After years of planning, a three-ton piece of history has finally found its way to Santa Barbara.
The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum held a grand opening Saturday for its new Point Conception Lighthouse Exhibit. It was a full house at the museum overlooking the Santa Barbara marina, and people gathered to celebrate the efforts of its major donors and the community.
“Tonight we are opening what in my mind is the new signature exhibit at the Maritime Museum," said Greg Gorga, the museum's executive director. "I believe this is the most important maritime artifact in the Santa Barbara Channel."
The exhibit features an 18-foot, 6,000-pound Fresnel lens that was used at the Point Conception Lighthouse at a remote, windswept elbow of Santa Barbara County. The lens itself is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard, but is considered a permanent loan to the museum.
“Point Conception is called ‘the graveyard of the Pacific’ and is a big part of our history,” Gorga explained. “That point is dangerous, the weather is horrible and there’s a lot of shipwrecks. The lens saved thousands of lives and had an important part in guiding our ancestors through those troubled waters.”
To make the move to Santa Barbara, the lens had to be dismantled, a process that took experts six weeks to complete. The glass was flown by helicopter to Santa Barbara from Point Conception and the museum floor had to be reinforced to handle the heavy weight.
The exhibit also depicts the life of the lighthouse keepers — a life that wasn’t always very easy. Two of the keepers, Sandra and Bruce Drugg, who were stationed at Point Conception from July 1969 to July 1971 before automation took over, were on hand to give their firsthand account.
“There wasn’t a lot of things for me to do,” Sandra Drugg recalled. "I was the only female out there, and that was boring and lonely. I was only 20 years old. There wasn’t a phone and there weren’t any people.”
“There’s a lot of history there but we thought it was a beautiful place," Bruce Drugg added. "We used to watch the whales out in the bay."
In June, the Druggs had the opportunity to go back to the lighthouse with their son, who was born there, and their daughter.
“Our son was only 9 months old when we left, and after 40 years of us telling him story after story of all the things that happened out there, he finally got to see it,” Bruce said.
“I just told him that we’ll have 40 more years of stories to tell you,” Sandra continued.
The process of getting the lens to Santa Barbara included years of planning and fundraising with a budget of $250,000. Among the major donors were Sarah and Roger Chrisman.
“My great-grandfather and his father-in-law were lighthouse keepers, and that is why this is so important to me,” Roger Chrisman said.
Lenses of this size were installed at the world's most dangerous places for mariners, like Point Conception.
“I’ve been by many times in my own boat and you can see it 25 miles offshore,” Chrisman said.
He says the lens is a national treasure.
“This exhibit is a great way to experience a piece of history and how lighthouse keepers lived,” Chrisman said. “They lived at this awful place and families grew up there; my family did. So it’s an educational experience as well.”
The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Wednesday. Click here for more information, or call 805.962.8404.