DETROIT – There are at least 115 lighthouses in the State of Michigan, many of them continuing to provide a visible navigational aid to Great Lakes mariners, and in many cases, a fun waterfront destination for vacationers.
They’re all different in their own way – and as unique as any is the 84-foot-tall Livingstone Lighthouse at the northeast end of Belle Isle in the Detroit River. A crew from masonry contractor Grunwell-Cashero spent about a month this summer making repairs to the lighthouse’s base and tower, making it more ready to withstand whatever Mother Nature will throw at it over the next generation.
“This has easily been my favorite job, and I’ve been at it for the last 15 years,” said foreman John Schuster as the crew was wrapping up the project. “It’s historically significant, it’s a really beautiful marble monument, and we get to work in this quiet, peaceful area. Love the job.”
Capped with a light that’s visible for 16 miles into Lake St. Clair, the Livingstone Lighthouse, built in 1929, is apparently the only all-marble-clad lighthouse in the nation. The Detroit Area Art Deco Society points out that the lighthouse, designed by Albert Kahn, is also architecturally the only Art Deco/Art Moderne lighthouse in the U.S.
Overall, Schuster said, the brick lighthouse with marble cladding is “structurally sound,” but there was much restoration work to be done, mostly at the base. Joints between the marble sections had failed, and vegetation and trees ranging from five feet tall to eight feet tall had grown between the base marble stones.
Schuster said their scope of work included, or course, removing the trees, and resetting the marble stones and re-caulking all of the joints. New marble slabs taken from the same quarry as the original pieces – some weighing up to 500 lbs. – replaced those that were cracked. Joints were also cleaned out and re-caulked up the tower section. A nice chemical cleaning all the way up the lighthouse tower freshened up the exterior. “The goal was to make it look nicer, but not brand new,” Schuster said, adding that the lighthouse had been similarly repaired and cleaned in past years.
Usually, lighthouses take the name of the geographic land area or body of water they tower over, but the Livingstone Light was erected as a tribute to William Livingstone, who served as president of the Lake Carriers Association from 1909 until his death in 1925. He led the association of Great Lakes shippers in an era of enhanced safety for shipping, including the use of marked channels, promotion of steel-hulled vessels, better meteorology and the use of radios. He also was a driving force behind the construction of the Davis and Sabin locks in Sault Ste. Marie.
According to Detroit 1701, after Livingstone’s death, the Lake Carriers Association and Detroit residents raised funds to create a memorial in his honor. There had been a small navigational light on Belle Isle at that spot, “but nothing as magnificent as what his friends and associates had in mind,” Detroit 1701 said. The lighthouse was built in 1929 at a cost of $100,000, and dedicated in 1930.
The lighthouse’s exterior is constructed of fluted marble over brick. Inside, access to the 11,500 candlepower occulating electric light is gained by an interior spiral staircase.
“Vertical fluting on the shaft draws attention to the top of the tower and the ornament there,” says the Detroit Art Deco Society. “At the top of each flute are soaring eagles that seem to be pulling the shaft of the lighthouse even higher. A stylized Art Deco woman over the entrance door symbolizes humanity overcoming nature.”
The lighthouse is off the beaten path on Belle Isle, and is surrounded by a fence with a locked gate. Visitors cannot go into the tower.
Mike Krayewski of Operating Engineers Local 324, who maneuvered the marble slabs into place, said it was the area’s seclusion on a remote part of Belle Isle that made the job enjoyable. “We’re on an island, it’s nice and peaceful, there’s no foot traffic around, no one is trying to cut through, and it’s a beautiful lighthouse. It’s been a great job. What’s not to like?”
RESTORING THE Livingstone Lighthouse on Detroit’s Belle Isle this summer are (l-r) Cesar Jauregui of Laborers Local 1191, Operating Engineers Local 324 member Mike Krayewski, and foreman John Schuster of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 2. All were employed by Grunwell Cashero.
CRAFTSMEN WORKING for Grunwell-Cashero renovated and cleaned the 84-foot- tall Livingstone Lighthouse on Belle Isle this summer. Some marble stones on the base weighed up to 500 lbs.