Kilauea Point Lighthouse Lens Revealed Again

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Kilauea Point Lighthouse Lens Revealed Again

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai
Feb 21, 2012

The wood finally came down. After a year-and-a-half behind a dome of plywood, the Kilauea Point Lighthouse lens is once again visible through its glass lantern room.

For the past five years, as I’ve roamed the 31 acres that make up Kilauea Point, I have tended to focus on the wildlife. The soaring Laysan albatrosses surfing the ocean air, returning from a hundreds-mile journey to feed their hungry, clacking chicks. The hovering frigatebirds, plotting their next motivational ploy to get a successful red-footed booby to cough up a tasty snack of fish. The endangered Hawaiian monk seals that sometimes haul out at the cove to sleep off a big meal of fish, squid and octopus. The wide-ranging humpback whales that travel several thousand miles to Hawaii each year to breed, birth and bless us with their breaches, spy-hopping and fluke-slapping.

All the while, I have pretty much ignored the 52-foot, nearly 100-year-old lighthouse, built with flairs of Greek and Roman style of architecture and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The structure that, really and truly, serves as the genesis to what the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is today.

That’s changed.

For one, I am writing a book celebrating the 100 years of Kilauea Point Light Station turned Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.

For another, I still have World War II on the brain, thanks to my visit last week to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

The Kilauea Point Light Station wasn’t immune to the blackouts that washed over the rest of the Hawaiian Islands.

An entry in the Kilauea Point Light Station log for December 7, 1941 reads:

Keepers observing in general for the day cloudy to partly cloudy, Force 6, rain squalls throughout the day with a great increase in velocity. A moderate NW swell and choppy.

Orders from Commander Edgecomb received at 1130. Condition One is in order. Radio beacon signal off the air at Kilauea Point at 1150. 1st assistant keeper proceeded to blackout Kahala Point at 1315, and from there to Nawiliwili Light Station for standby. Keepers stood watch by the telephone the night of December 7, 1941. Kilauea Point blacked out 7 December 1941.

Claude Platt, 2nd assistant on duty at Kilauea Point, provides a personal commentary:

I’ll never forget December 7, 1941. I had a small garden, chicken pen and rabbit hutches in the gulch below my dwelling. That morning about 7:30 I had gone out to feed the animals. When I came back to my house a few minutes after eight o’clock, I turned my radio on and the announcer said the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor! ‘You can see the red ball on the wings,’ he said. I said to my wife, ‘Oh, my God! That means war!’ A little later we got a telephone call from the Honolulu District Office ordering us to shut down the radio beacon so the Japanese couldn’t use it to locate the island--and, of course, not to start up the main light, maintain a complete blackout and a lookout watch."

According to Ross Aikin, author of the out-of-print Kilauea Point Lighthouse: The Landfall Beacon on the Orient Run, “In the days immediately after Pearl Harbor, there was a flurry of activity for Kilauea Point personnel in the form of working with other keepers on Kauai to remove all automated lights on the island at Honolulu’s instructions. Aside from that, the routine now was strictly one of regular grounds and equipment maintenance. The sense of commitment to the all-important function of “keeping the light” no longer existed....”

There may have been a blackout at the Point, but that doesn’t mean everything went quiet. Again, according to Aiken, “At the lower inland levels of Crater Hill, the Army Signal Corps set up a base camp camp and established their primary observation post on the crest of the Hill, providing the same 360-degree north shore outlook which had been offered by the Kilauea Point site. In the case of Crater Hill, however, the elevation offered a much loftier and sweeping view--ideal for their communication purposes. They dug in there for the duration; the evidence of military occupation of the entire area still exists in foxhole pock-marking (mostly now overgrown) of the seaward areas of both the Hill and the Point peninsula. Public access to these coastal bluff areas and adjacent beaches was severely limited by hosts of military personnel, maintaining security for this highly-sensitive installation of complex, including secrecy surround the Signal Corps radar station.”

Immediately after the war, a flip was switched--electricity had retrofitted the workings of the light station in the 1930s--and the the clamshell, double bullseye lens went back to work, alerting mariners and, now, aviators to land.

Over the years, as the rains seeped in nooks and crannies, and salt sprayed upon its surface, the lighthouse bled rust and carved out pivots of age spots. Finally, after an extensive fundraising campaign, the long, overdue renovation started in late summer 2010. One of the first steps in the process was the creation of a wooden box to cover and protect the priceless prism lens, a 2nd order Fresnel creation from France that, in its day, threw a double-flash every 10 seconds some 22 miles out to sea. After a year-and-a-half of blasting, scraping and sanding numerous kinds of metals that spider-web throughout the inside and outside of the lighthouse tower, that phase is all but complete.

And a year-and-a-half after going undercover, the lens is visible again.

And, now, on to phase two of the renovation scheduled to be complete upon the 100-year anniversary, May 2013: the concrete work.


Nicki | Feb 23, 2012 06:21 AM

What wonderful background you continue to uncover and share about this magnificent Kilauea Lighthouse. I am really looking forward to your book. How lucky we are to have you writing it, to bring the story alive for us all.

Kim | Feb 27, 2012 04:32 PM

Thanks, Nicki. I am discovering some interesting tidbits and great stories about Kilauea Point Light Station.

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