Posted by: Blue Lou Logan | March 26, 2011

Save the Kalakala…again


The ferry Kalakala is once again in trouble.  This morning, before I went back to bed to nurse what is either a hangover or the first signs of the flu that has been knocking out my coworkers, G’ma (a.k.a. my mother in law), showed us this story on King 5.  You can also read about it here at the Seattle Times.  The scoop is this:  After everything else the Kalakala has been through, she now seems to be at serious risk of going down at her current location on Tacoma’s Hylebos Waterway.

For those unfamiliar with the Kalakala, she was once the pride of Seattle, a streamlined Art Deco ferry that was nearly as much a symbol of the Northwest as the Space Needle.  She has had, to say the least, a hard life.  Even her beginnings were rough:  Originally built as the Peralta in 1926 for service in San Francisco, her superstructure was burned to the hull seven years later as the result of arson.  That same year she was sold to the Black Ball Line and rebuilt into gleaming splendor.  For the next three decades she crossed the Puget Sound, ferrying passengers between Seattle and Bremerton but also performing as a floating nighttime ballroom.  She had a penchant for running into other boats, she ran noisy and rough, but she was beautiful.  She successfully transitioned into the Washington State Ferry system, but in the end she proved too expensive to maintain.  In 1967 she was sold and moved to Alaska, where she was eventually grounded in a bay south of Kodiak, Alaska, as a cannery.  This is where I first saw her in 1990.  I was an undergrad archaeologist, bouncing in the back of a pickup on the way to my second dig of the summer.  It was a surprising and sad sight, and though it was memorable I never thought I’d see the Kalakala again.  I was wrong.

Two years later, the battle for the Kalakala began.  In that year, Seattle sculptor Peter Bevis formed the Kalakala Foundation.  Five years and much fundraising and sweat later, the Kalakala was freed and slowly but surely made its way back to Seattle.  It was a heralded return.  I was pleased to see her and appreciated this rescue even before I started my own direct involvement in maritime preservation.  For a few years I intentionally took the low road so I could see the Kalakala where she was tied up on the north end of Lake Union.  Yet this inspirational story quickly turned into a cautionary tale of how modern mentality can defeat historical pride.  Bevis could not get the money for restoration.  Disgustingly, Seattle turned its back on the Kalakala, and its neighbors deemed it on ‘eyesore.’  In 2004 she was sold to Steve Rodrigues and moved to Neah Bay, way out on the Olympic Peninsula.   She was evicted from there, too.

Now the Kalakala is listing, taking on water, and barely moored.  If she doesn’t sink outright, she may break loose into a channel that is not only busy with vessels and an oil refinery but also a Superfund site.  Even the pilings to which she is connected are falling apart.  The Coast Guard is assessing the situation.  Rodrigues is saying that making Kalakala’s rescue a “for-profit” venture is the only way to prevent the Kalakala’s death and a large-scale environmental disaster.

In spite of the pride I feel at the Center for Wooden Boats, I have been underwhelmed at Seattle’s general attitude towards preservationism.  I watched the schooner Wawona fall apart at the Center in spite of city, state and national historical registry.  Now the Wawona is in pieces, although these pieces will supposedly be kept safe in a museum.  I don’t want to see the Kalakala go down.  She’s dear to me, and she’s dear to the Northwest.  Save our ship…please…

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