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Lighthouse for Sale

At the end of August I wrote my first post, about paddling to Ile Aux Galet (Skillagalee) island, which started out intimidating but turned into a ton of fun, surfing back to the mainland.  Besides about 10,000 birds, the only thing on the island is a beautiful 1888 lighthouse, which is still active.    http://www.michiganlights.com/skillagaleelh.htm

 

Ile Aux Galets

So I was intrigued when I came across this brochure for a new planned-unit development proposed for Muskegon, MI. 

http://www.beaconhillusa.org/pdf/BeaconHill-USA.pdf

The photos are really nice, the graphic design is good, and there is more than a little altruism involved in building “the greenest community in America.”  But, a few factual errors in the text put me into a skeptical frame of mind.  Finally, I was shocked by the statement that they are going to relocate the Ile Aux Galets lighthouse to the middle of this development. 

 

From an environmental standpoint, the development sounds good on paper, and I think the Lake Michigan shoreline would support such a development, even if I think the economy would not.  The developer is quite serious about alternative energy, wind power* and sustainable architecture.  But, re-appropriating a lighthouse to be the cultural centerpiece/icon of a development is, at best, a misguided attempt to establish a “historiocity” for a new project, and for me at least, sends up red flags.  I don’t think that the “Greenest Community in America” would pull such a theme-park maneuver.  As an architect, I have quite a few opinions about preservation.  For me, context is everything.  I would much rather see something fall to ruin in its historical location, than be moved for aesthetic effect.  A prime example would be Disney’s Celebration, a “new town” they built near Orlando.  Celebration, complete with folksy schools and a town hall, stands as a blatant attempt to re-create an American past that never really existed.  It focuses on style and image, over culture and real community development.  Rather than operable, accountable schools or democratic public institutions, they focused their considerable attention on image, doing things like spending $150,000 to import a single large Live Oak tree, because it looked “cool” and “old”.  Another thing to keep in mind is that planned-unit developments are usually built in phases, to allow for adjustments in market demand.  If the first phases are well-received, any altruism typically disappears, the target price of subsequent units are adjusted upward, and the development becomes noticeably more upscale.  The most successful example of a coastal “new-town” is probably Seaside, in the Florida panhandle.  Planned as a self-contained, somewhat affordable, new-town with fantastic architecture and planning, it rapidly developed into an expensive enclave of second, third, and fourth homes.  (It was shown at its most bland in the movie “The Truman Show”.)

 

The whole moving-the-lighthouse-thing agitated me.  So, I contacted various sources, including the developer, to find out what was up.

 

A quick search of the developer turns up some interesting information.  Some of his previous business dealings in the area made a few people so mad that they started this web-site (which carefully avoids libel by containing only publically available information).  http://www.timlangenberg.com/  For this new development, the developer organized a bunch of financing and land deals that fell apart with the recent meltdown of the financial markets.  He has taken a brief furlough out of the country, but is planning to return soon and get back to work on this development.  He still wants the lighthouse, which he sees as central to his development. 

 

 So, how does one go about buying a lighthouse? 

Because the Coast Guard is not tasked, or funded, to preserve historic structures, the Coast Guard has been unloading lighthouses, via the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000.   Once a lighthouse is slated for sale, it will go to other government agencies, municipalities, or failing that, to non-profits, in that preferential order.  If you obtain a lighthouse this way, you have to maintain it as per

National Park Service (Sec. of the Interior) guidelines for historic structures, which can be prohibitively expensive.  If no government or agency steps in to accept a lighthouse, the NPS will auction the lighthouse as a last resort.  If purchased at auction, the NPS guidelines no longer apply, and the new owner can do whatever they want with the lighthouse, including moveit. 

The following link describes the act, as well a list, by year, of available lighthouses in the U.S.:

http://www.nps.gov/history/Maritime/nhlpa/nhlpa.htm

 

So, what about the Skillagalee lighthouse? 

The Skil. lighthouse is not yet on the NHLPA list.  It is automated and operational,  and is listed by the Coast Guard as an “active aid to navigation”.  In other words it appears to be safe for the moment, with no plan for disposal.  However, if it does go on the list, it would quickly be in jeapordy, like the nearby Waugoshance light.  Skillagallee is more remote than Waugoshance, and receives far fewer visitors.  It is quite probable that no town or non-profit would step in to acquire it.  In that case, there is no reason to think that this guy won’t get to buy it for his development. 

 

Why couldn’t he just stick a windmill in the center of his town?  It would at least be appropriate.

 

 

For further resources regarding lighthouse preservation:

http://www.michiganlights.com/index.htm

 

posted by John Fleming

 

*P.S.  wind power on the Great Lakes deserves credible advocates!

 

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