Nine Lives Art Deco Great Depression Seattle Ferry Kalakala

Historic Art Deco Seattle Washington Ferry Kalakala
Historic Art Deco Seattle Washington Ferry Kalakala
Neah Bay Seattle Washington
Neah Bay Seattle Washington

Nine Lives Art Deco Great Depression Seattle Ferry Kalakala (see video below) – MV Kalakala was launched from the Lake Washington Shipyards, in Kirkland, on July 2, 1935. Between 1935 and 1967, Kalakala sailed Puget Sound, carrying commuting workers between Seattle and the naval shipyard in Bremerton.

With a bold state-of-the-art aerodynamic design, from a distance, the Kalakala looked like a great silver seaplane. Its sleek futuristic shape was sheathed with steel plates, welded rather than riveted together, and then coated with gleaming aluminum paint. Electric welding was a new technique in shipbuilding, allowing flexibility in design.

Life Number One – MV Peralta

The Kalakala was originally built by the Moore Shipbuilding Company and named the Peralta. For six years, she operated as the Peralta, a double-ended ferry on the Oakland to San Francisco run.

May 6, 1933, the Peralta burned to her waterline. Alexander Peabody, president of Seattle’s Puget Sound Navigation Company, purchased the hull for $10.00 and towed it to the Lake Washington Shipyards in Kirkland for a dramatic redesign.

Life Number Two – Blackball Ferry Line

During the Great Depression,   Kalakala entered service on July 4, 1935, for Puget Sound Navigation Company(PSNC), colloquially as the Black Ball Line. PSNC  was founded by Charles E. Peabody in 1898. It operated a fleet of steamboats and ferries on Puget Sound in Washington and the Georgia Strait in British Columbia. In addition to Bremerton-Seattle ferry service, she was used for “moonlight cruises” with a live dance orchestra.

The Neah Bay Dock Company was a subsidiary of the Puget Sound Navigation Company. In 1929 the Neah Bay Dock company owned a wharf and a hotel in Neah Bay, Washington.

Life Number Three – FCC Radar License

Kalakala First FCC License Radar
Kalakala First FCC License Radar

In February 1946, Kalakala received the first Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license issued for commercial ship radar, license #001 when she was fitted with the first commercial radar system. Kalakala became the first non-military vessel to use radar navigation.

Federal Communications Commission selects the Kalakala for her unparalleled track record of technological innovation — for example having the world’s first suppression fire system on board any vessel.

Kalakala saw heavy service during World War II transporting shipyard workers and Navy personnel between Seattle and Bremerton on an extended schedule. Vandalism and rowdiness brought the Shore Patrol and closure of the bar.

Life Number Four – Washington State Ferry

MV Kalakala sailed for 32 years as a Washington State Ferry sailing on an itinerary between  Seattle Washington and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Seattle Worlds Fair 1962
Seattle Worlds Fair 1962

The Kalakala put Seattle and the Northwest United States on the mapIn 1962, after only a year on the Sound, the Kalakala was a tourist attraction. She drew one million riders during each of her first six years on the job, carrying workers to the Bremerton shipyard by day and partygoers on dance cruises by night. The Kalakala had an eight-piece orchestra, The Flying Birds, whose music was piped throughout the ship for dancing. Into the 1960s, the Kalakala was a favorite choice for special excursions and summertime cruises to Port Townsend and Victoria.

As the Kalakala, she was renowned for noise and vibration and suffered accidents from her first days on Puget Sound. The ship’s streamlined superstructure partially blocked the view from the pilothouse, and the Kalakala was prone to collision. She ran into a dozen other vessels including the tug turning her around in Victoria Harbor and her own companion ferry on the Bremerton run, the Chippewa. The Kalakala struck the Colman ferry terminal in Seattle dozens of times during her career, causing increasingly costly damage to the dock.

Life Number Five – Symbol Washington State Fair

In 1962, surpassed only by the Space Needle, Kalakala became a symbol of the Washington State Fair. Century 21 Exposition (also known as the Seattle World’s Fair) was a world’s fair held April 21, 1962, to October 21, 1962, in Seattle, Washington. Nearly 10 million people attended the fair. Unlike some other world’s fairs of its era, Century 21 made a profit, largely due to public amazement at the Space Needle, Kalakala and Alweg monorail.

Life Number Six – Decommissioned

Kalakala Structure Sold For Art
Kalakala Structure Sold For Art

In 1967, Kalakala retired from service and moved to the Washington State Ferries repair facility at Eagle Harbour. A year later she was sold to a seafood processing company and towed to Alaska to work as a crab cannery at Ouzinkie, Alaska. Later the Kalakala was beached in Kodiak in 1970 and used to process shrimp.

Life Number Seven – Salvage

The vessel returned to Seattle on November 6, 1998. After failed attempts to raise sufficient funds to restore her, she was auctioned off, moved to Neah Bay, removed from Neah Bay, and in September 2004 moved to Tacoma.

The Kalakala sailed Puget Sound for 32 years. Perhaps 30 million passengers rode the ship during her lifetime in Seattle. She sailed out of the Depression and into Century 21, the 1962 World’s Fair. But her days were numbered. In 1935, the ferry could accommodate 110 automobiles; by 1967, only 60 automobiles fit on her cardeck.

Life Number Eight – Repurpose

February 18, 2015, the City of Kirkland purchased roughly 30 historical pieces of the Kalakala, the world’s first streamlined passenger vessel. The Historic Kalakala (PDF-7 MB) was built between 1933 and 1935 at the Lake Washington Ship Yard in Kirkland’s Carillon Point.

The Kalakala was dismantled in Tacoma, WA and the City seized an opportunity to save some of its own history. This Iconic Salvage (PDF-285 kb) included purchasing a wheelhouse, doors, valve wheels, a section of ornament hand railings, the top window section above the car entrance doors in the bow of the ship.

The City of Kirkland’s vision is to repurpose the salved pieces for an art installation that commemorates the historic ferry and Kirkland’s early history as a regional shipbuilding center.

Life Number Nine – Living Art

Article Resources:

Recent Seattle Cruise Articles: