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For Sale: Lots and Lots of Lighthouses

Friday, September 12, 2014

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Lighthouses, once deemed a technological marvel, are now being transferred or auctioned off at record rates by the U.S. government.

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the federal government's landlord, has been flushing its lighthouse inventory since 2000—at times to the lowest bidder, when it can't transfer ownership to local groups or preservation societies.

But there are exceptions: Last year, Dave Waller bought the Graves Island Light Station at the mouth of Boston Harbor for a record $933,888.

Now, Waller is renovating the lighthouse into a private home, according to an Associated Press report.

‘‘It just seemed like a chance to have something a little more independent and on your own,’’ Waller told the news outlet.

U.S. General Services Administration

The Halfway Rock Light Station is currently on the auction block, along with three others from the GSA.

GSA spokesman Patrick Sclafani told the AP that while the Coast Guard is responsible for maintaining lighthouses, it is “always looking to shed excess lighthouses that are ‘often no longer critical’ to the Guard’s work.”

Currently, the GSA is conducting an online auction for Halfway Rock Light Station in Harpswell, Maine, which is accessible only by boat.

The high bid so far is $265,000

Other government-owned lighthouses are on the auction block in Massachusetts, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

While no estimate is available on the number of lighthouses destined for government sale, the new lighthouse owners often allow the Coast Guard to access the structures to maintain lighting, reports say.

Lighthouse Preservation

The lighthouse floodgates opened 14 years ago next month with The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, which allowed the government to dispose of its lighthouses.

Mackinac Island lighthouse Michigan
General Services Administration

 

The government has shed more than 100 lighthouses since the National Lighthouse Preservation Act took effect in 2000. The Round Island Passage lighthouse, now for sale, offers this view in Mackinac Island, MI.

 

Only lighthouses listed on the National Register of Historic Places are eligible for transfer. Many are transferred at no cost to other federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofits and educational and community development organizations, according to the GSA.

If one of those groups cannot act as a steward of a historic lighthouse, it is put up for public auction.

The federal government has unloaded more than 100 lighthouses since 2000: 68 to preservationists and 36 at public auction.

The Coast Guard has 71 other lighthouses ready for transfer, with four on the auction block now.

When Free Isn’t

Even when bought on the cheap, lighthouse renovation requires some deep pockets.

The Execution Rocks lighthouse in New York's Long Island Sound sold for just $1—but the buyer spent $1.2 million to restore the structure to its former glory.

Philadelphia music producer Craig Morrison had planned to turn the building into a bed-and-breakfast. However, the lighthouse, which sits on solid rock, was missing two crucial things: running water and sewer access.

Execution Rocks Lighthouse NY
United States Coast Guard

The Execution Rocks lighthouse was bought for $1, but has cost $1.2 million to get in working order.

According to a New York Times report, Morrison now raises money for repairs by giving $75 boat tours, with a few tourists paying as much as $300 to stay overnight.

About 100 miles north of New York City, the Esopus Meadows lighthouse was abandoned for decades before a local nonprofit took it over.

Pat Ralston, 78, leader of the nonprofit, told the Times that she “had hopes of someday opening it as a museum, or even a bed-and-breakfast”—but $1 million later, she says that goal is still years away.

Walter Sedovic, an area architect who helped restore several lighthouses, told the Times: “It’s said you can’t build a submarine with bake sales. Well, you can’t restore a lighthouse with bake sales, either.”

   

Tagged categories: General Services Administration; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Maintenance programs; Marine; Rehabilitation/Repair; Renovation; Residential

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