Patti Fleschner: Save the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse

At this blessed time of year, when peace on earth, good will toward all humans, and well wishing expressions are exchanged, the 104-year-old community service organization, Trinidad Civic Club, finds itself in a push-me-pull-you situation reminiscent of Dr. Dolittle’s tale. The future of the tiny piece of land, 45 by 50 feet, on which the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse rests, in is the middle of an unhealthy civic storm.

The Tsurai Ancestral Society is concerned about the Trinidad Civic Club’s plans for the lighthouse and so is the Yurok Tribe. The California Coastal Conservancy thinks it has an easement on the parcel, which the Civic Club emphatically disputes. The California Coastal Commission has interceded, with no reconciliation over any concerns, for over five years while appeal hearings about a simple grounds improvement and beautification project have gone on and on and on.

The City of Trinidad is working with everyone. The Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria has been supportive of Civic Club efforts. The Trinidad Civic Club desires four things:  respect for two sacred sites, the Memorial Lighthouse and the Tsurai Village; access down the Axel Lindgren Jr. Trail to Old Home Beach; safety on its grounds, and beautification of the site where thousands of visitors, newlyweds, families of people whose names are engraved at the site, vacationers, and local residents go to watch the sun rise or to take a photo of one of Humboldt County’s most iconic places.

The Memorial Lighthouse was built in 1949, when the 1912 Trinidad Head Lighthouse Fresnel oil lens, and the 1898 two-ton bronze fog bell, were decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard and given to Trinidad Civic Club for stewardship. Land was deeded to the Trinidad Civic Club by Earl and Neva Hallmark to build a lighthouse replica.   

Earl and Neva were present at the dedication, filmed in color by Robert Baker, in June 1949. The short film can be viewed at Trinidad Museum by request. The Hallmarks watched the construction and were clearly pleased with the results of their generosity. In the construction, the grounds were disrupted. In the language of one of the geologists hired by the Civic Club, “there is no native soil” where construction occurred.   

The Trinidad Civic Club was given public notice at a City Council meeting this year that the lighthouse was in danger of slipping down the hillside.

The City parking lot and bluff to the west of the lighthouse already had slipped. The Civic Club took action, hiring engineering geologists, consultants, contractors and preservationists, of all stripes, to try to figure out how to save the lighthouse.   

At one of the meetings on Sept. 20, 2017, to which all stakeholders were invited, the Civic Club was told that there is aversion to having a lighthouse in Trinidad because tribes are reminded of a post Gold Rush time when Indian culture changed dramatically.

Although it has been suggested by stories in local media that other sites were considered for moving the lighthouse, no offers have been made to the Civic Club and the matter of safety for the lighthouse and its visitors became urgent.

Whatever one’s views are on Manifest Destiny, there were very good things, and some not good things that occurred. Some citizens are happy to be in America’s melting pot of diverse people from here, there and everywhere.

I won’t bring up, well, yes I will, that my German Mennonite fore-bearers were forced from their homes because of their religion post-Reformation. There are sad stories of displacement and cruelty and discouragement from around the world. And there are some pretty wonderful tales of integration and reconciliation too. Is it not America’s gift that we can, if we choose to, lift ourselves out of the past?   An emergency permit to move the lighthouse to the east on to a concrete foundation was issued on Dec. 7.  This is an entirely separate matter from the over five-year old appeal regarding the 2012 grounds improvements.  The Trinidad Civic Club’s plans are to go forward  to preserve the lighthouse, thus avoiding the catastrophe that might occur if it toppled down the bluff near the historic Tsurai Village site. The best practical place on the site to move the lighthouse has been identified.  The idea that the lighthouse or the bell might have contributed to destabilization over the years is ill-informed. At the Dec. 13, 2017 City Council meeting, the Council was reminded that in a May 23, 2012 memo to the Mayor, the Trinidad Civic Club expressed what the Club thought were common goals for all stakeholders in tearing down the literal and figurative fence barrier years ago: “1, remove an unsafe and unattractive fence barrier below the Memorial Lighthouse; 2, beautify the grounds; 3, preserve and protect the site from erosion as much as is humanly possible within the limits of a meager Trinidad Civic Club budget; 4, provide safe and graceful access to the Axel Lindgren Memorial trail; and 5, respect the public bluff site for the people who are commemorated at the site and for the people who lived at the village site before.”

A Tsurai Ancestral Society member was present during the cordial  discussion about this on February 18, 2012.  Nothing has changed in the commitment of Trinidad Civic Club to these important considerations. But the site has changed. Now there is an emergency. The Club goals remain the same.

Patti Fleschner is the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse Preservation Committee Chairman of the Trinidad Civic Club.


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