Through collaboration with the Coast Guard and with a little ingenuity from Ham’s architect, Beacon No. 9 was incorporated into the design of the restaurant itself, and an easement was granted to the Coast Guard for the maintenance and operation of the still-functioning lighthouse.
Now, more than four decades later, Tom Ham’s daughter, Susan Baumann, husband Larry and their three adult sons — Andy, Tommy and Grant — will modernize major features of the 1971 bayfront restaurant with
$3.5 million in renovations to its interior dining spaces, banquet rooms and exterior facades.
From the outside, Harbor Island passersby will see walls knocked down to accommodate expansive windows and a new outdoor dining patio above the water, drastic changes to the interior dining area that will include an 18-seat bar and adjacent cocktail lounge with panoramic views of the bay and cityscape, as well as the creation of a new wedding court in a semi-secluded corner of the property.
“We did a renovation about 10 years ago, but we were only closed for about a month. It was never seen in the public’s eye as a major renovation. There wasn’t enough change. It was more of an update than a remodel,” said youngest son Andy. “This is a major renovation, and it’s definitely about time. We’re getting close to our lease end with the port, so if you make capital improvements on the building, you get a lease extension.”
For a $3.5 million investment and about four months of construction, Tom Ham’s gets another 40 years on its lease.
And in the next 40 years, the family-run business will carry on the restaurant’s legacy with the myriad strengths of the entire family, including Susan and Larry’s sons who — until recently — were pursuing careers in fields like engineering, law and medicine.
“We need to have that family feel in there. Everyone who comes to Bali Hai [also run by the Baumanns] knows Larry, my father. Everybody’s met Larry and that’s been a big part of the business is to see the same face when you walk in the door, so it’s time to have family over there,” said Andy. “Unfortunately, my grandfather died a year after he bought the place, so we haven’t really had family there, but now we kind of have an army.”
Despite the massive overhaul, the Baumanns intend to embrace the steadfast historic charm of the venerable California marine tradition Ham always envisioned.
“My grandfather was a California historian, and he really embraced the early California discovery and shipping culture,” said Andy. “He collected artifacts, and his shipping artifacts are pretty impressive.”
Ham’s penchant for authentic collectables is visible throughout both the Baumanns’ family-owned and operated restaurants. Walking through either is like walking through a cultural history museum, with authentic Polynesian tiki artifacts at Bali Hai and priceless nautical relics at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse adorning the walls and display cases.
“Putting together the artifacts ties in the whole theme. Those are the things that are important to us,” said Andy. “The architect can design the whole thing, but you have to have those little touches at the end that really tie it all in.”
Among Tom Ham’s Lighthouse’s many maritime artifacts are maps of San Diego Bay dating back to 1890, a genuine fog belt from a lighthouse in Massachusetts and a few leftover ship pieces from San Diego’s maritime museum.
The most striking nautical fixture in the restaurant, however, is prominently displayed near the main entrance in the form of a fully operational beacon warning bay sailors of nearby land.
The lighthouse, too, is getting a modern makeover, with the Coast Guard’s recent replacement of its old halogen lens to a cleaner, more energy-efficient LED light.
“The Coast Guard came out last week and changed the light out just like they did at the Point Loma Lighthouse. It’s pretty impressive,” said Andy. “It’s a bright light, and it’s a lot smaller than the other one. The old lens was big and it would put out more of a glow. This one is very distinct and sends out more of a light.”
The upgrades to both the lighthouse lens and building renovation are in line with a certain ongoing trend throughout Point Loma, with many improvements at other businesses in the area also under way.
“You can see that everybody is getting to the end of their leases. Everybody’s remodeling — Pizza Nova, Point Loma Seafood — everything’s getting updated around the same time,” he said. “It’s fun to be out on the water right now.”
Tom Ham’s Lighthouse, located at 2150 Harbor Island Drive, is slated to reopen on May 1. For more information, visit www.tomhamslighthouse.com.