Is a Free Lighthouse the Answer to All Your Problems?
Calling all aspiring old crones and stoic Willem Dafoe lookalikes: Now is your chance to become keeper of the lighthouse. ‘What lighthouse?,’ you might ask. Why, any of the 10 lighthouses that the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is granting to the public and other entities in 2023.
Spoilers of the Week | June 10th
“This year, GSA is offering a record number of lighthouses, including at least six to nonprofits and government entities and at least four to the public through auctions,” the federal agency wrote in a Friday press release announcing this year’s “Lighthouse Season.” Y’know, that magical time of year where the government gives away historic maritime properties.
As a prospective lighthouse keeper, you may have some additional questions. For instance: ‘Will your lost-at-sea love ever return to shore?,’ ‘Is their seafaring ghost doomed to haunt you, as you haunt the cove?, or ‘What inhuman creature calls nightly from the rocky cliffs?’ Unfortunately, Gizmodo cannot answer those queries. There is no answer. On each point, it’s by definition, a ‘wait and see’ sort of scenario.
What Gizmodo can tell you is that the GSA lighthouse giveaway (and auction) is the annual result of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. Through a federal partnership involving the U.S. Coast Guard, GSA, National Parks Service, and other agencies, the Lighthouse Preservation Act works to transfer the ownership of disused historic sites to groups who will take care of them. Properties that aren’t taken on by a stewardship organization are transferred to public auction. It’s kind of like a pet adoption program, but for lighthouses.
“While the U. S. Coast Guard (USCG) may continue to maintain active aids to navigation at or near specific lighthouses, the structures themselves are often no longer critical to the USCG’s mission needs,” the GSA says. The advent of GPS, nautical charts, radar, and other such navigation tools have made the original flash of a lighthouse’s beacon unnecessary. Lighthouses are essentially obsolete tech. They are the BlackBerry phone of tall buildings—the telegraph of towers.
But that doesn’t necessarily detract from their charm. Becoming a lighthouse keeper doesn’t have to be about functionality, it can just be about fun. Good old, haunted fun.
Unfortunately, despite the GSA’s generosity, keeping a lighthouse is still a more expensive proposition than…not doing that. Non-profit organizations, community entities, educational agencies, or local governments who might be interested in taking on a free lighthouse must prove that they have the money to properly maintain one. And for the general public, a winning auction bid will require a good chunk of change.
The GSA has transferred ownership of more than 151 total lighthouses through the NHLPA since 2000, according to the agency website. 81 of those bad boys have been given away, while 70 were sold at auction—generating around $10 million total. On average, that means each lighthouse went for somewhere around $143,000.
At face value, it’s one of the best property deals you’re likely to find when—despite a historic decline—the U.S. median home price is still hovering somewhere around $400,000. But the GSA notes that “most lighthouses do not have any utilities, so there would be a cost associated with making the lighthouse livable.” Also, you might need a boat for your commute—many are only accessible by water. Don’t let that stop you from achieving your dreams though. The federal government will auction you the seafaring vessel, too.
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