Diamond Head serves as a landmark as ships approach Honolulu Harbor from the west side of Oʻahu.
With the increase of commerce calling at the port of Honolulu, a lookout was established in 1878 on the seaward slopes of Diamond Head for spotting and reporting incoming vessels.
The first attendant, John Peterson from Sweden and known as “Lighthouse Charlie,” spotted incoming vessels through a telescope.
In 1893, ‘SS Miowera’ ran aground at Diamond Head prompting the Hawaiian legislature to recommend a lighthouse be established at Diamond Head. Then, ‘China’ ran aground, finally causing construction of an iron tower to begin.
A 40’ open frame tower was constructed at Honolulu Iron Works. In 1898, the Hawaiian legislature deemed the lighthouse tower should be masonry, not skeletal iron.
Its light was first lit on July 1, 1899. The light had a red sector to mark dangerous shoals and reefs. (As an aside, the first lighthouse in the Pacific was built on Maui in 1840; the first in Honolulu in 1869.)
In 1904, a floor was added to the tower, 14’ above ground level. Windows were placed in 2 existing openings in the tower walls and telephone lines were installed in the tower.
However, over a decade later, cracks were noted in the structure, compromising the tower’s integrity. In 1917, funds were allocated for constructing a fifty-five-foot tower of reinforced concrete on the original foundation.
The old tower was replaced with the modern concrete structure, which strongly resembles the original tower.
One notable difference is that the old tower had an external staircase that wrapped partway around the tower, whereas the new tower houses an internal, cast-iron, spiral stairway.
In 1921, a light keeper’s home was built nearby. A keeper occupied the dwelling for just three years, as the station was automated in 1924.
In 1939, the light station was turned over to the Coast Guard.
During World War II, a small structure was built on the seaward side of the tower and a Coast Guard radio station was housed in the keeper’s dwelling.
Following the war, in 1946, the radio station was moved to its present site in Wahiawa. The dwelling was remodeled and has since been home to the Commanders of the Fourteenth Coast Guard District.
The Diamond Head light was built 147 feet above sea level and can be seen as far away as 18 miles. It has the intensity of 60,000 candlepower. To warn vessels of the reefs off of Waikiki Beach, a red sector shows.
Fully automatic, its 1,000-watt electric lamp continues to guide ships to O‘ahu and is among the best-known lighthouses in the world.
In 1980, the Diamond Head Lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Besides continuing its nightly vigil noting the land and reefs off Diamond Head, the lighthouse also serves as one end of the finish line for the biennial Transpac Yacht Race, which starts 2,225 nautical miles away from Point Fermin, at the southern edge of Los Angeles, California.
While at DLNR, I had the opportunity to attend a reception hosted by Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara, then-Commander of the 14th Coast Guard District at the Diamond Head Lighthouse. Yes, the location and view from this site is one of the best in Hawaiʻi.