ANNE RHEAMS, DEPUTY direc- tor of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, had a vision for the
iconic lighthouse that stood at the entrance
to New Orleans’ West End marina district.
Originally constructed in 1839, the New
Basin Canal Lighthouse had operated as a
U.S. Coast Guard facility since the 1950s.
But in 2002 the Coast Guard moved into a
bigger facility on Lake Pontchartrain and that
opened the door to using the lighthouse as
an educational outreach center for the group
credited with cleaning up Lake Pontchartrain.
Then in 2005, just as Rheams and her organization prepared to lease the lighthouse
from the Coast Guard, Hurricane Katrina hit,
toppling the structure. Just a month later,
Hurricane Rita tore along the coast, further
damaging the building, which was listed on
the National Register of Historic Places.
Built of old growth cypress, the original
structure had survived the Civil War and
housed a long line of female light keepers
throughout the early 1900s. So crews of
the organization’s volunteers painstakingly
salvaged much of the lumber and stored it
in donated warehouse space as the property
After more than a decade of closure, the New Basin Canal Lighthouse is now open.
rights were transferred from one agency to
another on federal and state levels. Finally
landing in the hands of the foundation, plans
to resurrect the lighthouse and create a home
for a small museum, education center, and
grounds for events came together.
New building standards put in place after
Katrina meant raising the first floor 20 feet
above sea level. The foundation made histori-
cal integrity a priority and reused as much of
the salvaged materials as practical. The result
is a perfect hybrid of modern flood protection
requirements incorporated into a structure
modeled after the original. The foundation
relied solely on private donations and it took
nearly eight years, from acquiring the structure
and grounds from the Coast Guard to reach-
ing $1 million of the $1.2 million fundraising
goal. The long-awaited relighting ceremony
last April proved a welcome milestone for the
recovery of New Orleans’ lakefront. Today the
light from the Fresnel lens and medium-range
LED marine-signal lantern can be seen more
than nine miles away. — T.G.
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