Historic Superior lighthouse sold at auction 5 years ago is available once again

Published 6:43 pm Friday, June 21, 2024

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By Dan Kraker

A historic Lake Superior lighthouse that a Californian won at auction five years ago with dreams of converting it into a quiet getaway — and possibly even a vacation rental — is now being offered for free to a government agency or nonprofit that agrees to maintain it.

The 56-foot-tall structure stands sentry at the tip of Wisconsin Point in Superior, Wis. It was built in 1913 to help guide ships into the Duluth-Superior harbor.

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It’s been off the market since 2019, when Steven Broudy, who at the time was an executive for a tech company in San Francisco, agreed to buy the lighthouse, sight unseen, after winning it at auction for $159,000.

“The thing about a lighthouse that always appealed to me is, on the one hand, there’s something about staring out at a body of water that’s really calming and soothing,” he told MPR News. “And then on the other hand, I don’t know, it feels like it’s a fortress of solitude.”

But earlier this month, the U.S. General Services Administration issued a Notice of Availability for the Superior Harbor South Breakwater Light and asked for letters of interest from groups or agencies interested in maintaining the lighthouse for “educational, park, recreational, cultural, or historic preservation purposes.”

After submitting the winning bid for the historic structure, Broudy reached an impasse with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Kris Mendez, a realty specialist for the GSA.

The Army Corps owns the third-of-a-mile long breakwater that extends out to the lighthouse. Mendez said it has long served as an unofficial playground for local teenagers.

The 43-foot-tall structure, built three years before the lighthouse at the end of Wisconsin Point, stands at the tip of the north breakwater at the entrance to Duluth’s shipping canal. Rethos plans to offer tours.

The National Park Service will vet applications from would-be caretakes of the Superior, Wis. lighthouse and decide if any group has the financial wherewithal to maintain the lighthouse.

“The idea is you’re going to preserve this light forever,” said Mendez. “Because anyone who’s familiar with the Great Lakes knows that the weather can be pretty harsh. It’s like the old joke about a boat being a hole in the water you throw money into, a lighthouse can be pretty similar due to the rough weather and everything out there.”

Jim Paine, the mayor of Superior, said the lighthouse is known as “something of a hot potato.”

“It’s hard to get to, very hard to maintain. So this would be a pretty big expense. I think it would be cool if somebody could open it and operate it in some way, but even getting folks out there would be tricky,” said Paine.

Letters of interest will be accepted through Aug. 5, 2024. If no group comes forward, or none is selected, then the lighthouse could again be offered for sale.

But buyers beware: The U.S. Coast Guard will still need access to the lighthouse to maintain the navigational aids still housed there.

That consists of a green light that flashes every five seconds from May 1 to Oct. 20, and a three-second-long fog signal that’s blasted every 30 seconds.