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What an iconic lighthouse has meant to Port Washington

The platform beneath the Port Washington lighthouse, where pier walkers can look out at Lake Michigan, is one of the most memorable places in Southeastern Wisconsin, and local leaders hope to keep it that way.

In April, the city of Port Washington took ownership of the rare steel art deco lighthouse built in 1935 to guide ships into the city’s harbor. The lighthouse carries totemic significance for Port, where even the McDonald’s has a tower shaped like a lighthouse.

Early photographs show people climbing all over the upper walkways (which is not allowed nowadays) and crowding onto the pier by the hundreds to fish on Labor Day. These days, the foot traffic is lighter, but light from the 58-foot structure can still be seen from 8 miles away.

Decades-old stories in the Ozaukee County Press refer to an annual and then biannual schedule of repainting the lighthouse white, but at some point the paint money dried up, and the structure is now flaking. A modern-day repainting is expected to cost at least $400,000, money the city hopes to raise at some point — first, it’s closing in on the $25,000 needed to replace the lighthouse’s aging portholes.

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