Lighthouse is a Port landmark in limbo

PORT WASHINGTON’S Art Deco-style lighthouse is a recognizable symbol of the city, but it has fallen into disrepair in recent years. The city, which took ownership of the structure in 2018, is seeking cost estimates to replace the porthole windows and repaint the structure. Preliminary estimates place those costs at $30,000 and $1 million, respectively. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press staff

Three years after the City of Port Washington took ownership of the lighthouse that stands as a symbol of the community — and made a promise to maintain it — the structure still stands with broken windows and a rusting exterior.

With summer coming quickly, aldermen asked last week if the city is making any progress on getting estimates for the repair work, particularly painting the landmark.

Not yet, Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said.

Vanden Noven said he had hoped that the city’s water tower painting contractor would provide an estimate but “they do not want to take on the project. I’m guessing we’re going to struggle to find contractors.”

A big part of the problem is that the paint is believed to be lead based, which would require a contractor to enclose the lighthouse and use negative pressure to contain the substance during the process, officials said.

Ald. Mike Gasper asked if the city has sampled the paint to ensure it is lead based.

“That would probably make a difference (in the cost),” he said.

Vanden Noven said he has not but he is “pretty sure” it is lead-based paint.

City Clerk Susan Westerbeke said that when the city discussed taking ownership of the structure, a report was done.

“I thought they checked the paint,” she said. 

When the city took ownership of the lighthouse in 2018, estimates were that it would cost as much as $30,000 to fix the porthole windows and as much as $1 million to repaint the lighthouse.

Two years ago, the Friends of Parks and Recreation created a lighthouse subcommittee to create a master plan for maintenance of the structure and to begin fundraising for the repairs.

Justin Myers, president of the Friends group, said that the group last met in fall 2020 before taking a break due to the pandemic.

Their goal right now, he said, is to work with the city to determine the best recommendations for repairing the lighthouse.

Right now, he added, the group is waiting to hear back from the city about the paperwork needed to proceed, including the lighthouse study and testing that’s been done, as well as the schedule for the breakwater repair.

Once it receives those documents, Myers said, the committee will work to determine the best steps to move forward and the associated costs. 

At last week’s Common Council meeting, Ald. Paul Neumyer also asked when Michels Corp of Brownsville will return to complete repairs to the far east end of the breakwater.

“They just keep saying May,” Vanden Noven said.

The city has moved the existing gate to the breakwater to the bottom of the ramps, he added, and by fall is expected to have a new gate for the structure.

That’s because a removable railing will be installed later this year. The railing will be removed during winter to avoid damage to it during gales and winter storms, and without a railing, the breakwater will be closed then.

The Port lighthouse has been a symbol of the city for decades. Built in 1935 for $38,000, the Art Deco-style lighthouse consists of a metal tower that rests on a 20-foot-square cement base that has large arches on each of its faces.

Images of the lighthouse have come to personify Port, emblazoned on everything from the city logo to postcards. It’s a tourist attraction as well as a symbol, drawing a steady stream of visitors and residents to the lakefront.


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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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Port Washington, WI 53074
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