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Diamond Head Lighthouse
The Iconic Diamond Head Lighthouse
Want to know more about one of the most iconic landmarks in Diamond Head? Learn about the Diamond Head Lighthouse here.
Overlooking one of the most magnificent surfing spots in Oahu and a nice vantage point to view the most luxurious neighborhood in Honolulu, the Diamond Head Lighthouse is an interesting and beautiful historic landmark on top of Diamond Head. Despite not being open to the public being an operating United States Coast Guard facility, it still manages to become a popular hotspot on the island.
Featured on a US postage stamp since 2007, the Diamond Head Lighthouse might not seem like much on its own. But sitting amidst lush greenery and with sparkling aquamarine waters on its backdrop, it can be breathtaking. It can certainly be a sight to behold that lots of tourists tend to add it to their trips’ itineraries.
There’s so much more about the Diamond Head Lighthouse that will fascinate you, though. So if you want to know more about this Hawaii icon, read on.
About Diamond Head Lighthouse
Curious about the Diamond Head Lighthouse? Here are the details that you should know about this historic spot.
With the layout and history of its location, having the Diamond Head Lighthouse where it stands feels like the most natural thing. Since it’s not unusual to erect lighthouses on high points near the ocean, it seems like the perfect spot to warn sailors that they’re nearing the shore. But did you know that it needed a lot of politicking for this structure to be created?
When the steps to start the construction of the lighthouse were reported by the Pacific Commercial Advertiser in 1897, the minister of the Interior for the Republic of Hawai`i, Captain James King, was already petitioning to have one built on Diamond Head for years already. Two large accidents already took place by this time, both of which could’ve been prevented by having a lighthouse in the area.
The first accident was in 1893, when the SS Miowera ran too close to the shore when the captain miscalculated the location of the Diamond Head. It took six months to free the vessel but luckily, all passengers and cargo were safely offloaded. The second incident took place four years later when the grand steamship China ran aground near the Diamond Head crater.
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Looking back, it’s quite interesting why it took so long for the government to decide on putting a lighthouse in the area. Historically, native Hawaiians lit fires along the rim of Diamond Head to provide navigational fires to sailors. It made perfect sense to continue the tradition as it has proven to work in the past.
Records show, however, that the opposition in the creation of a lighthouse tower on top of Diamond Head is caused more of the concerns on the sturdiness of the structure and the conditions present in the area. The most pressing worry that prevented legislators from giving the go signal is the fact that the area often experiences strong winds and typhoons. This can make lighthouse more of a dangerous addition, in their opinion.
However, due to the accidents that took place already, Captain King still went on ahead and had the Diamond Head Lighthouse made. It was reported that he went to the site himself with the Superintendent of Public Works, Mr. Rowell, to choose a spot for the beacon.
After several trips, Captain King drove the stake to where the lighthouse was erected. Quickly after, they ordered materials for the construction and commissioned a 40-foot iron framework tower from the Honolulu Iron Works. The lantern tower and Fresnel lens of the lighthouse were ordered from Barbier and Benard all the way in France.
The selected site for the tower stands 250 yards west of Diamond Head Charlie’s lookout tower. John Charles “Charlie” Peterson, most popularly known as Diamond Head Charlie is the person who monitored the waters in Honolulu from 1885 to 1907. He watched for arriving ships and reported about the weather to the Pacific Commercial Advertiser.
However, initial plans of having a metal framework lighthouse fell through when the Senate of Hawaii blocked the request of providing $1500 for the lighthouse’s completion. Instead, they instructed their Committee of Public Lands to take a look at the integrity of the structure. They were worried that the weight of the lens and lights will be too much for the frame which will also have to brace against the strong winds in the area.
Three of the senators in the committee personally visited the site for inspection. The reports noted that they made sure to stay on the windward side so in case the tower topples over, they won’t get crushed. Their visit resulted in an interesting report and recommendation, however.
The committee visit report shows that the opposition to the construction of a lighthouse tower is more of a structural concern more than anything. They addressed the initial concern of the frame’s ability to support the weight of the lens and determined that it was capable of doing so.
However, they still believed that the metal frame tower wasn’t substantial enough for the task. It might not last a long while due to its exposure to salt spray and high winds. So they recommended building a more permanent structure to house the beacon instead.
By opting to use more substantial materials, the durability and sturdiness of the structure can be better guaranteed. It can also be more permanent and last longer.
As a result, the Senate provided $2500 for the construction of the Diamond Head Lighthouse. E.B. Thomas was commissioned to construct the masonry tower which used locally quarried coral-rock. They also notably left a hole for Diamond Head Charlie to have an unobstructed view of the bay up to Barbers Point.
The tower was first lit on July 1, 1899, with Captain A. Christian as its first keeper. He was an experienced lighthouse keeper. Unfortunately, only six months later, he was struck by an illness that caused him blindness and paralysis. He did not recover from the ailment and died from a cerebral hemorrhage soon after.
Niel C. Nielson then replaced Captain Christian as the official lighthouse keeper. He did not get along well with Diamond Head Charlie, however, and they often quarreled until a fateful day that things got physical between the two. Charlie hit Nielson in the head with a club which caused the former to lose his job. He was replaced by Captain A. Rosehill only to get back his job 5 months later as his skills in identifying ships proved to be hard to replace.
Change Of Hands
Further developments on the lighthouse tower took place in 1904 when the Lighthouse Board decided to take over in the operation of all of the navigational aids in Hawaii. They identified the Diamond Head Lighthouse to be the only first-class lighthouse in the region. They then added another floor inside the structure, 14 feet above the ground floor. They also added shelves and created two rooms as a result.
Appointed as the new keeper is John M. Kaukaliu. He had to live quarter of a mile down the road, in a private residence in what today is known as the posh Kahala Avenue, as no living quarters were present in the tower. Despite this, however, he was still awarded the efficiency pennant in 1912 for the tower was deemed to be the best-kept station in the district.
In 1914, however, tragedy struck. Kaukaliu was found by his assistant atop the tower laying helpless and paralyzed. He was transported back to his home where he died 8 days later.
In 1916, the cracks found on the structure made the authorities deem that its integrity is compromised. By the next year, funds were allocated to build a 55-foot reinforced concrete tower using the original foundation of the tower. The lantern room was moved to a new metal framework to keep the tower’s operation going despite the construction.
The new tower cost $6109 and looked exactly like the original tower. The only notable difference is that they did not add an external staircase. What it has, instead, is an internal cast-iron spiral stairway. The reconstruction was completed in 1919.
By 1921, a keeper’s dwelling was added to the station. It was used by the keeper for just 3 years, however, as the tower was eventually automated in 1924. The structure was not left unused, however, as the superintendent of the Nineteenth Lighthouse District, Frederick Edgecomb, used it until the Coast Guard assumed control over all lighthouses in 1939.
When the war broke, the Diamond Head Lighthouse continued its service. The keeper’s dwelling was used as a Coast Guard radio station.
After the war, the keeper’s dwelling was remodeled to be fit for housing the Commanders of the Fourteenth Coast Guard District. In 1967, Rear Admiral Benjamin Enge moved in with his wife, Ruth. It was reported that the first time Ruth Engels saw the view, she was at a loss for words. She then proclaimed that it was absolutely the most beautiful view she has ever seen.
During the Engels’ stay at the Diamond Head Lighthouse, they hosted several parties and invited lots of VIP guests and dignitaries to the beautiful home. Since the tower has a well-manicured lawn, it was perfect for hosting magical evenings with friends and colleagues.
Aside from its colorful history, the Diamond Head Lighthouse is also used as a finish marker for the Transpac Yacht Race. This offshore yacht race covers 2,225 nautical miles starting in San Pedro, California off the Port Fermin. It’s considered one of the most prestigious boating events around the globe and attracts entrants from all over.
During the race, the road nearest the lighthouse will be seen packed with people to watch the arrival of the competing boats. Seeing the beautiful yachts come in is such a sight to behold.
But even without a race, the area surrounding the lighthouse is still deemed as a great spot for its gorgeous vistas. Folks are mesmerized by the views of the surf and those who conquer the big waves.
Enjoying The Diamond Head Lighthouse
While the lighthouse tower in itself is off limits to the public, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take a picture with it. Visitors of the Diamond Head State Monument visitors can view it from Diamond Head Road. You can stop at a small pull-off area and walk on a short trail to get unobstructed views of the water and the lighthouse. You can still take lots of amazing photos of the tower and the views around it with great ease.
Aside from the lighthouse tower, there are also tons of other things to see and explore in Diamond Head. Since this state park covers 475 acres, there’s definitely a lot to do here on your visit. Among the top activities that you shouldn’t miss are the following:
Historic Diamond Head Hike
No visit to the Diamond Head is complete without taking on its hiking trail. It may seem extra challenging but this 1.6-mile hike is actually only rated as a moderate excursion. The trail is paved and there are rails so you definitely won’t rough it out. The ground can get a bit slippery in the mornings, however, so keep this in mind if you’re visiting early in the morning. You can also take it at your own pace, so there’s no need to worry about it too much.
The hike will take you through the park to view the different historic locations inside. You’ll also be able to spot several important historical landmarks along the way. At the end, you’ll be 762 feet off the ground and enjoy marvelous vistas of Oahu.
Diamond Head Lookout
Another notable stop on your visit to Diamond Head is the Diamond Head Lookout. It overlooks the Kuilei Cliffs Beach Park and offers magnificent views of the water. You can also look for the Amelia Earhart marker that commemorates her 1935 Hawaii-California flight.
A visit to Diamond Head will consist a lot of walking, so be prepared. The trail to this lookout isn’t hard, however, it’s just rather long. So mentally prepare yourself for some endurance training.
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