NARA Shout Out in Remote Places: Montara Light Station

Today’s post comes from Larry Shockley, an archives specialist at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

While traveling down California State Route 1 in Northern California a few years ago, I decided to stay a few days at HI Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel in Montara, California. Not only is this hostel centrally located on a State Park Historic site between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay, but it possess stunningly beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding areas.

As I pulled off of the highway and onto the park grounds, I was immediately greeted by a lighthouse, the history of which dates back to at least 1881. At the base of the lighthouse there are several interpretive markers that tell the story of the lighthouse and the other structures that make up the hostel site.

According to the markers, the current lighthouse was installed at the site in 1928, and although the shape of the unit is similar to other lighthouses that dot the California landscape, the bolted and metal-sided frame is rather unusual. It was not until a researcher took a trip to the National Archives some 80 years later that the reasons for this distinctiveness became known.

While conducting research for a book on lighthouses, author Colleen MacNeney located a photograph that had an inscription that read: “This tower formerly used at Mayo Beach, 2d District.” The discovery that the lighthouse had once resided at Mayo Beach led MacNeney to continue her research, and she eventually found correspondence at the National Archives confirming that the lighthouse was well traveled.

Mayo Beach Lighthouse, June 15, 1914. (National Archives Identifier 45691929)

During her research, MacNeney confirmed that in a six-year span from 1922 to 1928 the tower now residing at Montara had traveled from Wellfleet, Massachusetts, to Yerba Buena Island in the San Francisco Bay, and eventually to its final stop at Point Montara. A distance of over 3,200 miles!                 

Mayo’s Beach Light Station, Massachusetts, undated. ( National Archives Identifier: 45691933)

Record Group 26: Records of the U.S. Coast Guard, 1785 – 2005 Series: Lighthouses, 1855 – 1933 File Unit: Massachusetts – Mayo’s Beach, contains six images taken at Mayo’s Beach, with four of them featuring the lighthouse that eventually made its way to Montara.

Mayo’s Beach Light Station, Massachusetts, undated. (National Archives Identifier 45691935)

Although the tower stands at just 30 feet, even on an unelevated platform the light can still be seen at a distance of 9 to 11 miles.  

Mayo’s Beach Light Station, Massachusetts, undated. (National Archives Identifier 45691931)

California MPS Point Montara Light Station is on the National Register of Historic Places:

National Register of Historic Places, Point Montara Light Station, Montara, San Mateo County, California, National Register #91001094. (National Archives Identifier 123857790)

The lighthouse and grounds were used in the 2001 film Bandits starring Cate Blanchett, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bruce Willis.

The story of MacNeney’s research into the many travels of Montara Light Station first appeared in the June 2008 edition of Lighthouse Digest and was covered on CNN.

One thought on “NARA Shout Out in Remote Places: Montara Light Station

  1. The HI Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel is very simple but sort of authentic and historical. The best thing of the hostel is very close proximity of the ocean.

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