Halcyon, Pt. Sur Naval Facility found worthy of preservation

Feb 9, 2017

On Feb. 3, the state’s Historical Resources Commission nominated two Central Coast spots to the National Register of Historic Places. That’s the official listing of historic American buildings and locales kept by the National Park Service.

In Monterey County, the Point Sur Lighthouse became a state park in 1984, and in 2000, the U.S. Navy gave the state park system another property called the Point Sur Naval Facility, or NAVFAC.

“This is one of 30 worldwide that were built to detect submarines. There’s a unique submarine canyon just south of the light station that allows sound to travel great distances in the water,” said John O’Neil, a volunteer at Pt. Sur State Historic Park and the head of the supporting non-profit, the Central Coast Lighthouse Keepers.

At the naval facility, technicians installed and improved the military’s sound surveillance system or SOSUS, a crucial Cold War defense tool for nearly 30 years. That was, until a rogue naval officer started supplying information to the KGB, and the Navy moved on to newer technologies.

“They don’t use it now because a spy - John Walker, famous spy case in the United States, had given the Soviets a number of top secret pieces of information about capabilities of the U.S. Navy. This was one of them,” O’Neil said.

Now that the facility is on the historic register, O’Neill says his volunteer organization will be working on preserving it for posterity.

“Eventually, if State Parks is able to open this to the public, then a visitor would get a good appreciation for what the place looked like actually when it was opened in 1958. And it has its own mystique now because it’s closed, no one lives there, it has an eerie presence,” O’Neil said.

To be included on the register, a property generally must be at least 50 years old. And according to the National Park Service’s guidelines, if the property owner objects, the nomination process is kiboshed. But some property owners are often in favor of the designation because it comes with certain benefits, like federal preservation grants and tax credits.

What it does not do is invoke local historic district zoning, nor does it require public access to private property once listed. Here’s state historian Jay Correia, who works for the California Office of Historic Preservation.

“Many people often fear the National Register because they are afraid that the designation will put some sort of restriction on their property and in fact, that’s not correct. It’s really just a designation saying that this property meets National Register criteria. And at its most basic level, the National Register is a list of properties that deserve to be protected,” Correia said.

The Register includes properties - and whole districts, like Halcyon - a place in San Luis Obispo County between Oceano and Arroyo Grande that was also officially recommended for the National Register on Friday. To get the whole town nominated, it took the effort of residents.

According to the nomination document, the 130-acre historic district is one of the few remaining locales founded in the late 1800s and early 1900s by socialist reformers who moved west to create intentional communities.

“A religious group who believe in theosophy, which involves reincarnation and karma, and the basic tenant is the golden rule, which I think we all know...came from Syracuse, NY, pooled their money and purchased an old ranch,” said Karen White, a lifelong resident of Halcyon. “When you consider I’m 79, I’ve been here a long time, but Halcyon has been a long time also, since 1903.”

Halcyon is comprised of a large church, meeting halls, a store, a library and single-family homes. Many residents are members of the temple, called the Temple of the People. Every day of the year they hold a healing service at high noon.

“If you haven’t ever seen it or been here, Halcyon is a 16 square blocks and lots and lots of trees and open space. So we’re kind of like a park, a barrier between agriculture and urban development,” White said.

And now, along with the Pt. Sur Naval Facility, it’s on track to join the 90,000 plus other places deemed as important to our collective American history. According to the NPS, the National Register records "hold information on more than 1.4 million individual resources--buildings, sites, districts, structures, and objects--and therefore provide a link to the country's heritage at the national, state, and local levels.”