MOUNT PLEASANT — It’s not every day that you’ll find a “working” lighthouse far from water, but that’s exactly what Connie and Larry Perfetto have in their Mount Pleasant backyard.
As a guy who likes to build things and work with his hands, Perfetto got the idea to build the lighthouse a few years ago when he spotted one in another yard near Highway 11. “I’m just a kind of ‘cuckoo’ or something like that,” he said. “I like having different things.”
A former restaurateur in the area, 69-year-old Perfetto actually has had his hand in building and doing renovations in quite a few local places over the years. He used to own the Charcoal Grill and Pinocchio’s in Racine. He also built Ensenada’s on Highway 20 in Racine with his brother.
So, once you’ve built an actual restaurant, a lighthouse is easy, right? Well, only if you have the right friends, of course. “I’m not a good carpenter by myself,” he said modestly.
Don’t let him fool you.
He’d already completed another project in his large backyard dotted with some 50 pine trees — a 25-foot diameter gazebo made of concrete and brick.
Then along came the lighthouse — just because. “I wanted to fill a gap in the backyard,” Perfectto said.
Even his wife, Connie, thought it wasn’t a bad idea. “It’s different,” she agreed. “It was a fun project. There’s no reason for it, but we had a spot in the yard.”
He drew up the plans and did the work with the help of his two friends, John and George, who also have a liking for building things. Then a funny thing happened … “One thing led to another and the 6-foot (tall) lighthouse became 26 feet,” he said.
The lighthouse was completed in 2011 and took around three weeks to build. To get a sense of proportion: the front door is about 5 feet high. The base is 20 feet in diameter. The top contains a 400-watt bulb and was built inside the pole barn. “It’s pretty heavy,” Perfetto said. “We used a forklift to lift it up on top of the lighthouse.”
One thing Perfetto did was make sure the lighthouse was maintenance-free. It also is sturdily built with 2-by-4s and 4-by-4s and can probably withstand almost any storm. It’s on a cedar foundation and attached to concrete.
Inside the lighthouse
The three-story lighthouse is also completely usable inside, with space for shelves holding little lighthouses on the lower level and even enough room to sit inside. And no, Perfetto said, his wife hasn’t sent him out to the lighthouse, “instead of the doghouse,” he said with a laugh. “That hasn’t happened yet.”
Inside, there are stairs leading up to the inner top level, a big favorite with the local kids. For safety reasons, the top window doesn’t open and the top outer ramp isn’t accessible. A ladder is needed to make any repairs to the top.
“The kids do have a lot of fun,” he said. “They climb up the ladders and look out, but we have an adult (watching) to make sure it’s safe.”
The couple also enjoys putting out some 20,000 lights for the holidays. The lighthouse is decorated, too, with a wreath and its own colored lights.
And while Perfetto still enjoys the lighthouse, he’s not one to rest on his laurels. Over the past year, he and his building buddies have been working together on what he calls “a very big project” — rehabbing a house.
Since its completion, the lighthouse has become something of a landmark of sorts in the couple’s neighborhood, where they’ve lived for 38 years. As they enjoy keeping the lighthouse lit at night along with an assortment of other yard lights, they’ve even earned their own nickname. “We’re known as the ‘light people,’ ” Perfetto said.