Lead architect updates residents on Gasparilla Island Lighthouse

■ BY SUE ERWIN    

Island residents had the opportunity to meet and listen to internationally known master metalsmith Alex Klahm on Thursday, February 9 at the Boca Grande Community Center auditorium.

Klahm is locally known for his meticulous work on the Gasparilla Island Lighthouse restoration project and many others in Florida and around the country.

He gave a brief breakdown of the GIL project, saying that his team replaced all the rivets and painted it one section at a time.

“Some of the rust in it was depressing – we didn’t know for sure what we would find. Rust will expand ten times to what the metal was that’s lost. Some areas didn’t look as bad. Other times all that was left was a hole right down to the steel I-beam,” he said.

He said workers tried to keep and repair as many of the original rivets and structure as they could. There was never a handrail installed in the original structure in 1927, so Klahm decided to make an aluminum one for the inside staircase.

“Originally, everything was painted white, which was very disorienting, so we painted the stairs black,” he said. “We also cleaned out the copper roof. There were birds and other critters living up there. And we added a steel safety railing to the top outside.”

He said the new glass used in the lighthouse is tempered glass with polylaminate, so it should not break.

Klahm said lighthouses were created to help with worldwide navigational problems. They were built before electricity and the lenses were lit by a flame.

“The oil was obtained from sperm whales. Harpooning them was an entire industry. It took about 900 gallons of oil each year to keep a lighthouse lit,” he said.

During his presentation, he showed slides of some of his past projects, including the famed Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, often called the graveyard of the Atlantic, where more than 5,000 ships have sunk.

“The lenses in that lighthouse reflect and contract to send out beams 20 miles into the sky. One beam bounces off of another to help with the reflection,” Klahm said.

He said that being a lighthouse keeper back in the day was not an easy job.

“You were isolated, there were bugs and you’d be working in the heat all the time. Then there were inspections, just like any other military job. You were held accountable to keep that light burning,” he said.

Klahm has personally worked on 22 lighthouses around the world and holds a master’s degree in education

“Alex is very passionate about the island, and his work on the Range Light has surpassed our expectations,” said Sharon McKenzie, Executive Director for Barrier Island Parks Society.