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Point San Luis Lighthouse museum's lens gets some love

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Posted at 6:35 PM, Sep 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-27 22:12:05-04

The Point San Luis Lighthouse’s original 4th order lens has been around since 1878. The light no longer shines but is now on display at the top of Point San Luis.

Cleaning a 144-year-old lens takes someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.

Lucky for this lighthouse, it got two — identical twins Kim and Karen, who have dedicated almost 20 years to preserving history.

The two sisters are tag-teaming the restoration of historical artifacts, traveling all over to maintain maritime pieces.

This time, they made the trip from San Diego to San Luis Obispo to give the Point San Luis Lighthouse museum's lens a little love.

"They’re not making Fresnel lenses anymore. If we don’t preserve what we have, we're going to lose them," said Karen Scanlon, restoration volunteer.

Invented back in the early 1800s, this specific lens made its way from Paris to SLO in 1890.

"It was used to guide ships in and out of the harbor and to let ships know there was a harbor here," explained Bob Mihelic, Point San Luis Lighthouse docent.

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The Fresnel lens on display at the Point San Luis Lighthouse.

Now in retirement, the lens needs extra attention to preserve the glass. Windex and paper towels aren’t gonna cut it — that’s where the twins come in.

They’ve had an interest in lighthouses from a young age. Now living in San Diego, Karen began volunteering at the Point Loma Museum 20 years ago. Kim joined eight years later, and that's where they learned to care for the rare objects.

Karen has traveled all over the world maintaining Fresnel lenses from the northernmost isle of Scotland to the southernmost isle of Hawaii.

Point San Luis’s lens is a 4th order, smaller than the 3rd order the women care for in San Diego.

The difference — Point Loma’s is big enough to get all the way inside to clean. In comparison, a first order is up to 12 ft. high and 6 ft. wide, sending light 20 miles out to sea.

You can get a look at the lens yourself. Tours are available every Wednesday and Saturday. Visit the Point San Luis Lighthouse website to get tickets.