The historic Mount Diablo beacon shines one night a year
At the dawn of commercial aviation, eighty-eight years ago, the Standard Oil company build a network of navigation light beacons across the country to aid pilots traversing the nation. Mount Diablo stood out from the Northern California landscape, and was selected for the final tower in the project. Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh lit the beacon in a 1928 ceremony. The location at the summit of Mt. Diablo between population centers, the height (over 3,848 feet), prominence, visibility, the vast viewshed, all made it the perfect final beacon to guide planes West of the Sierra.
Events on December 7th, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy”, darkened the light beacon. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,403 Americans, and put the United States on war footing. To protect the coast from nighttime aerial attack, war-time blackout rules applied to every home, office, factory, and especially a blazing navigation beacon atop a mountain. The light was extinguished. After the war, advances in radar and radio telemetry made the beacon obsolete, and it fell in to disrepair.
It was turned on again in 1964 after Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Pacific commander in WWII, suggested that it be ceremonially turned on again every Dec. 7th honor those who lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was restored back to service, and ignited annually since.
The lamp itself is three feet in diameter and is rotated by an electric motor. The lens is composed of twelve glass panes, and the modern light is a 1500-watt halogen electric bulb.
A few years ago, the beacon showed signs of significant age and deterioration. Community, corporate, and volunteer efforts paid for the restoration to keep the beacon shining. It shines still, and will next shine on Wednesday night, December 7th. It will be lit at sunset and shine until sunrise to memorialize the Japanese attacks on the U.S. Navy base on Dec. 7, 1941.
The beacon is a bright and poignant talking point to share with your family. Hopefully there will be a break in the weather so we can all appreciate this living piece of history. It evokes conversations about the mountain, WWII, local history, aviation and technology, and more. And it is our very own East Bay gem that shines every December like the star above a manger in Bethlehem.
Martinez native and East Bay property appraiser Mario Mazzamuto is an author, real estate investor, and Certified High Performance Coach who lives in Martinez, California with his wife Jessica and two kids. He owns San Francisco Bay Appraisal, which does property valuations and sales-prep consultations around the East Bay. Follow SF Bay Appraisal on Facebook here