The Los Angeles Harbor Lighthouse was the culmination of a almost forty years of infighting between railroads and politicians over the best site for a major port in the Los Angeles area. The Southern Pacific Railroad completed a line to the area in 1874, and established a small port in the area. A rival line and port was built in Santa Monica. The Southern Pacific bought and closed this line in 1876. The Santa Fe railroad later established a line to Redondo Beach, and established yet another competing port. In 1893, the Southern Pacific re-opened the Santa Monica port.
When determining the best location for a deep-water port in the area, three congressional commissions from 1891-1897 all favored the San Pedro site. Despite strong resistance from Collis P. Huntington, owner of the Southern Pacific and proponent of the Santa Monica site, a breakwater was built in San Pedro Bay. The two-mile breakwater was completed in 1910, and a lighthouse established at the end of the breakwater in 1913. The lighthouse housed a first-order Fresnel lens, and compressed air sirens to serve as fog signals.
The lighthouse has survived earthquakes and battleships. In 1933, the lighthouse was severely jolted by an earthquake. The lens was undamaged. Several years later, in an incident which the U.S. Navy marked "classified", a battleship scraped the side of the lighthouse, tossing the keeper from his bed and violently rattling the platform.