The historic Browns Point Lighthouse stands like a sentinel on Commencement Bay, as it has since its light first guided ships into port back in 1933. Tacoma’s historical guiding light has recently been renovated to operate for generations to come at the aptly named Browns Point Lighthouse Park.
Flashback for a moment since some backstory is in order — the first lighthouse on the point was actually just a lantern on a pole installed in 1887, a full 12 years after the city formed and two years before Washington became a state. The boom borne of the transcontinental railroad and shipping traffic led to the construction of a wooden lighthouse in 1903 to provide more reliable navigational light throughout the bay. The current Art Deco lighthouse replaced the wooden original in 1933.
However, the passage of time and the constant salty sea air had taken their tolls on the landmark, so renovation and fundraising talks started four years ago. Donations, grants, in-kind contributions dovetailed into hundreds of hours of volunteer labor made renovations and upgrades a reality on time and under its $150,000 budget. About $65,000 of the project came from some 200 private donors and area businesses, while other funding came from the Ben B. Cheney Foundation, the Port of Tacoma, Pierce County Historic Preservation and the Tacoma Landmarks Commission. Specialty Metals, a local company that fabricated replica windows and doors, came in well under its bid and then donated its expertise to rebuild the missing lighthouse lantern.
The 38-foot concrete lighthouse tower is repainted, and a fence around the site has been removed, allowing the original ledge of the base to be restored. A replica foghorn matching the original has been installed, but it is just for show. The Coast Guard’s use of foghorns on the site ended years ago. The renovations also include the restoration of historic windows, doors and stairs. The black-painted iron fence is now white to blend better with the white lighthouse and outbuildings. The lighthouse’s lantern has also been replaced with a replica, as the original was lost to history.
While the Metro Parks Tacoma operates the two-acre park through a lease with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Points Northeast Historical Society runs the historical site that includes the lightkeeper’s house. The house in the center of the park property operates as a vacation rental, through VRBO and Airbnb, for guests looking to live as life was for lightkeepers a century ago. Constructed in 1903, the Lightkeeper’s Cottage includes rooms filled with turn-of-the-last-century décor with the more modern amenities of a living room, music room, modern kitchen and three bedrooms.
“This lighthouse is an icon of Browns Point,” said Jim Harnish, vice-president of Points Northeast, in a press release. “It’s one of very few Art Deco lighthouses in the world, and our community loves it. We’re so happy to restore it to its original beauty.”
The lighthouse renovations mark the last phases of work that previously saw the restoration of the historic bell house, boathouse, oil house, crew quarters, generator building and keeper’s cottage to their original glory.
The basement of the Lightkeeper’s Cottage serves as a museum to the lighthouse and the surrounding neighborhood, while the grounds serve as Heritage Gardens, complete with fruit trees, roses and flowers spanning the rainbow.
Volunteer docents provide tours of the historical sites and their displays from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays from May to October, although the park itself is open daily from dawn to dusk.
Browns Point Lighthouse Park
201 Tulalip Street NE