Port of Tacoma’s Local Economic Development Investment Fund helps historical society restore 88-year-old Browns Point Lighthouse
The weathered façade and boarded-up windows of the Browns Point Lighthouse belies its radiant history.
It’s the only lighthouse in Pierce County, one of only a few art deco lighthouses in the United States and, since 1933, its flashing beacon has welcomed ships to Commencement Bay.
The lighthouse, along with the 1903 lightkeeper’s cottage and five other historic buildings at the Light Station, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“But immediate impressions are so terrible,” said Jim Harnish, vice president of the Points Northeast Historical Society—of which he’s been a member since 1986. “The most common knee-jerk reaction when people see it is that they want to paint it.”
Harnish understands. But he wants to see the 34-foot-tall tower completed restored to its former glory. If all goes as planned that will happen this year thanks to a bevy of local support.
Metro Parks Tacoma leases the 4-acre site for a public park from the U.S. Coast Guard, which only maintains the working light. The restoration is being funded by grants, local organizations and community members—which so far have combined to contribute $150,000 for the much-needed facelift. The restoration will include a new lantern, uncovering boarded-up windows, replacing the rusted door and stairs, and painting the tower.
“We are seeing how important this place is to our community,” Harnish said.
The Port of Tacoma’s Local Economic Development Investment Fund contributed $25,000 to the project. The fund has an annual budget of $250,000 to invest in non-profits and municipal agencies. The fund prioritizes road and freight infrastructure projects that create long-term jobs, marine tourism infrastructure projects, and planning activities or events promoting international trade and tourism.
The Browns Point Lighthouse restoration was an ideal project because of its maritime history and its value in attracting tourism, said Leslie Barstow, one of six fund committee members and the Port’s community relations manager.
"For decades, the Browns Point Lighthouse has served as an important navigation landmark for vessels calling on the Port of Tacoma and has safely guided other mariners on Puget Sound,” said Dick Marzano, Port of Tacoma commission president. “We’re honored to support the Points Northeast Historical Society’s efforts in preserving Pierce County’s maritime history through our Local Economic Development Investment Fund."
In fact, it’s the second time the fund supported the work of the historical society at Browns Point. In 2018, the Port invested $10,000 so the society could install nine interpretive signs.
Those signs tell the story of how the light station at the end of the tiny point, started with a lantern dangling from a 12-foot-tall post in 1887 before it was replaced in 1903 with a wood lighthouse structure with a kerosene lantern and a fog bell. And they also tell of the work the historical society—bolstered by community support—has done to preserve the six buildings including the lighthouse keeper cottage, which the U.S. Lighthouse Society says is one of the finest examples restoration in the country. It is available as a vacation rental.
It’s been a labor of love for the volunteers like Harnish and the whole community. “But restoring the lighthouse, the Icon of Browns Point” he said, “that’s the capstone.”