Like a great deal of modern-day San Diego, Ballast Point was originally occupied by the Kumeyaay Native Americans. Spurred by a desire to find a seafaring route from Mexico to the East Indies, Spanish explorers and future settlers set sail from Mexico. What they found instead was the California coastline.
In 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, the first European explorer to reach California, set sail from modern-day Acapulco in Mexico. He had previously explored alongside Hernán Cortés, but was now setting off to sail in previously uncharted waters. With him, he took three ships: the La Victoria, the San Miguel, and the flagship, a 200-ton galleon called the San Salvador.
After over five months at sea, he reached the Coronado Islands and landed on Point Loma, in the Ballast Point area. He remained here for six days, getting the lay of the land and paving the way for future European settlers to come to the area. You can find a monument to Cabrillo, constructed many years later in 1913 to commemorate this landing, still standing in this area today. This is actually a popular tourist destination called Cabrillo National Monument.
Cabrillo originally named the harbor San Miguel, but it was renamed to San Diego in 1602 by another explorer, Sebastián Vizcaíno. From here, Ballast Point started to become a European settlement once it was occupied by Spain. Nearby missions were established, often displacing or converting the Kumeyaay natives, and Ballast Point started receiving and sending boats full of supplies and other cargo for the new settlement.
The original fort on the peninsula was constructed in 1795, at which time it was originally named Point Guijarros. It was later dubbed Ballast Point thanks to the large number of sailors frequenting the area, using it to load and unload ballast as needed.
Point Loma was also a hub for whaling, since so many whales migrate past the coast. Whale carcasses were towed back to Ballast Point and processed for their blubber, which was used in products like soap and oil for lamps.
Developments continued around the point for many years as San Diego’s population continued to grow. Boats carrying both cargo and passengers had to navigate around the point, and when it was stormy or foggy, this could be especially dangerous.
Previously, the original Point Loma lighthouse, constructed in 1855, was meant to help ship captains identify and avoid the rocky bluffs that could have otherwise sunk their ships. However, this lighthouse had some notable problems. It was constructed on top of a bluff, and its high altitude meant that when it was foggy, the light would be almost totally obscured, resulting in potential disaster below.
To combat this, construction started on a lighthouse on the coast in 1890. It was 34 feet high and constructed in the Victorian stick style, an architectural style that emphasizes the structural frame with well-defined stickwork and which was considered very modern at the time. However, the base of the lighthouse was made with brick and mortar, which grew more unstable with age.
The Ballast Point lighthouse is no longer standing, having been torn down in 1960 when the instability of the tower’s base made it too dangerous to leave standing. Only a post light remains in its place, but the fog signal tower remains in a home in Lakeside, while the lantern room can be found in nearby, historic Old Town.