 11 in Alaska, and 7 in Oregon, which included the second lighthouse at Cape Arago. Most consider the Grays Harbor Lighthouse Carl W. Leick's greatest achievement, and from its commanding appearance, it's easy to understand why.

Construction of the station started on July 11, 1912. Constructed was a concrete one-story fog-signal building with a three-story octagonal concrete tower attached to the easterly face. Atop the tower was a fourth-order cast-iron lantern.

Outfitted in the lantern was a fourth-order Fresnel lens manufactured by L. Sautter Lemonnier of Paris, France. The seven-panel lens had five flash panels which provided five white flashes every ten seconds, with an eclipse of five seconds between the groups. Inscribed on the lens was the markings "USLHS 457."

Inside the Fresnel lens was a 35-millimeter double-tank incandescent oil vapor lamp, which when coupled with the flash panels provided an intensity of 16,600 candlepower each, visible for 11 nautical miles in clear weather.

Built roughly 200 feet to the southeast of the tower was a pair of eight-room keeper's quarters. Each unit was a one-and-a-half story wood-framed dwelling with a concrete foundation and a basement. The first floor consisted of a kitchen, dining room, parlor, bedroom, and a bathroom. The upper story had three bedrooms, with storerooms, and closets.

Inside the fog signal building, the apparatus consisted of two 4-horsepower oil engines and double-acting single-stage compressors to power the third-class Daboll trumpet. Trumpets projected out the north, east, and south walls directed the sound in multiple directions. The characteristic was a 3-second blast, followed by 6 seconds of silence, followed by another 3-second blast, and then 18 seconds of silence.

Construction of the station finished up on April 29, 1913, and the station's first Head Keeper Harry D. Mahler placed the light into service on the night of June 1, 1913. Ezra E. Marr was hired as the station's assistant keeper.

U.S. Coast Guard Archive Photo of the Alki Point fog signal stationAlki Point fog signal circa 1914 (Courtesy Coast Guard)

Soon after that, on August 12, the oil house was finished. To ensure that it was fireproof, it had a concrete floor, asbestos shingle walls and roof, and copper ventilators. The cost was $458.

A few years later, in 1915, the stone revetment in front of the light station was strengthened by placing 420 tons of stone at the cost of $1,245.

In 1919, electric service was available at the lighthouse, and the light was switched over from incandescent oil vapor to an electric lamp.

The Coast Guard took over in 1939 and started updating the station. In 1947, they upgraded the fog signal. The updated equipment included an electric single-stage Worthington Air Compressor and twin Leslie-Typhoon horns. The characteristic was changed to two blasts every 30-seconds. As a standby, the Coast Guard kept a gas-powered Sullivan air compressor for emergencies.

The illuminating apparatus received an update in 1962 when the Coast Guard removed the original fourth-order Fresnel lens and replaced it with an airport-style rotating beacon. The new light was six times brighter than the Fresnel lens, approximately 80,000-candlepower, and was visible for 15 nautical miles.

Today, the original fourth-order Fresnel lens is on display at the Admiralty Head Lighthouse in Fort Casey Historical State Park.

The Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation designated the Alki Point Light Station as a historic place and listed it on the Washington Heritage Register on November 19, 1976. The National Park Service also had it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Coast Guard automated the station in 1984 using photoelectric cells to turn the airport-style beacon on and off. Before that, the Coast Guard personnel on duty would stand an eight-hour watch, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

After automation, the two keeper's dwellings were remodeled and used by Coast Guard officers. The Commander of the Thirteenth Coast Guard District took up residence in the head keeper's house but later moved his official quarter to Medina, across Lake Washington. Coincidentally, two years after the decommissioning of the fog signal in 2005, he moved back into the keeper's house.

Today, a modern VRB-25 aerobeacon occupies the lantern and operates 24 hours a day, flashing once every five seconds. An automatic bulb changer replaces failed bulbs. In the event of a power failure, an emergency light on the outside of the tower, operated by 12-volt batteries, takes over.

The Coast Guard retired the electric fog horns in 2005 but kept the original fog signal house intact for historical purposes. Today, two electric FA 232 foghorns powered by a 12-volt battery system switch on automatically when the visibility drops below three miles.

The original post lantern established by the Lighthouse Board in 1887 was on display at the Alki Point Lighthouse until 1970, when someone broke in and stole it. A Seattle couple purchased it several years later from a California antique dealer, and it eventually made its way back to the Coast Guard.

It turns out the thief's fingerprints were still on the lantern, which led to his arrest. According to Captain Gene Davis, director of the Coast Guard Museum Northwest where the lantern is on display, "He got a few years in jail, and we got the lantern."


  1. Annual Report of the Light House Board, U.S. Lighthouse Service, Various years.
  2. Annual Report of the Secretary of Commerce, United States, Various.
  3. Lighthouses of the Pacific, Jim Gibbs, June 1, 2003.
  4. United States Lighthouse Society website.
  5. Iconic Alki Point Lighthouse will celebrate 100th birthday," David Rosen, Westside Seattle, May 24, 2013.
  6. "Lighting the way around the Sound," Eric Sorensen, The Seattle Times, August 17, 2006.
  7. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses, U.S. Lighthouse Service, Various years.
  8. A Complete Guide To The Lighthouses on Puget Sound Including Admiralty Inlet, Christopher Petrich, 2005.
  9. "Alki Point Light Station," Daryl C. McClary,, July 6, 2003.
  10. U.S. Coast Guard website.

Directions: From SR-99 (Alaskan Way) take the West Seattle Bridge to cross over Elliott Bay and pick up SW Admiral's Way. At 63rd Ave. SW, take a right and head north until you reach Alki Ave SW. Take a left and follow this to the end. At this point, you can see the Alki Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse is tucked in behind some houses, however, you can still get some good photos of it.

Access: The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds and tower open during tours. Visit the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary site for tour information. Dwelling closed.

View more Alki Point Lighthouse pictures
Tower Information
Tower Height: 37.00'
Focal Plane: 39'
Active Aid to Navigation: Yes
*Latitude: 47.57628 N
*Longitude: -122.42056 W
See this lighthouse on Google Maps.


* Please note that all GPS coordinates are approximated and are meant to put you in the vicinity of the lighthouse, not for navigation purposes.

** This year denotes a station date. This is the year that a lighthouse was first reported in the vicinity or at that location.

All photographs and information on this site is copyright © 2016 Bryan Penberthy unless otherwise specified. No content may be used without written permission. Any questions or comments, please email me.