A lighthouse to call its own

Port Washington acquires structure from federal government, now plans to ramp up efforts to repair and preserve city’s landmark pierhead light

THE PORT WASHINGTON lighthouse was silhouetted by the rising sun as a sailboat powered out of the harbor on a calm September morning. The federal government deeded the pierhead light to the city last week. Press file photo
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington is now the proud owner of its iconic lighthouse.

Mayor Tom Mlada said Monday that the General Services Administration notified him last week that the city had been deeded the Art Deco-style lighthouse, which has graced the harbor since 1935.

“It’s official. It’s all signed, sealed and delivered,” Mlada said. 

Aldermen were expected to welcome the long-awaited news when they met Wednesday.

The city has been working to attain the lighthouse since 2014, when officials first learned the Coast Guard was likely to divest itself of the lighthouse.

The following year, when the Coast Guard declared the lighthouse surplus, the city went on a campaign to acquire the structure — an effort supported with a preservation plan and letters of support intended to show community support for the project.

That support was needed because the Geek Group, a Michigan-based nonprofit agency aimed at fostering people’s interest in science and engineering, had also indicated it would seek to acquire the Port lighthouse.

Ultimately, however, the Geek Group did not submit an application for the lighthouse.

Port officials have submitted a request to have the lighthouse placed on the National Register of Historic Places and started an informal fund-raising campaign to raise the money needed to preserve the structure.

That, Mlada said, is the next step forward for the city.

“We’ve come a long way, but we have some giant leaps ahead of us,” he said. “The future’s in our hands.”

The city has already raised about two-thirds of the estimated $25,000 needed to replace the porthole windows in the lighthouse, he said.

But, Mlada said, about $30,000 is likely to be needed to not only replace the windows but also repair some small holes in the roof of the structure — work the city hopes to complete in fall so the lighthouse is ready for winter.

The next project, he said, will be fundraising to paint the lighthouse, which has lead paint. That could cost the city anywhere from $400,000 for a basic job that would last 10 to 15 years or $1.1 million for a “Cadillac” version lasting 25 years, officials have said.

That, Mlada estimated, will be a three to five-year project.

The distinctive Port lighthouse, which was built in 1935 for $38,000, consists of a metal Art Deco tower that rests on a 20-foot-square cement base with large arches on each of its faces.

Since it was built, the iconic lighthouse has been a symbol of Port Washington, used on everything from the city’s logo to postcards. 

It has also been a destination for local residents and tourists alike — especially since the city has worked with the Army Corps of Engineers over the past several years to improve the breakwater leading to the lighthouse.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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