.Santa Cruz in Photos: Flagpoles Along Highway 1 in Aptos Come Down

The 160-foot flagpoles that once served as radio towers and loomed over the heavily-traveled intersection of State Park Drive at Highway 1 were brought back to Earth Tuesday.

A crew from the Bigge Crane and Rigging Co. used a huge crane to grab onto each of the three remaining white poles of four that stood for years in the center of the former Aptos Par 3 Golf Course, and carefully lowered them onto the surrounding grassy field.

“Those poles were the only thing that stood between the view from my home and the ocean,” said Ken Gehrkens, who has lived in Aptos for the past 42 years. “I’m a golfer and I used to walk down to Par 3 and golf. It was a nice place. I used to come out with my 9 iron and wedge and work this place. I have to say there’s a little bit of nostalgia about the poles going away. But I’m not going to miss them. Now there’s nothing between me and the sea.”

In late May, a blaze that Aptos/La Selva Fire said was likely started by a homeless person felled one of the towers that dropped harmlessly into the surrounding field.

The first tower was erected in May 1977, according to John Hibble of the Aptos Chamber of Commerce and the Aptos History Museum. KKAP-AM, at 1540, on the dial, then went live in November 1977.

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According to Hibble, Grant Wrathall Jr. announced in 1976 that, “after eight years of trying to get government approvals and $50,000 in expenses, he hoped to have a Mid-County radio station going within a year.” 

The plan called for three, 160-foot-tall antennas on the Cabrillo Golf Course, (the old Aptos Par 3). They would look like flagpoles in hopes of  presenting “a more pleasing appearance.”

“The station would concentrate on news, sports and music, and would operate only during daylight hours,” Hibble said. “They were the only ones of their kind in the country at the time, and were the tallest flagpoles west of the Appalachian Mountains.”

Once a fourth antenna was installed, the station switched its call letters to KMFO and began broadcasting at 10,000 watts in 1980 and shifted to news and information.

The station and radio show content went through several more shifts and names before going silent altogether in 1998.

Hibble said the lowering of the towers was coordinated by the owners of the towers, Grant and Larry Wrathall.

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused the poles to whip back and forth, launching three of the four copper balls at the top of the poles.

“One of them crashed through a greenhouse of a nearby heather farm,” Hibble said. “The other two were never located.”

The copper balls were made in 1890 by San Francisco-based L.Ph. Bolander and Sons, according to Hibble.

A ball from one of four 160-foot flagpoles sits on the ground. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

See more from the Santa Cruz in Photos series.


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Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.
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