History of the Sunset Beach Water Tower

Circa 1892, commercial train service between Santa Barbara and San Diego was offered via tracks along the coast. Steam engines required frequent stops for water to run. Water Towers popped up all along the coastal route. There were actually 2 near each other--one in Huntington Beach, the other in Sunset Beach.

The Sunset Beach tower worked valiantly until 1942 when age, termites, and poor craftsmanship threatened to destroy it. Diesel engines were far from common use, so the Southern Pacific chose to rebuild the Tower, this time using termite-resistant redwood and stronger building methods. Since WW2 was in full swing, much of the metal was repurposed from the original 1892 Tower. Some of this metal is now holding the top level aquarium today-over 130 years later.

In 1941, US military intelligence received word on a possible attack on American soil by the Japanese. One of the sites mentioned was the Seal Beach Naval Weapons site just across the street from the Water Tower. Legend has it that the Japanese planes would aim for this tall structure on the beach, and then begin bombing. To protect the area, US Air Force fighter planes circled the Water Tower and Naval bunkers for months. History tells us that the intelligence was correct, but not the location. Who knows if the Japanese were frightened away by the planes circling the Water Tower and instead chose a closer location in Hawaii?

As diesel took over the railway industry, water towers became obsolete, and were last used in the mid 1960's. Most were demolished. The Sunset Beach Tower simply was left to rot. By 1980, the city of Seal Beach voted to set a demolition date.

Enter George Armstrong, a math professor at Long Beach City college who began a 4 year project to not only save the Water Tower, but turn it into his beach home.

Once he won over Seal Beach and the Coastal Commission (no easy task!), he had the home removed from its stilts by crane and the home was built on an empty lot next to the site. Once repositioned on the stilts, there was major news coverage.

The Water Tower house has had cosmetic upgrades over the years and boasts the best views from a single family home- well anywhere. It appears to be the only Water Tower home in the country. At 87 feet high, it was the tallest single family home in the country until recently when an Arizona home was built one foot higher.

In 2022, the Orange County Board of Supervisors recognized the Sunset Beach Water Tower House for its unique and historic character supporting the County.