Published: 2013 BoatU.S. Magazine
© 2013 Troy Gilbert
Anne Rheams, the Deputy Director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation had a vision for the iconic lighthouse that rested at the entrance to New Orleans’ West End marina district. Originally constructed in 1839, the New Basin Canal Lighthouse operated as U.S. Coast Guard facility for many decades, but in 2002 the Coast Guard moved into an expanded facility on Lake Pontchartrain. Envisioning the lighthouse as an educational outreach center for the environmental group that is credited with cleaning up Lake Pontchartrain, the organization was prepared to enter into a lease agreement with the Coast Guard when Hurricane Katrina struck and toppled the structure. The building listed on the National Register of Historic Places was then further damaged by Hurricane Rita a month later.
Painstakingly salvaging much of the old growth cypress used in the construction of the original structure that survived the Civil War and housed a long line of female lightkeepers throughout the early 1900’s, it was stored in a warehouse as the property rights were transferred from one agency to another on the federal and state level. Finally landing in the hands of the LPBF, plans for the resurrection of the lighthouse along with creating a home for a small museum, education center and grounds for events were enacted.
Abiding by new building standards put in place after Katrina, including a first floor raised 20′ above sea level required for construction outside of hurricane protection floodwalls, the lighthouse is a perfect hybrid of new flood protection guidelines incorporated into a structure that historic preservationists are pleased with.
Relying solely on private donations, it took the organization nearly eight years from acquiring the structure and grounds from the Coast Guard, reach their fundraising goals of $1.2M and then hold the relighting ceremony. This long awaited milestone for the recovery of New Orleans’ Lakefront was completed last April. The Fresnel lens and light can be seen in excess of nine miles and once again guides boaters into the entrance of West End, the city’s recreational marina district.
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