REEL ESTATE: The fog creeps in at Point Reyes Lighthouse

Drew Tinnin

by: Drew Tinnin
August 30th, 2010

In our continuing efforts to keep you entertained and up-to-date on all things cinema, this new GATW segment hands over the blueprints to some of the most  famous pieces of real estate that have been featured in film over the years. We’ll also be revisiting classic sequences that were made even more iconic by the locations where they were filmed. We might even give you a heads up when some of these famous properties go up for sale! So enjoy the open house – where you can enjoy the free food and the history, but never have to worry about being asked to bust out your checkbook...

Why can't KAB 1430 radio out of Antonio Bay, CA actually be on the air? Imagine a magical radio dial transmitting nothing but John Carpenter scores and the sultry voice of Adrienne Barbeau well into the wee hours of the morning. Sadly, such a station does not exist, but if you could somehow pick up that particular frequency as you drove through a midnight fog, you might hear a voice traveling through the night, sent through your speakers from some far away satellite:

"It's exactly 12 minutes after midnight, and this is Stevie Wayne, your nightlight. I'm high tonight in the KAB lighthouse, on Spivey Point. In case you've forgotten, it's April 21st, and a happy birthday for Antonio Bay. There's a celebration planned for tonight, so if you're so excited about it you can't sleep, well stay up with me, and I'll figure out some way to keep you occupied. Or not."

The horror fans sleep-aid would just play that on a loop over and over again, as you drifted off into a dream set in the bountiful hills of some surreal version of Northern California...

In reality, your favorite late night DJ Stevie Wayne is pure fiction and so is Spivey Point. Actress Adrienne Barbeau was actually broadcasting out of the Point Reyes Lighthouse in Marin County...

Read the full article, after the jump!

The lighthouse at Point Reyes wound up doubling for Stonehenge in the minds of John Carpenter and Debra Hill after the couple witnessed an ominous fog creeping over the English landscape during a visit to the ancient monument in the late '70s. After imagining what it would be like if something sinister disguised itself inside the haze, the two filmmakers eventually crafted an old fashioned ghost story that was loosely based on true events that took place in Santa Barbara back in the 1700's.

Statistically, Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent. At times, the visibility is reduced to less than a couple hundred feet, a phenomena that's especially evident during the late summer months. The headlands off the coast have posed a serious threat to ships entering or leaving the San Francisco Bay for more than a hundred years. Because the port was the most harrowing point of contact, the lighthouse flash pattern - the unique sequence used so mariners can identify specific harbors - was one of the more complicated and identifiable signals for sailors to recognize. The Point Reyes lens is divided into twenty-four vertical panels, which direct the light into twenty-four individual beams. A counterweight and gears similar to those in a grandfather clock rotate the 6000-pound lens at a constant speed, totaling one revolution every two minutes. This rotation makes the beams sweep over the ocean surface like the spokes of a wagon wheel, resulting in the Point Reyes signature pattern of one flash every five seconds.

Despite the revolutionary optics of the Point Reyes Lighthouse, shipwrecks were still fairly common, leading to the construction of a lifesaving station on the Great Beach north of the lighthouse in 1890. Men scoured the beaches in four-hour shifts, watching for shipwrecks and anyone needing rescue from the frigid waters and strong currents of the Bay. An updated station was opened in 1927 on Drakes Bay near Chimney Rock which remained active until 1968.

The light of Point Reyes first shone in 1870, and although the interior scenes from THE FOG were shot on a soundstage at Raleigh Studios, moviegoers can still imagine that the plywood and styrofoam that made up that set are actually the original clockworks and cast iron that make up the real lighthouse. The glass prisms, the housing, and the clockwork mechanism were constructed in France in 1867. They were then shipped to a steamer around the tip of South America to San Francisco. Those parts and the cast iron tower were transferred to a second ship, which then sailed to a landing on Drakes Bay.  The parts were then loaded onto ox-drawn carts and hauled three miles over the headlands to near the tip of Point Reyes, 600 feet above sea level.

That being said, all of this great effort and historical significance probably wasn't too much of a concern to Stevie Wayne as she struggled to the very top of the lighthouse, desperately trying to keep gold-obsessed ghouls from ripping her limb from limb.

The next time you watch THE FOG, be sure to think about the history on display during the scenes featuring The Point Reyes Lighthouse, and remember to never answer if you ever hear a slow, ghastly pounding at your door.

Interesting Fact: Stevie Wayne had to maneuver down more than 300 stairs between the observation platform and the actual lighthouse down below everyday when she went to work. That's the equivalent to walking up the stairs of a 30-story building multiple times per week, so think about her the next time you catch yourself complaining about your commute.

The lighthouse is open to the public but is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On other days, it opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 4:30 p.m. although the rest of the lighthouse station remains open until 5 p.m. For information call (415) 669-1534.

To reach the Point Reyes Lighthouse from Highway 1, head west on Bear Valley Road from Olema or west on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from Point Reyes Station. In Point Reyes Station, the turnoff from Highway 1 is located at the Green Bridge on the south end of town. The driving time from Point Reyes Station or Olema is about 40 minutes.

Sources FilminAmerica, www.nps.gov

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  • http://oculartrauma.blogspot.com/ Bannister915

    “The horror fans sleep-aid would just play that on a loop over and over again, as you drifted off into a dream set in the bountiful hills of some surreal version of Northern California…”

    More like the bountiful hills of Adrienne Barbeau! Oh I kill me…

    In all seriousness very interesting read. I was expecting the usual couple pics of the place and some mention of the movie but what I got was so much more. Good to know it’s still open! Must go…

  • Anonymous

    Why do you think I used the word “bountiful”?! Dirty minds think alike…

    Appreciate the lovely comments. There’s actually A LOT more info about the place but didn’t want to force folks to read that much.

    My SF friends promise they’ll take me out there if and when I ever come!

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