Many coastal towns popped up on the coast around 1850. What set Point Arena apart from many other coastal towns was its close proximity to the ocean and a cove that offered protection for schooners from the pounding surf. The first wharf was built in 1866 and soon after Point Arena became a bustling shipping port. One of the main things shipped out of the wharf was timber, big redwood timber. T
The first lumber mill was built in 1870 along the Garcia River about 5 miles east of the city of Point Arena. The biggest hurdle for this mill was getting the manufactured lumber to the wharf. So a flume was constructed that used water and gravity to get the timber to the port. The lumber had to be taken up a large hill by an elaborate conevyor, the site of this is known as Rollervile. (The sight of the Lighthouse Point Resort now.) Once at the top of the hill the lumber was first hauled by horses to the bluff top and later taken by train. The lumber was then sent down a chute to the cove and loaded on a waiting vessel.
As more and more timber was shipped towards San Francisco Point Arena became known for not just its wharf but its dangerous coastline for ships. Because of the increased carnage on the ocean, in 1866 the U.S goverment issued an order for a lighthouse to be constructed on the point at Point Arena.
The first lighthouse constructed in Point Arena was built of brick. About 600,000 bricks were either created or brought in from San Francisco for construction. It was approximately 22 feet in diameter, 100 feet high, and the base of the walls was 6 feet thick. The original cost for this structure was $120,000. The light from the lighthouse could be seen plainly for 19 miles at sea. After the brutal 1906 earthquake and original lighthouse was badly damaged and a second lighthouse had to be built.
One of the first buildings in the city of Point Arena was a store built in 1859. The next necessary building was a saloon. The remaining bits and pieces followed. The town has survived multiple fires and the 1906 earthquake but has survived through it all. Since the start the population has always remained around 500 people. It ebbs and flows like a coastal tide but always remains around 500 citizens. In 1914 Point Arena had a population of 476 and included 9 saloons!
There were 3 catastrophic events that affected the architecture and shape of Point Arena. The fire of 1893, 1906 earthquake and 1927 fire. Both fires started in the Grand Hotel and the 1893 fire destroyed a dozen buildings. The 1927 fire destroyed every thing else that was left. Only 3 structures survived the 1927 Fire. The Point Arena Hotel (sign of the whale building,) the adjacent fire proof bank building, and the Point Arena Garage at the south end of town. The Grand Hotel which was the origination of both fires is now the site of the Arena Theatre, built in 1930. It is a shame to think that so many buildings were lost and what Point Arena would have looked like today.
Point Arena became an incorporated city in the build up to prohibition in 1907. The town had 14 liquor licenses and wanted to protect them in case Mendocino County went dry. By becoming a city, Point Arena could regulate and issue its own liquor licenses. Another reason to become incorporated is that Point Arena would collect a larger share of the local taxes and could do with that many as they pleases instead of relying on the county to share its revenue. Point Arena has always been an independent place and that spirit still thrives today.
I hope you enjoyed a brief history of Point Arena. I credit the book "The Early Days of Point Arena" by Steve Oliff and Cheri Carlstedt. It is a terrific book and a fun read and gives a lot of detailed information on the City, citizens, and businesses.