The Black Ball Line and The Pacific Northwest

A Tribute To A Queen  ~ MV Kalakala


Alexander Peabody
Puget Sound Navigation Company
Mrs. Charles Peabody
Puget Sound Navigation Company
Peter Bevis
May 24, 2003
At His Freemont Studio
Steve Rodrigues
December 22, 2003
Aboard Kalakala

Kalakala still shines in many memories

BILL HUTCHENS; The News Tribune
November 7, 2004

When the Kalakala returned to Tacoma in September, it evoked memories from those who had ridden or watched the sleek silver ferry glide across Puget Sound waters in her prime. To them, it didn’t matter that the art-deco vessel later spent time as a fish cannery, degenerated into an eyesore and was evicted from docks in Seattle and Neah Bay. They’re just glad the Kalakala is getting a reprieve on the shore of the Hylebos Waterway as her owner decides what to do next. Several readers wrote or called to tell us about the ferry, the impressions it left on them and what should be done with it now.

Pat Raymond, 74, of Puyallup, wrote:
"When I was a little girl, this beautiful silver shiny creature came to float on the waters of Puget Sound. The sun sparkled and glistened off her back. When she came around the point where the lighthouse stood (still does), all of us kids who had been playing in the sand at Alki would run to the water, jump up and down and yell, ‘Here COMES the Kalakala!’ "When she left the Port of Seattle on her return trip, we’d drop everything, run to the water again, jump up and down and yell, ‘There GOES the Kalakala!’ "She may be old and bruised, as am I, but in my mind she’s still beautiful. Thanks for the memories of Alki Beach, learning to swim, roasted hot dogs and toasted marshmallows. "God bless the angels who are putting her back together again." Raymond’s daughter, Gloria Thorn, 53, of Vaughn, wrote a poem about her mother’s Kalakala memories. Here’s the second half, describing the ship’s ignoble return:

From Alaska and Seattle to Tacoma it came
A hollowed out hulk with no future, what a shame
It’s old and an eyesore as some people say,
She’s rusty and dirty and well past her day
They don’t want her here, she’s dull and she’s gray
They would much rather see her sunk deep in the bay
But maybe it’s not as bad as it seems
Maybe somewhere she’s bright and shiny and clean
Somewhere, in a young girl’s dreams

M.K. Alberta Johnson, 77, of Tacoma, wrote:
"It was in 1938 that I, a preteen, first rode the ferry Kalakala between Seattle and Bremerton. I was from North Dakota and was in awe, fascinated, intrigued by all that was different from where I lived." Besides the different style of the Kalakala and what I could see from its decks, I was amazed one could get food en route to our destination." Another ferry, the Chippewa, was also in operation during our stay, but the Kalakala was unusual. "The Kalakala evokes delightful memories for me, and thus, I would like to see it restored and kept for historical purposes. But not everything old and interesting can be retained indefinitely, so I guess those with the ‘ways and means,’ etc., will have to decide its ultimate fate."

Ed Keyes, 82, of Tacoma, never rode the Kalakala but remembers it well. "I remember the last ferry boat ride of the Kalakala," he said. "They came into Baker Dock here. I was a senior at Stadium High School, so I didn’t go. But that was the last trip it took, if I remember correctly." As a boy, he visited his aunt and uncle in Seattle. "The Kalakala would go by, and I remember my aunt would point and say ‘There goes the streamlined ferry Kalakala.’ "It’s part of our history," Keyes said. "I think we should preserve it. I think it has more significance to Puget Sound than any other boat around. "It would make a great museum."

Norma Hamilton, 66, of Spanaway, rode the Kalakala for the first time when she was 2."I remember that there was a dance floor and a band and many uniforms around. This was 1940," she said. "They were dancing and relaxing. I don’t know whether we were going to Seattle from Bremerton or the other way. I just loved the music and the band. "In 1966, Hamilton, then 28, took her three children, ages 1 through 6, on a Kalakala ride. "My husband and I had come up here from Northern California when Boeing was hiring everyone. On Fourth of July weekend, we wanted to do something that didn’t cost too much money." This time, however, the glamour was gone. "There was no dance floor and no food. There were some vending machines, and there weren’t as many uniforms. It was not like I remembered. "In 1966, it was a fun experience," she said. "But it was a ferry boat, not a floating entertainment boat like it was when I was 2."



About the Kalakala

The KALAKALA is a part of the history of the world and has been accredited with six world’s firsts:  the most renowned is the gleaming silver symbol of the world’s first completely streamlined art-deco ferry. The second most important is that KALAKALA was awarded the very first commercial radar system on a vessel and KALAKALA still holds FCC License 001. The Puget Sound's traditional advanced futuristic new technological innovations are still surviving today. Her whimsical streamlined curves make her the world's greatest floating icon of the Art Deco era. Launched in 1935 at the depths of the Great Depression, the KALAKALA inspired millions with imagination, creativity and the boldness to build what had never been built before. She was the icon of Seattle, Tacoma, Puget Sound and the entire Pacific Northwest.

She was the world's first streamlined vessel and her superstructure construction pioneered electro-welding techniques that eliminated the need for rivets in ships. Her Busch-Sulzer diesel engine is the largest of its kind ever installed in a ferryboat. She also held the record for the longest crankshaft in North America until after World War II.

The KALAKALA faithfully served the region for 32 years, earning the nickname "the workhorse of Puget Sound." Her futuristic Buck Rogers styling enchanted generations. In 1962, she was voted the most popular attraction of the Seattle World's Fair, second only to the Space Needle!

After her retirement in 1967, she became a fish cannery in Alaska but was subsequently abandoned and forgotten on a beach in Kodiak, Alaska. With the help of thousands of supporters and volunteers who rescued the KALAKALA, she returned triumphantly to Seattle in 1998.

The KALAKALA is currently (October 2004) moored along Hylebos Waterway and is awaiting a repair plan which will include hull repairs and a new coat of exterior paint. The plans are then for relocation to another more long-term site to undergo additional repairs and restoration work.

Everyone is encouraged to explore the Kalakala Project. It has a lot to offer the residents of Puget Sound.

For additional information please visit

This project can also become a victory for the benefit of American history. In 1816, the Black Ball Line and the Black Ball Packet Ship started regular service crossing the north Atlantic from Pier 23, East River, New York bound for Liverpool, England. 

The Bailey Gatzert (1890-1926) was the first auto ferry servicing the Olympic Peninsula, and in 1926 Charles Peabody founded the Puget Sound Navigation Company. Charles Peabody died in 1927, at which time his son, Captain Alexander M. Peabody, at the age of 32, became President of the Puget Sound Navigation Company. Alexander Peabody was a descendent from one of the founders of the Black Ball Line.

Benjamin Marshall, Peabody’s great grandfather, was one of the five original importers who first conceived of the idea to deliver goods to and from Europe on a scheduled basis rather than waiting to send their ships only when they filled their holds and passenger quarters to capacity.

The 1935 MV Kalakala is a major player in almost 200 years of maritime history.



Tacoma:    Kalakala leaves Peninsula for new berth ... and maybe a new lease on life


TACOMA -- The rusting Kalakala ferry, alternately a source of pride and plague for Western Washington, has found a new home.

Tucked in a narrow waterway in Tacoma's industrial center, the 276-foot former queen of the Black Ball Line was secured to a rotting dock Saturday afternoon miles and hours away from the North Olympic Peninsula.

``The Kalakala is here,'' owner Steve Rodrigues announced after gingerly climbing off the boat's broad stern and crossing the dock's unstable boards.

``It is going to have peace for the first time since Oct. 9, and so will I.''

Reaching its new resting place on the Hylebos Waterway marked the end of a more than 28-hour journey for the Kalakala, which was towed Friday morning from Neah Bay at the behest of the Makah tribe and the state Department of Natural Resources.

Second tow

It was the second tow Rodrigues has undertaken for the streamlined, art-deco ferry since purchasing it last October.

But unlike its departure six months ago from Seattle's Lake Union -- where scores of people lined the Ballard Locks for a glimpse, or its subsequent arrival in Neah Bay, where cheers and prayers greeted the vessel -- the Kalakala on Saturday drew about 40 curious onlookers to an open drawbridge near its new moorage to watch quietly as the vessel passed beneath with Rodrigues waving from the stern.

``Look at that, Anthony,'' said a man to a young child he held above the bridge railing. ``That's a big part of history.''

Rodrigues says it's that history he hopes to restore as the Kalakala sits in Tacoma for the next 12 months.



January 1999

BCC Students put their designs on
the historic Kalakala ferry this winter.

On an overcast, dreary day in January, a group of BCC students walked through the interior of a 276-foot, bullet-shaped vessel floating on Elliott Bay. Chips of worn silver paint still flickered at the rim of a cavernous empty space where ferry passengers sat more than sixty years ago, sharing stories of work and family on their way home. The students toured the boat with important goals in mind - to recapture the glory of a past era and renew a sense of community inspired by this special boat.

Working on a class project to create interior designs for the ferry, BCC students had an opportunity to contribute to the reconstruction of an important icon in Seattle's history - the Kalakala ferry.

"This was a dream project," says interior design student Toni Panzica. "The Kalakala shows a commitment to this community and to keeping our architectural heritage alive. We got to do some dreaming on behalf of Seattle."

The Kalakala jumbo ferry debuted as the world's first streamlined vessel in 1935. With a sleek, unmistakable design, the ferry commanded worldwide attention and put Seattle on the map for its imaginative design and futuristic technology. The Kalakala, which could hold up to 2000 passengers and 160 cars, was first used for the Seattle to Bremerton ferry crossing and later expanded service to Port Angeles and Victoria, British Columbia.

More than a form of transportation, the Kalakala provided a sense of adventure and camaraderie when it began its run during the Depression era. People gathered on the decks to exchange news and opinions, building a sense of community as they crossed the waters of Puget Sound. The ferry was retired after 30 years and sold to a private investor in the late 1960's.

The vessel was used as a fish processing plant and a storage warehouse for the next several years, then sat idle in the waters of Kodiak, Alaska until it caught the eye of Seattle sculptor and fisherman Peter Bevis in 1984. He fell in love with the ferry and all the significance it held so many years ago.

"The first time I walked on the boat, I knew the Kalakala was coming home," says Peter. "It represents the innovation and the boldness of spirit in the Northwest. It's a symbol of who we are."

With no idea of the monumental task he was taking on, Peter spent the next 14 years trying to bring the run-down ferry back to Seattle. He spent countless hours making the boat seaworthy and battling with local companies and city government who had other ideas for the ferry's use. After years of struggle and an unwavering belief in his dream, Peter stood aboard the Kalakala as a tugboat pulled the super ferry into Elliott Bay last November.

The boat was moved to Lake Union, where Peter and a crew of volunteers planned for the next phase in the Kalakala's history. Peter's goals were to generate continued support for the vessel and to share his vision of this former icon with the Seattle community. BCC interior design instructor Karen Raphael contacted Peter this winter to help him do just that.

A student in Karen's third-year public design class followed the Kalakala story and suggested renovating the boat's interior as a quarterly project. Karen called Peter to inquire, and the Kalakala became a class project for ten BCC students. The class toured the empty vessel, then put their technical skills and imaginations to work.

Looking beyond the rust, broken windows, and vast empty spaces that used to hold fishing equipment, the students envisioned the majestic Kalakala of the 1930's, a futuristic wonder of technology and sleek art deco style. Throughout winter quarter, they took field measurements, studied the ferry's history, and interviewed Peter about his vision to reunite the past glory of the super ferry with a contemporary use as a gathering place and source of inspiration in the Seattle community.

"We did a tremendous amount of research on the project," says student Lisa Cronenweth. "We looked at the history of the boat, the design era, and also thought about the functionality of the space and how people would use it today."

During winter quarter, the students prepared fabric samples, color schemes and interior design plans for the boat"s three decks. They created designs for a conference center, retail and office space, and a Kalakala museum on the lower deck, while passenger deck plans included a restaurant and ballroom. The promenade deck was designed to highlight the standout feature of the ferry - a double horse-shoe shaped restaurant and bar - which historically had served as the central core and social gathering space of the Kalakala. In March, they were ready to show their final work to their client.

When Peter viewed the final presentation, he was bowled over. "I was overwhelmed by the great work they did," says Peter. "I was thrilled to see their fresh approaches and use of color."

Peter's reaction is not a surprise to those who already know about the excellent reputation of BCC's Interior Design program. The three-year intensive program is well respected in the Northwest by industry professionals. It's structured to give students relevant, real-world skills in addition to theoretical and conceptual design knowledge. Students leave the program with a comprehensive background in drafting, lighting, CAD (computer-aided drafting) design, creative application, project management and teamwork - all necessary skills to succeed in the interior design business.

Part of the success of this rigorous program is a credit to BCC's investment last year in new design facilities, which includes more CAD workstations, more studio space, and a new fabric sample room. A program advisory board comprised of industry professionals keeps the curriculum relevant and assures that the program stays contemporary while meeting industry needs. Another element of the program's success is the commitment of instructors like Karen Raphael, who put a priority on student learning opportunities.

"We have great faculty here," says Connie Wais, program chair for BCC Interior Design. "Many are active in the field and they keep assignments relevant. They bring in real-life situations and stories to their students."

BCC interior design students leave the program with sharp technical and creative skills, as well as practical experience working with clients. In addition to in-class group projects, each student is required to complete two internships in commercial or residential design during the three-year program. For students working on the Kalakala, the project provided more than just a line on a resume - it was a unique opportunity to use their skills to restore a piece of Northwest history.

Before any interior design plans are firmed up, Peter Bevis will focus on immediate priorities to keep the boat afloat. The vessel needs to be painted to prevent further rusting, funds must be secured to pay for monthly moorage fees and a myriad of maintenance costs, and a long-term home must be found for the Kalakala.

Peter hopes to see the ferry docked at the Washington Street Pier near Seattle's Pioneer Square district, but there are still many looming challenges before the Kalakala becomes a permanent fixture in Seattle. Peter believes the students' interior design plans will help generate support for the ferry and let community members see the importance of restoring the Kalakala as a pivotal part of Northwest history once again.

"I want to see the Kalakala inspire creativity and imagination for the future - what we can dream of now and for the next generation," says Peter.

Through their imaginative designs, one group of dedicated BCC students recaptured the Kalakala's golden past, creating a new chapter in the story of this Northwest ferry tale.



KALAKALA: A Timeline

The KALAKALA story begins with another ship in San Francisco . . . 

April 29, 1926, 4:30 PM, Keel laid for the PERALTA at Moore Dry Dock, Oakland California. 

October 14, 1926 PERALTA launched. The PERALTA and her later sister ship, the YERBA BUENA are the last two steam ships built in San Francisco Bay. 

1927 Peralta is put into service for Key Transit Co. in San Francisco. The Key Line operated trolley cars that would descend from town out onto the pier and into a terminal building, where passengers could step from their trolly and onto a ferry boat with out getting their head wet. 

February 17, 1928 Over 30 passengers are washed over board when the PERALTA 's bow dips underwater in heavy weather, while approaching Oakland. Unfortunately, five people cannot be rescued in time and drown.

May 6, 1933 - 10:30 PM, An arson fire burns the Key Line terminal in Oakland where the PERALTA is moored. Her boilers cooled down for the night, she has no power to leave her berth. Three Key Line employees, trapped in the blazing terminal, break one of the windows and jump to the PERALTA, rescuing the day's receipts ($8000). They cut the mooring lines and give her a push, but she does not drift far. The men are rescued, but soon her superstructure is a roasted, tangle, smoldering mess. With the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge under construction, the California legislature out laws ferry service and the PERALTA is passed on to the insurance underwriters. 

September 1933 Capt. Alexander Peabody, Puget Sound Navigation Co. aka the Black Ball Line, purchases the hull of the PERALTA for $6,500.

October 12, 1933 The tug CREOLE begins towing the hull of the PERALTA up the coast to Puget Sound arriving at Lake Washington Shipyard in Houghton, near Kirkland, WA, Oct. 20th.

After dinner one night, the blue prints for the new ferry are laid out on the Peabody's dining room table. Mrs. Peabody says 'She ought to be more rounded!' and the design is radically altered to become the World's First Streamlined Vessel. 

Boeing engineer and airplane model maker, Louis Proctor, moonlighting for Capt. Peabody, shapes a 5' builders model of the new streamlined design. 

November 1934 Lake Washington Shipyards, Kirkland, WA, construction begins on the World's First Streamlined Vessel! Construction and the shipyard work is supervised by James Murphy and naval architect Helmuth W. Schmitz, who completes the blue print drawings. 

William Thorniley, fun loving publicist for the Black Ball Line, names the new ferry "KALAKALA" which means 'flying bird' in the local Chinook Indian language. Thorniley launches a national promotional blitz beginning with bill boards that simply say KALAKALA! Later they say "KALAKALA, Seattle, WA", and finally concluded with a picture of the vessel as well. 

July 1, 1935 The Kalakala's maiden voyage is delayed. On July 2nd she is moved to Todd Shipyard in Elliot Bay and for finishing touches 

July 3, 1935 12:45 PM, the KALAKALA commences her maiden voyage with great fanfare. With confetti and ticker tape, an estimated 100,000 citizens crowd Coleman Dock and the adjacent water-front to witness this remarkable event. Under command of Capt. Wallace Mangan the KALAKALA makes a speed of 17.3 knots and is expected to do better after refinements are made. On board are 500 guests of the Puget Sound Navigation Company. 8000 people greet her as she makes port in Bremerton at 4:00PM. At 4:30PM she departs with 2000 school children for a cruise of the sound and upon her return she is open to the public from 6:00 till Midnight when she leaves to return to Seattle. 

July 4, 1935 The KALAKALA starts daily service from Seattle to Bremerton. Starting at 6:30 am, she makes six round trips daily. Fares are 45 cents for passengers and $1.10 for autos and driver. Every evening at 8:30 she leaves Seattle for a 'Moonlight Cruise' that lasts until 12:30am. Cost is $1.00 per couple to dance to Joe Bowen and the "Flying Bird Orchestra". the red velvet chairs in the forward cabin are moved aside to provide a dance floor and music is electrically piped throughout the ship to all decks.

1935 Postcards circulate around the country, showing off Seattle's newest ferryboat. The KALAKALA is an international sensation. News reels, magazines and Sunday supplements carry stories. The Seattle Chamber of Commerce predicts that the success of the KALAKALA will lead to contracts for new ships in local shipyards. 

August 1935 Orthopedic Hospital provides a party and excursion aboard the KALAKALA. Entertainment is provided and prizes are given out. All proceeds go to the hospital. This party also coincides with Potlatch week, a local celebration. Local newspapers note that most visitors are coming to see the KALAKALA, which they describe as already world famous. 

November 4, 1936 KALAKALA and the ferry CHIPPEWA collide in Rich Passage and tears a 40-foot hole in the latter. The KALAKALA is only dented and breaks some windows. Five cars on the CHIPPEWA are demolished.

The KALAKALA featured in National Geographic Magazine, 1938.

September 27, 1938 The KALAKALA rams Colman dock. Ten passengers are slightly injured. In the same year, she shears pilings on the Bremerton side as well.

Late 1930's More defense workers commuting to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard cause increase in the number of runs to Bremerton. 

July 2, 1940 To celebrate the opening of the Tacoma Narrows bridge, the KALAKALA is chosen to make the final run at the narrows. This also celebrates her 5th anniversary. Four months later the infamous "Galloping Gertie" bridge crashes into the water.

1941 The KALAKALA is estimated to have already carried six million passengers since starting service. Car capacity is now considered to be 85 cars. 

December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor is bombed by Japan! Bremerton Navy Yard is instantly working around the clock to repair our damaged navy. Because of tremendous naval yard expansion the KALAKALA carries as many 5000 shipyard workers and sailors per trip. The KALAKALA /CHIPPEWA schedule increases from 14 round trips daily to 23 by adding two more ferries, the WILLIPA and the ENETAI. As thousands of workers commute to Bremerton day and night, vandalism plague's the KALAKALA to the tune of $500 a month. Chairs are broken and thrown overboard along with life rings and rope (A critical wartime material). At one point pranksters light a fire under the chair of a sleeping worker. Navy Shore Patrols are stationed abroad to stop damage and beer sales are stopped. The showers onboard the KALAKALA are turned off and the taproom is closed. The men's lounge remains and becomes a good place to catch a nap. 

1942 Passengers have to check in all cameras and binoculars because of the close proximity of the Bremerton ferry dock to the naval shipyard. The MALTA joins the Bremerton run. 29 trips are run daily with the KALAKALA being the leading carrier. For her relentless war effort, he KALAKALA earns the nickname, 'The Workhorse of Puget Sound'. 

1943 The KALAKALA rams a barge off Glover Point, knocking two railroad cars into Puget Sound. The KALAKALA is barely damaged - and found not to be at fault. 

1944 As the ferry CITY OF SACRAMENTO leaves Seattle deliver the crew of an aircraft carrier, the KALAKALA happens to leave at the same time. Capt. Ole Rindal, usually the skipper of the KALAKALA, but today on the SACRAMENTO, urges Chief Engineer Henry Mehus to give him full steam and a race between the two vessels occurs. CITY OF SACRAMENTO wins the race when Rindel, because a high tide, cleverly cuts inside Orchard Rocks to beat the KALAKALA to Bremerton. Capt. Rindal is called on the carpet, not for safety reasons, but for publicly embarrassing the flagship of the fleet. 

1945 The KALAKALA begins weekend excursion cruises between Seattle and Victoria, BC. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays she would leave Lenore Street Dock at 9 AM, and return at 10:15 PM, with a 2 hour 15-minute stay in Victoria. 

August 1945 To celebrate V-J Day, the Black Ball Line honors it's employees with two free evening cruises on the KALAKALA. 

February 4, 1946 The KALAKALA receives the first commercial radar, FCC license # 001. 

March 1947 The KALAKALA and other ferries are tied up during an engineer's strike - the first in several events that eventually lead to the state takeover of the ferry system.

The KALAKALA, Willapa and Illahee idled by the engineer's strike in 1947.

August 1949 The KALAKALA rams Colman Dock. Witnesses declare that it looked like she would continue up Marion to 1st. Ave. The KALAKALA suffers a small hole and is taken out of service for only one day. Colman Dock is closed for six months. 

December 30, 1950 The Puget Sound Navigation Company receives an offer from Gov. Arthur Langlie of the state of Washington to purchase the nation's largest privately owned ferry system for $3.5 million. The Black Ball Line is allowed to repurchase the CHINOOK (for $3.5 million!) and transfers her to the Vancouver - Nanaimo run for the Black Ball Line still operating in British Columbia. 

June 1, 1951 The KALAKALA becomes a Washington State Ferry 

June 1955 WSF assigns the KALAKALA to the Port Angeles-Victoria run restoring service at the request of the Governor and the premier of B.C. The KALAKALA is greeted by a fireboat with all nozzles spouting on her initial entrance to Victoria Harbor. Thousands of people attend. A Kiltie band piped the passengers ashore. Mayor Claude Harrison presents Capt. A. F. Eikum with a bronze plaque commemorating inauguration of WSF service across the strait. Four round trips are planned daily. Departing Port Angeles at 6 AM, 10 AM, 2 PM and 6 PM. 

1956 The original propeller is replaced with a larger 5-blade propeller. The KALAKALA 's legendary vibration is reduced by 40%. 

1960 The new 100 car COHO replaces the KALAKALA on the Port Angeles-Victoria run. The KALAKALA returns to the Seattle-Bremerton run, relegated to standby service in winter months. 

1962 The KALAKALA is festooned with banners at port and starboard promoting Century 21 for the Seattle World Fair. 

1963 In a poll, Seattle World Fair visitors vote the KALAKALA the second biggest attraction, after the Space Needle. 

March 1964, On Good Friday, the great Alaskan Earthquake creates a huge tsunami that decimates all shore based seafood canneries. 

1964 The KALAKALA is at Todd shipyards for repairs when a fire breaks out. Although many ships are burned, the KALAKALA 's drydock is towed to safety and she suffers no damage. 

The KALAKALA narrowly escapes the Todd Shipyard Fire of 1964. Tugboats tow her drydock to safety. 

Mid 1960s The KALAKALA works seven-day service during the summer months and is moved to weekend work off-season. Because cars are getting bigger her bow doors are removed and the bow and stern openings are cut wide to load two lanes of cars at a time. 

February 21, 1966 The KALAKALA rams the brand new WSF ferry terminal in Seattle. The rammed slip is out of commission for two months. The KALAKALA returns to service in a few weeks. 

July 1966 the 160-car superferry HYAK starts on the Bremerton-Seattle run. The HYAK 's speed and capacity enables her to replace the KALAKALA and one other Bremerton ferry, the WILLAPA. 

October 2, 1967 The KALAKALA completes her final run as a WSF ferry and is moored at Eagle Harbor in Winslow. She is sold to high bidder Robert Ressoff of American Freezerships Co., and be converted to a crab-processing vessel for Dutch Harbor, Alaska. 

The KALAKALA moored at Eagle Harbor in 1963 along with WSF"s "extra boats," clockwise from KALAKALA: KLAHANIE, CHETZEMOKA, VASHON, SKANSONIA, CROSLINE and SAN MATEO. Harre Demoro photo. 

August 1968 The ANDREW FOSS tows the KALAKALA to her new home in Alaska. She was towed instead of sailing under her own power because it was less expensive than to travel under her own power. 

Summer, 1970 The KALAKALA is purchased by W. R. Grace Co. and moved to Ouzinkie, Alaska where she processes crab for 5 months. Her mighty engine runs for the last time as she has a 'problem with one of the pistons.' 

November 1970 The KALAKALA is moved to Gibson Cove in Kodiak, Alaska. On Thanksgiving Day, on a high tide she is floated onto a pre-made bed of sand and bulldozers backfill around her with tons of rock to hold her like a building. She is converted to process shrimp. Still wanting to float on the subsequent high tides, problems ensue when water and offal lines break. Shrimp boats cannot easily unload. 

1972 W.R. Grace Co. sells the KALAKALA to New England Fish Company. 

1980 New England Fish Company goes bankrupt, sells the KALAKALA to Alaska Food Products Company. Captain Peabody dies at the age of 85. 

1982 Alaska Food Products Company defaults on loans and goes bankrupt. State of Alaska assumes ownership of the KALAKALA and tries to sell her. 

1984 Pete Bevis, on his first commercial fishing trip, first lays eyes on the abandoned streamlined KALAKALA in Gibson Cove. Pete, a sculptor, is fascinated with 'those elegant curves and wondrous portholes'! 

1986 City of Kodiak purchases the KALAKALA from the State of Alaska and tries to sell her. 

Abandoned in Gibson Cove, Alaska

1988 Pete Bevis boards the KALAKALA for the first time and offers the City of Kodiak $1,000 cash for a six month option to refloat her. His offer is turned down. 

1991-92 Pete Bevis forms the nonprofit Kalakala Foundation. A battle ensues as a real estate developer splits from the Foundation and unsuccessfully attempts to purchase the boat out from under the Foundation for his own commercial purposes. 

1995 Bevis returns to Kodiak with the first "dream team" and starts preparing the KALAKALA for refloating. Technically, they are trespassing, but they are left alone and allowed to proceed with the clean up.

June 24, 1998 On Capt Alexander's birthday, with over 700 tons of debris removed and repairs completed, the KALAKALA is refloated. She undergoes additional preparations in Women's Bay, including the refabrication of her bow doors. 

October 20, 1998 At the height of the storm season, the KALAKALA begins the tow home across the Gulf of Alaska. Odd Johnson, skippers the tug NEPTUNE owned and operated by Fred Dahl of Dahl Tug and Barge. 

November 6, 1998 The KALAKALA triumphantly reenters Elliot Bay after 32 years. She is moored at Bell Street, Pier 66 where thousands wait in line over the Holidays for a chance to tour her once elegant decks.

March 17, 1999 The KALAKALA is moved from Bell Street Pier to north Lake Union where restoration continues with an all-volunteer crew. 

July 4, 2000 The City of Seattle and Coast Guard shut down the KALAKALA 's onboard fundraisers for lack of a second fire escape from the bow. The Foundation's operating cash is severely impacted. The city declares the KALAKALA is sticking out 32' too far and will have to move or face $75/day fines. Port Angeles and San Francisco offer her a home. Seattle risks losing the KALAKALA for a second and final time. 

April 2001 The city of Seattle declares the KALAKALA poses no actual hazard to navigation and can stay put. The Kalakala Foundation board unanimously declines all offers to move the KALAKALA out of Seattle, and brings together local business people to create the Kalakala Foundation's new business plan itemizing restoration costs and projecting income from future operations.

September 15, 2001 The Kalakala Foundation Board of Trustees unveils the new business plan at its annual meeting. The plan calls for the KALAKALA to be used as a museum of the Art Deco Era, exhibition space, with events, catering, tours, merchandising and the reopening of the famous double horseshoe lunch counter. The Seattle waterfront at Pioneer Square is selected as the best place on planet earth for her home-port. The plan demonstrates her ability to generate revenue in excess of her operating costs and restoration debt service. 

November 6, 2001 The Seattle City Council issues a Proclamation, recognizing the third anniversary of the KALAKALA 's homecoming, commending the heroic efforts of Peter Bevis and the Kalakala Foundation and voices unanimous support of the restoration objectives. All members of the City Council and the Mayor of Seattle sign the proclamation.

September 10, 2002 The Port of Seattle Commissioners turn down a proposal to create a permanent home port for the restored KALAKALA at Pier 66 - the Bell Harbor Cruise Ship Terminal and Conference Center. The Foundation had been working on the proposal with Port staff and Port hospitality contractors for several months. The proposal would have netted the Port over $ 5.5 million in revenue in return for backstopping tax exempt bonds to fund the restoration of the historic ferry.

October 15, 2002 The Maritime Heritage Foundation formally requests temporary moorage for the KALAKALA at the former Naval Reserve Building at South Lake Union - where Seattle's historic ships fleet is currently moored on city property. The KALAKALA faces eviction from her market-rate moorage by year-end.

October 24, 2002 The City of Seattle rejects the request to provide the KALAKALA temporary moorage at the Maritime Heritage Center on South Lake Union. The Mayor of Seattle, Greg Nickels, asks the Parks Department to work with the Kalakala Foundation to establish a permanent homeport at the Washington Street Boat Landing at the foot of Pioneer Square.

December 31, 2002 The KALAKALA faces eviction from her location at North Lake Union. The City of Seattle rejects the Kalakala Foundation's request to moor at Sand Point based on inability to provide a $1 million performance bond - which the underwriters will not write. The Kalakala Foundation board of trustees gives executive director one more month to find a solution that will save the Kalakala, or else the vessel will have to be put up for sale.

January 31, 2003 The Kakalaka Foundation board of trustees publishes a request for proposals, officially putting the vessel up for sale to pay off the creditors.

February 21, 2003 The RFP deadline passes with no viable offers.

March 14, 2003 The Kakalaka Foundation board of trustees files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The court will appoint a trustee to oversee the liquidation of the Foundation, and determine the future of the KALAKALA.

September 13, 2003 The KALAKALA is sold at auction. In subsequent days, the first and second bidders are declared by the auction house to be in default. 

September 29, 2003 The auction house declares KALAKALA is sold to the third bidder, "Lost Horizons." 

October 10, 2003 The federal bankruptcy judge approves the sale of the KALAKALA to Steven Rodrigues' company "Lost Horizons." Rodrigues pledges to restore the ferry to her former glory and operate her as a waterfront attraction, visiting the ports of Puget Sound.

March 9-10, 2004 The KALAKALA is towed to a new temporary moorage in Neah Bay, Washington where she is moored courtesy of the Makah Tribal Council.

The KALAKALA heads through the Ballard Locks, March 9, 2004.



Digging Out the Kalakala

There is an unusual structure on the beach of Kodiak Island, Alaska. Like other structures nearby, it is surrounded by the dilapidated remnants of a failed cannery operation. Like them, it has seen heavy use. And like them, there's a decent chance that it will windup as scrap-metal. Still, this one has a sleekness to it. The word "Kalakala" freshly painted on its side, this structure looks as though it could slip from the land into the sea and be perfectly at home in motion. In this case, looks don't deceive, and making this happen is the goal of the Kalakala Foundation. For its founder, Peter Bevis of Seattle, getting the ferry MV Kalakala off that beach and away from the cutter's torch has been a ten-year-long labor, justifying hard work, cold nights, and deep debt.

Constructed in 1935, the Kalakala's history goes back further, to the steamer Peralta, built as a San Francisco Bay ferry in 1926. After being damaged above the waterline by a fire in 1933, the Peralta's hull became available as salvage. Meanwhile, in Seattle, Capt. Alexander Peabody of the Puget Sound Navigation Co. wanted a streamlined flagship for his Black Ball Line of ferries, a symbol to bring his company into the modern age. Streamlining had taken hold in aircraft design as a route to better efficiency and performance. The automakers and railroads were adopting those same sleek lines partly for those reasons, but mostly as a matter of style. It was good business to look "modern." Peabody probably imagined himself building the first example of how all ships and ferries would look in the future. He did not foresee the streamline style's rapid fall from popularity and a more scientific understanding of streamlining, particularly the difference between what is important at 400 mph vs. 18 knots. He probably never imagined that the Kalakala would be the first and last streamlined ferry, but she was.

What Peabody did know, however, was that building a new streamlined ferry would be expensive. The Peralta's hull, available at a bargain price, served as a catalyst to get the job moving. It was towed to the Lake Washington Shipyard in Houghton, WA (now part of Kirkland), the only shipyard on the West Coast equipped for an electro-welding job of this size. Using the old hull as a starting point, work on the "ferry of the future" moved forward. Christened with the Chinook word for "flying bird", she was launched in 1935. With more than a touch of hyperbole, the Saturday Evening Post called the Kalakala "the most important nautical vessel since Noah's ark." She was proudly featured in ads for American Hammered Piston Rings (those used in the Kalakala were 19-1/2" in diameter, and they could "take it", according to the ad copy). So at the height of the Depression, this silvery vision of the future emerged, and began service between Seattle and Bremerton on Puget Sound.

The vessel's modern character was not confined to its streamlined look. Among other notable features were the first telecom system between wheelhouse and engine room (replacing the standard teletype) and the first automatic fire control sprinklers throughout a ferry. She had the most powerful engine ever installed in a ferry up to that time, a Busch-Sulzer ten-cylinder two-stroke diesel rated at 3,000 hp. It made the Kalakala the fastest ferry on Puget Sound, with a cruising speed of 18.5 knots. (Of the 19 engines built identical to the Kalakala's, 18 went into power generation. There has been a report that one of these engines continues to serve as a standby generator somewhere in the Southeastern U.S. Any confirmation of this would be welcomed by the Kalakala Foundation). In addition to all of this, the Kalakala also had the first commercial radar navigation system once the technology was declassified after WW II (FCC license #001).

For the next several decades the Kalakala was both icon and workhorse. During the day, she ferried shipyard workers back and forth to Bremerton. At night, there were moonlight cruises, accompanied by the Kalakala's own Flying Bird Orchestra. The Kalakala was loved and considered a Seattle attraction well into the age of the futuristic Space Needle built for the 1963 World's Fair.

Time did, however, take its toll. The ferry's car lanes were too narrow for the larger vehicles of the 1950s. Vehicle capacity was reduced, and passengers sometimes found themselves exiting through their car windows. The direct-drive propulsion system was obsolete and the steering gear was not up to the technological level of the rest of the vessel. She also had a few quirks, including a tendency to vibrate while underway at top speed. In the space-age (the age of the Saturn V, not of Buck Rogers) when nothing modern looked like the Kalakala, the vibration was no longer endearing, but a sign of anachronism. Why the Kalakala was prone to vibration is unknown. It could have been the result of a 1926 hull being driven to 18 knots. It could have been the difference between aerodynamic styling and true aerodynamics. It also could have been the size of the giant engine relative to the vessel.

In 1967, the Kalakala was sold at auction for the inglorious role of an ocean-going fish processing plant. In 1972, after blowing a piston head, she was towed to Kodiak, a local hill was dynamited for fill, and the ship became a stationary cannery operation. Following the bankruptcy of the last of several owners in 1980, maintenance largely stopped. Deterioration set in. The city of Kodiak took title and realized it had a liability on its hands. There began to be talk of cutting her up.

Four years later, Peter Bevis, while working on a fishing boat, saw the Kalakala. In 1988, he toured the boat by flashlight, and it captured his imagination. Later, he had a few days off, and decided to paint the roof. He bought all of the silver paint available in Kodiak, and went to work with a scraping-shovel and a roller. Although the following ten years can perhaps be viewed as a little weekend painting that got out of hand, this act says something about the Kalakala Foundation's founder's philosophy of preservation: when in doubt, put muscle to metal. Bevis decided, without title to the boat or funding, that he would save the Kalakala and return it to Seattle.

The period from 1988 to 1995 was characterized by fits and starts in the preservation effort. Little physical work was done, though the foundation was incorporated in 1992. Once the foundation became an official non-profit, more organized meetings and planning took place, and staff was hired, but the Kalakala was still rusting and no closer to Seattle. The city of Kodiak informally approved the operation, but retained its right to scrap the ship if preservation efforts were unsuccessful.

In 1995, Bevis called the other members of the foundation. "This is no drill" was his message. If you want to save the Kalakala, come up to Alaska and start working. Fortunately, the members of the foundation included welders, electricians, and a shipwright. Twelve of them came, and he called this his "dream team." First priority was to stop the ongoing deterioration, which mostly meant plugging rainwater leaks, scraping, and painting. This naturally improved the aesthetics of the boat, something helpful to fund raising and gaining local support. Once deterioration was brought under control, focus shifted to eliminating the chance of catastrophic destruction. This meant the removal of flammables, including oil from the bilge and over 50 tons of waxed cardboard shrimp-packing boxes.

Thereafter, work began on seaworthiness. Cannery equipment was removed to lighten the boat. The hull was ultrasound tested to check if enough metal remained to make the return trip possible. For several weeks there was a virtual assembly-line of welders above-board cutting circles of steel in different sizes, then passing them below to where other welders used them to patch holes left in the bulkheads by the cannery plumbing. Finally, excavation had to be done, giving the Kalakala a path to the sea. Some of this work was done by volunteers, most of it by workers drawing a paycheck. And although support and small contributions have been forthcoming, the foundation, and particularly Peter Bevis, are now more than half a million dollars in debt.

Last April 27, late at night, that debt didn't seem to matter much as the Kalakala easily floated free and rose several inches on a high tide. The stage was set for the Kalakala to be towed out into open water at the end of May. Luck ran out, however, when a maritime surveyor from Lloyds of London informed the crew that, though plenty of steel remains in the hull plates, the poor condition of the rivets holding them together will make the tow to Seattle too risky to insure. The Kalakala's hull plates could potentially separate, causing her to go down in bad weather.

The only safe way to bring the Kalakala back to Seattle will be on a submersible barge, a device which is sunk and then filled with air to lift the boat from below. If this becomes a reality, the Kalakala, true to its name, will fly home, with even its keel above the surface of the ocean. These barges, however, do not come cheaply. $700,000 is the estimated cost. Add to this statements like those made by Bill Jones, City Manager of Kodiak, that "I wouldn't lose a moment's sleep...whether it goes back to Seattle on a barge as a monument or as scrap, it's all the same to me. We just want the Kalakala gone," and it's not surprising that a do-or-die sense of desperation is settling over the project. The "just do it" approach to saving the Kalakala has brought her this far, probably saving her from being cut up years ago. But now only strong financial support will bring her home.

Summer 1998

J. S.




KALAKALA: Seattle's Art Deco Icon

PERALTA:  The Phoenix of San Francisco Bay

A history of the former Washington State Ferry fleet would be incomplete without mentioning the beautiful and historic Art Deco vessel Kalakala. The most unusual ferry to ever sail Puget Sound, the silver streamlined vessel became an icon for Seattle for nearly thirty years before moving up to Alaska. The ferry's history on Puget Sound is well known, but not many people realize that she started out as an equally beautiful vessel for the Key System Ferries on San Francisco Bay. Built in 1926, the steam-turbine ferry Peralta was the flagship for of the fleet. Her orange and cream color scheme was unmistakable on the Bay, and she and her sister Yerba Buena were noted for the luxury of their fittings and nearly soundless engines.

While the Yerba Buena seemed to have a charmed life, the Peralta had difficulty from the start--an unlucky vessel from the moment of her launch when she got stuck on the ways as she slid down the ramp at the Moore Drydock Company proceeded her. Scarcely six months in service, the Peralta went on to bash both the Oakland and San Francisco docks. The worst was yet to come though, when the ferry was involved in one of the worst accidents in the history of the Bay area.

On a routine crossing in February, 1928 the Peralta was approaching Oakland when passengers noticed her bow dipping abnormally low. Passengers always crowded to the front of the vessel as to be the first onto the trains. This night, however, an inquiry would late find, the Peralta's nose slammed into a trough. The lower deck was suddenly awash in as much as five feet of cold salt water, sending terrified passengers scrambling. Over thirty were washed into the Bay. Five people died in the cold waters of the Bay.

It was never determined if the Peralta's ballast tanks, used to trim the boat as she approached the dock, were incorrectly filled at the wrong end as many supposed. In the end, it didn't matter--the tanks were never used again.

The Peralta finished her unlucky career on the night of May 6th, 1933. The Key System pier was set on fire by an arsonist, and the Peralta, tied up to the pier and shut down for the night, was soon ablaze. Her mooring lines cut, the vessel, completely engulfed in flame, drifted out into the Bay. By morning, all that was left was a smoldering, twisted mass of scorched metal. Her hull was still intact, but the ferry was effectively rendered useless.

Building the KALAKALA

Name Translation: Chinook jargon, "Flying Bird"

Alexander Peabody, president of the Black Ball Line, was looking to build a new company flagship, something unlike anything ever seen before. In the darkest days of the depression, the vessel would not only be a productive addition to the fleet, but also be a symbol of hope, demonstrate the advancements in shipbuilding, and also provide a distraction from the bleak reality of the 30's by providing dances onboard and social cruises. Early drawings that appeared in Pacific Motorboat magazine, however showed that Peabody's new ferry to be anything but original. In fact, the first drawings of the Kalakala show here looking not too different from her original incarnation as the Peralta. Whether this was done on purpose by Peabody to make the vessel's debut even more startling or not is up to debate.

Towing the hull up to the Lake Washington shipyard in 1934, the first indication that the ferry would not end up looking like a pared down, single-ended Peralta was when the hull was shaved down to 55 feet. The superstructure that started to emerge from the hull was anything but traditional. For starters, there were no rivets being used--the hull was going to be completely smooth as electro-welding was to be used--a first for any ferry in the world.

The process of electro-welding was in it's infancy in 1934. Most of the Atlantic floating palaces of the era were still riveted. The new vessel became the first on Puget Sound to use the technology.

As she began to take shape, her revolutionary design became evident. Everywhere on the Kalakala, were curves--from the large portholes that flanked the rounded stern of the ferry to the elegantly curved ladies lounge, to the bench seats on the passenger decks. Most popular of all was the double horse shoe lunch counter located amidships on the upper passenger deck. The stylish cafe had a full wait staff and cooked meals to order.

In the corners of the room were triangular tables for additional seating. While the cafe was a gathering place for passengers, it also seemed to be the focal spot for the ferry's notorious teeth-chattering vibration. No one is exactly sure what caused it. Everything from a possible misalignment of the engine, the propeller, to the design of the vessel itself was blamed. The results were the same--the Kalakala buzzed across the sound so badly that coffee was sold only in the half-cup to prevent spilling. Aft of the cafe was the Palm Room, and open air room filled with cane furniture. Such rooms were common on North Atlantic ";floating palaces," and the presence of such a room onboard the Kalakala not only set her apart from the rest of the ferries in the fleet, but gave her an unmatched touch of elegance. For Black Ball she was used primarily on the Seattle-Bremerton run, making Moonlight Cruises with the Flying Birds orchestra led by Joe Bowen. For a dollar passengers could dance to swing music broadcast live from the boat. The cruises were an enormous success, and made the boat the most popular in the fleet. A few short years later, however, the war would intervene and the Moonlight Cruises would stop. The Kalakala's primary duty--hauling passengers to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard became far more important than diversionary cruises and swing music.

Unfortunately for the Kalakala it was also a period of vandalism during WWII. Sailors and yard workers having perhaps one beer too many in the Art Deco tap room below decks, took to throwing furniture, life rings, rope and other materials overboard. When a fire was set under the seat of a sleep passenger, Black Ball had enough. The first major alteration to the boat was made: the tap room was shut down, never to open again. The heavy wooden chairs plushly upholstered in thick velvet in the bow of the ship were removed. Two rows of curved bench seats were welded in. The cane furniture in the Palm Room was taken out and seats identical to the ones in the passenger cabin replaced them.

Perhaps the longest lasting effect of the hyjinks of WWII: liquor sales on Puget Sound ferries were suspended until the State of Washington began beer again in 1974.

After the State took over operations in 1951, there were some immediate cosmetic changes to the ferry. She had a green stripe painted around her guards, and her interior was repainted in white and green enamel paint. All the seats were reupholstered in green, and the balustrades on the stairs were painted green. Washington State Ferries kept her on the usual Seattle to Bremerton route, although when Black Ball Ferries Ltd. of Canada suddenly withdrew the Chinook from the Victoria to Port Angels run, WSF assigned her to that route from 1955 to 1960.

By the 1960's though, ferry was antiquating rapidly. As early as 1960 the ferry system was considering retiring the ferry. Her 55 foot beam limited her car capacity, and her huge 3000 hp Busch-Sulzer diesel was increasingly expensive to maintain and operate. However, ridership on the ferries was continually going up, and even if only about 50 cars could be put on the ferry, that capacity meant that there would be 50 fewer cars left at the dock. The ferry went into Todd shipyard for another major overhaul and upgrading. Her hull was found to be very sound, but the steel in her passenger cabin was showing obvious wear and needed extensive upgrading.

While at Todd, the ferry very nearly went up in flames again when a massive fire swept through the shipyard. High and dry in the dock, the Kalakala was a sitting duck, until some tugs arrive and pulled the floating drydock into Elliott Bay. This time the ferry was safe from the flames and lived to sail another day.

Washington State Ferries, in an effort to modernize the fleet, simply could not run the Kalakala cost-effectively. With the addition of the Super Class ferries, time finally ran out for the old streamliner. She made her last run on 7 August, 1967. For the last year or so of her life, her bow doors were removed and her forward opening widened to allow her to unload and load at the new Colman Dock. The removal of the doors gave the streamlined vessel the look of a perpetual yawn.

Sold in October of the same year, the Kalakala had most of her interior gutted. Cannery equipment was installed, and she moved up to Alaska, operating under her own power until 1971 when she blew a piston. Tied up at the Kodiak dock, constant winds threatened to snap the mooring lines. Too expensive to fix, the decision was made to beach her at Gibson Cove. Oozed into the mud, the former pride of Puget Sound became a building, processing shrimp and crab until the early 1980s.

The last of the cannery operators went out of business in the early 1980s. Whatever could be taken off and sold was done so at auction in 1984. The Kalakala lay abandoned in the cove, the elements slowly destroying her.

In 1986 Seattle sculptor Peter Bevis while working as a fisherman, caught sight of the ferry stuck in the mud on Kodiak Island. Shown around the boat by her caretaker, Gil Reel, Peter knew the boat had to be saved and returned home. It would another six years before the Kalakala Foundation would be formed, and several more years of work removing over 300 tons of concrete and cannery material, but Bevis would see his dream come true--the Kalakala returned to Seattle after an absence of 30 years.

Her struggle far from over, the Kalakala is shown here moored at Lake Union in September, 2002, which she moved to in 1999. After struggling for years to raise the money to restore the vessel, the Foundation filed for bankruptcy and the ferry was sold at auction.

In a continuing a surprising twist to her history, the person who was high bidder on the boat was unable to come up with the funds to pay for her. The Kalakala went to the second highest bidder, who also couldn't come up with the funds to pay for her. Finally, she went to the third high bidder. Her current owner, Steve Rodriguez, tried for months unsuccessful to move her from Lake Union where she had more than worn out her welcome.

Finally on march 9th she began her journey to Neah Bay, where the Makah Tribe had graciously offered to give the historic vessel free moorage.

That offer soon soured when the Kalakala damaged the pier she was moored too. The Makah sued as did the Department of Natural Resources. On September 24, 2004, the ferry was moved to Tacoma. Her status there is somewhat uncertain.

The last chapter of the historic vessel has not been written yet. If all goes as planned she will return to the Seattle waterfront again one day, shimmering in the sun as she did back on that July day in 1935 when she was brand new.



Ferry Kalakala

The ferry Kalakala Kalakala was launched from the Lake Washington Shipyards, in Kirkland, on July 2, 1935. Between 1935 and 1967, the streamlined ferry plied the waters of Puget Sound, carrying commuting workers between Seattle and the naval shipyard in Bremerton. Auctioned off in 1967, the Kalakala spent the next 31 years in Alaska, serving as a fish processor. 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 was originally built by the Moore Shipbuilding Company and named the Peralta. She hesitated on her 1927 launch, the sure sign of a bad luck ship, according to many seafarers. For six years, she operated as the Peralta, a double-ended ferry on the Oakland to San Francisco run. But on the night of 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.

Peabody wanted a new ferry to accommodate increasing traffic between Seattle and Bremerton, home of the United States Navy Yard and gateway to the Olympic Peninsula. He needed a fast, dependable ferry to make eight roundtrips each day through the fogs and currents of Puget Sound. Peabody assembled a team at the shipyard to design a revolutionary superstructure that would transform the Peralta’s charred wreckage into the extraordinary Kalakala, "the flying bird," in the Chinook Indian jargon.

At its debut in 1935, the Kalakala was the largest and fastest ferry on Puget Sound, a bold statement of imagination from the depths of the Great Depression. To enable her to achieve the desired speed of 18 knots, the team redesigned Kalakala as a single-ended ferry with a 3000-horsepower diesel engine, the largest ever installed in a ferry. To reduce drag, the Kalakala’s running lights were inset into the bridge and the lifeboats were recessed into the stern on either side.

The ship demonstrated the latest aerodynamic principles. 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. The Kalakala was a bold departure from traditional marine architecture.

From the start, a number of participants claimed design credit for the Kalakala, and the puzzle remains unsolved today. Some accounts credit engineers from the Boeing Company or craftsmen from Lake Washington Shipyards. Others credit Alex Peabody or his mother, Mrs. Charles Peabody. The grandest tale is that Norman Bel Geddes designed the Kalakala. Certainly his streamlined designs inspired the Kalakala team, but the great avant-garde industrial designer had no direct hand in the ferry. Louis Proctor, one of The Boeing Company’s two model makers, carved the builder’s wooden model while temporarily laid off by the airplane manufacturer. Shipbuilders used Proctor's model in lieu of drawings to construct Kalakala's stylish new superstructure.

Inside, the Kalakala was a luxurious ferry by local standards. Accommodations would do credit to an ocean liner, enthused Pacific Motor Boat in 1935. The Kalakala's five decks boasted ample room for 2,000 passengers. There were three large observation rooms and a sun deck, as well as the famous double-horseshoe lunch counter. The ladies’ lounge was finished in harmonizing shades of brown, and 500 velvet-upholstered easy chairs offered comfortable seating in the public areas.

Below the auto deck, the Kalakala provided shower rooms and lockers for the comfort of Bremerton shipyard workers, as well as the men’s lounge and bar. In 1935, local observers remarked, "This vessel represents twentieth-century progress."

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 boasted her own 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.

The ferry is also remembered for less flattering reasons. As the Peralta, she had been a bad luck ship; 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.

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. As fewer passengers walked onto the ferry, the Kalakala grew increasingly expensive to operate, her safety record raised concerns, and she needed a major overhaul. The Kalakala was auctioned off in 1967 to an Alaska fish packer for $101,551. The ferry’s new owners converted the ship to a floating fish processor; then in 1972, grounded her as a cannery on Kodiak Island.

Seattle sculptor Peter Bevis first saw the Kalakala in 1985 and determined to bring her home. In 1991, he founded the Kalakala Foundation to return the prodigal ship to Seattle, and restore her to new life. In the summer of 1998, the Foundation purchased the vessel from the City of Kodiak. On June 24, 1998, Seattle’s streamlined ferry floated free, and was towed home to Seattle’s waterfront, arriving on November 6, 1998, to welcoming crowds.

The foundation’s efforts to restore the Kalakala did not meet with success. The old ferry was first moored at Pier 66 on the Seattle waterfront for five months in an effort to attract financial support. The foundation needed $1 million to bring the vessel into dry dock and from $5 million to $12 million to fully restore it. In March 1999 it was moved to the north shore of Lake Union and moored. There the Kalakala received complaints as an eyesore and as a hazard. The foundation slipped further into debt and the property owner issued an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent. In March 2003, the foundation filed bankruptcy, its assets (the Kalakala) valued at less than its liabilities ($1.2 million).

In September 2003, after a complicated and disputatious auction, Tumwater entrepreneur Steve Rodrigues purchased the ship for $135,560, planning to make it into a dinner theater. Because the Kalakala had been evicted from Lake Union, he got the ferry moved to Neah Bay. That arrangement lasted until the Makah tribe sued to have the ferry removed. The U.S. Coast Guard and the State Department of Natural Resources also ordered Kalakala out. In September 2004, Rodrigues had the derelict towed to a new berth on the Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma.



Kalakala Ferry
Worlds First Streamlined Ferry

In the 1930's art deco was the latest industrial design style. Due to advances in materials and production techniques 'streamlining' became an important design consideration. The Kalakala ('flying bird' in the native Chinook Indian language) was the first vehicle / passenger ferry to incorporate streamlining into it's design.

Originally built by the Moore Shipbuilding Company ( California ) the ferry began life as the 'Peralta' and operated on the Oakland to San Francisco run until May 6 1933, when she burned to the waterline. Shortly after Alexander Peabody, [president of Seattle's Puget Sound Navigation Company], purchased the hull and towed it to the pacific northwest for a revolutionary rebuild of the superstructure.. 

Peabody hired one of Boeings model makers, Louis Proctor, to model the ship after the latest air clipper designs. Proctor built a 5' model and shipbilders used that in lieu of blueprints to create the stylish new superstructure. The editors of Popular Mechanics magazine heard about the new concept in ship design and did a story on futuristic streamlined ships in November 1935. On the cover they commissioned an artists conception of what these 'new' ships would resemble.

It wasn't a rendition of the Kalakala per se, but did incorporate some of the drag reducing concepts employed in the ferry such as the lifeboats being recessed into the hull, which could be loaded while under cover, then launched by retraction of the side doors.

When the Kalakala ferry was launched in 1935 it was the largest and fastest ferry on the Puget Sound. Re-powered with a 3000 HP diesel (the largest ever incorporated into a ferry at that time), the radical new concept was capable of speeds to 18 knots.



Saving the "Silver Slug"

By Guy Span, S.D.

What is it about ancient ferryboats that inspire people to save them, or try at least? Notable successes include the Eureka, which is stuffed and mounted like a trophy fish at the Hyde St. Maritime Museum. Or the Berkeley, posing as a one-boat museum in San Diego with her boiler cut in half, so we can look inside. In Sacramento, we have the Delta King, preserved as a hotel, although it took years of wrangling and many half-hearted attempts to save her. Here in the Bay Area, we have several semi-preserved failures, including the half-sunk Fresno of the famous Steel-Electric Fleet of Southern Pacific (sister to the semi-preserved Santa Rosa, which is tied up at Pier 3). Near the Fresno is the hulk of a Key System ferry. And there are more.

But up in Seattle we have the drama of the Kalakala (kah-LOCK-a-lah), the world’s first and arguably only, fully streamlined ferry. Looking like an inverted old-fashioned bathtub, with streamlined appendages, the Kalakala instantly won the hearts of Seattle’s ferry riders. Affectionately dubbed the "Silver Slug," she served Seattle faithfully from her grand arrival in 1935 to her silent departure in 1967. So unique was her appearance that World’s Fair-goers in 1963 dubbed her the second biggest attraction (after the Space Needle). The Kalakala was also elegant. She had the Double Horseshoe Café, the Palm Room Bar (including an after-deck area), and a little known, way-below deck tap room, containing showers so the boatyard workers could scrub up, change, and a grab a brew on the way home. Her name is from the Chinook, meaning "Flying Bird" and that was also the name of her orchestra. As an elegant lady, she entranced all that had the opportunity for a moonlight dance special, or even a regular run to Bremerton.

The Kalakala scored a number of firsts. She was the first fitted with commercial radar and still holds FCC License 001. At the time she was built, she was equipped with a huge St. Louis Busch-Sulzer Diesel engine. Until late in the ‘40s, she had the largest crankshaft in service. The only other application for this large an engine was in stationary power plants. But some combination of engine coupling or propeller problems caused a large vibration, noted by riders of the time. In the ‘50s, the propeller was replaced and the vibration dimmed, but was still noticeable. By the time the ‘60s rolled around, the Kalakala was operating at reduced automobile capacity, as cars had gotten bigger. So in 1967, she was sold to go north as a fish cannery. Protesting her fate, the Kalakala blew a piston and had to be towed out of town, kicking and screaming. For the next seventeen years, the Kalakala served as various fish and shrimp canneries until she was finally abandoned in 1984 by a bankrupt processor. Grounded, gutted, and decaying, the ferry then reverted to the city of Kodiak, Alaska, which tried to sell her. However there were few interested until Peter Bevis saw her while working a fishing boat in the area. He became enamored with trying to save her and started a volunteer clean up, despite some harassment from the city. By 1992, Peter has founded a non-profit corporation to take title of the vessel and bring her home. And that is precisely what happened in 1998, when the Kalakala, rusted and tired, returned under tow to her home after serving as much time in exile as she did in service. Perhaps that is the reason that Seattle turned out a real homecoming celebration–guilt at letting the iconic ferryboat get away. But there is more guilt for the Seattle residents, as they then failed to rally behind the foundation and cough up the funds to preserve her. Thus, Bevis was removed from the board of the foundation and it later entered bankruptcy. An auction was held and the ship was recently sold to Charles Medlin for a mere $140,000. According to the Kalakala foundation web site, Peter Bevis said, "I feel like Rip Van Winkle. I went to Alaska to save this icon for the community and when I got back, I couldn’t find the community." So what happens next? According to the auction house of James G. Murphy Co., Charles Medlin is the winner with a $140,000 bid. Medlin posted the $25,000 deposit, but then failed to deliver the rest of the cash and, according to Terry Moore of the auctioneer, has forfeited the deposit. The Kalakala was then offered to the second bidder at their last price of $135,000 and they declined, perhaps thinking that at a new auction their starting bid of $60,000 would win. The vessel is now offered at $135,000 to the third highest bidder.

Nancy James, speaking as the Trustee, refused to comment. Charles Medlin has not returned Bay Crossings’ phone calls, but according to Peter Bevis, he is a serious bidder. Medlin had approached the foundation two years ago with an offer of $2 million–enough to satisfy the foundation’s debt. But because his plan envisioned bringing the ferry to the Bay Area, the foundation refused. So Bay Crossings asked Bevis if he was happy that at least the bankruptcy would eliminate the existing debt. Bevis then got animated. He pointed out that he had borrowed $1.61 million on the sweat equity in his artist studios to fund moving the Kalakala to Seattle. "Medlin offered us $2 million for the vessel. He has now just bought it for $140,000. You know what’s the difference in this equation? Me." Peter Bevis went on to say, "I’m done. I can’t set foot on the property, but I still care. It’s like when the best girl you ever knew breaks up with you. You still care, but there’s nothing you can do." So Bay Crossings asked what he was going to do. And with remarkable cheerfulness in the face of disaster, Bevis replied: "Well, I’ve got four offers on my studios. I can drive bulldozers or fish. The Lotto is at $44 million, I can bet on the date the keel was laid, the top speed in knots, the number of scheduled crossings to Bremerton, things like that." And he went on to say Medlin is serious. Bevis feels that the default in final payment is based upon the auctioneer failing to deliver a title. "I don’t blame him. He is being cautious, as there is strong sentiment for keeping the Kalakala in Seattle." Apparently, the sentiment is strong, but except for Peter Bevis and others whose sweat and toil and donations have helped, there appears little to keep this ferry in Puget Sound. But Bevis can be proud that instead of letting the Kalakala rust away or get scrapped out of sight in Kodiak, she is now in plain sight in Seattle and the subject of much controversy. Seattle may lose the Kalakala for the second time, but in all likelihood, the Kalakala will live on. And we can thank Peter Bevis for that.



a memoriam to Judith Ennes

From the Palm Room

by Judith Ennes (Author of Kalakala Comes Home - No Dream Is Too Big


I can't resist taking you back to Tuesday, July 2, 1935. Wasn't there a T.V. program at one time, called "You Are There"? Maybe it was just a phrase in the program, but this is my version with help from the publications listed at the end of this column. Quotations were taken directly from the newspapers and magazines. 

There it was, sparkling as bright as the water diamonds surrounding it. Kalakala sliced through the water of Elliott Bay-a silver apparition. The brand new ferry elicited audible admiration from the crowds on hand to watch as she slid into view from the Todd Shipyards, at the south end of the Bay. 

Praises abounded from the crew, the owners, the builders, the passengers, the on-lookers and eventually the world. Her picture was taken and printed in "umpty-thousand" papers from Japan to Scandinavia. Kalakala had been born of necessity, but grew into a felicitous gift, a graceful and classy lady with a sense of fun for the people of the Puget Sound during a devastating era-The Great Depression. It was truly a ferry for everyone and, "modern as tomorrow." 

The maiden cruise of Kalakala, originally scheduled with a certain amount of urgency, was delayed one day because of - what else? - the weather. Not only was the Puget Sound Navigation Company eager to show off their beautiful "flying bird" of the Black Ball line, but Lake Washington Shipyard had moved "heaven and earth" to complete the unique ferry in a timely manner. The ship building company was intent upon vying for United States Naval ships building contracts. Lake Washington Shipyard used the new technique of electro-welding, not yet implemented by other local shipyards. To procure some of the military government contracts would be a shot in the arm for the Northwest. Kalakala was the first commercial vessel to demonstrate the exclusive use of welding rather than the usual riveting process. 

Five hundred guests and dignitaries boarded the ferry that morning for a demonstration ride to Bremerton. Among all the important officials and their families, two piano movers became trapped on board for the initial cruise after delivering a piano to the orchestra. Rose Massey, a small child in 1935, also remembers the first trip to Bremerton. She had been in a hospital for a full year. Her father purchased passage on the inaugural run for Rose's return home. She remembers the magic of Kalakala even then, and… the pink and white ice cream served aboard that day. 

100,000 curious and eager observers lined the wharves, watched from the hillside homes, and hung out the windows of the downtown office buildings. 7,000 school children were released from school to attend the ceremonies. My father would have been twenty on that day. I like to imagine him there, blonde and tall, craning to see over the heads of others, pretending it was a birthday party just for him. Men of Hooverville, one of the shantytowns built of cardboard boxes and wooden crates near the waterfront, emerged from their desperate circumstances to glimpse the promising bright vessel. 

Every imaginable personal watercraft bobbed in Elliot Bay, waiting among the bigger commercial boats. This new ship had the attention of all sea-faring men. Traffic jams occurred all over the city. The amassed weight of observers on the Canadian National Dock, threatened to submerge its platform. This was an event that had been met with great anticipation. Everyone, the humble, sophisticated, brash, young, old, poor and the not so poor, stood together-ready to welcome Kalakala into their Puget Sound community. 

As the silver vision left the Todd Shipyard, where the last details had been completed, people gasped in astonishment. We can only imagine what they thought. Certainly, the shining silver hull glistened brightly in the warm July sun. Reporters struggled to describe it- "bullet shaped" "silvery whale-backed thing" "weird craft" "silver porpoise"…… 

It took not a moment for the celebration to begin after Kalakala's appearance and rapid advance into Elliott Bay. Fireboats spewed great fans of saltwater from their water cannons. Factories blew their horns. Air horns from private and commercial watercraft blasted on every side. There were crescendos of three whistle tributes from other ships. Kalakala returned the courtesy whistle salutes of other craft with her own mellow whistle. Then, the whistle stuck open and blared continuously until someone stuffed a handkerchief in it to muffle the sound. Piercing noise filled the air with a deafening uproar. Ticker-tape and confetti snowed in the streets. It was declared the largest and noisiest gathering on record in Seattle. 

On the way to Bremerton, the honored guests enjoyed a minor mishap-slight damage to Kalakala's steering gear. No one seemed to mind as they enjoyed the view just off Vashon Island, listened to music from the Flying Bird Orchestra, drank coffee, ate ice cream and looked about the modern art-deco ferry during the hour it took to fix the problem. After that, the trip to Bremerton took only minutes. Kalakala fairly skimmed the waves. The dignitaries got off as 2,000 Bremerton school children got on for a short cruise. Oh the commotion that must have been. After returning to Seattle, the captivating ferry was open until midnight for visitors. 

Captain Wallace Mangan, in the wheelhouse was a happy man. He was caught smiling and chuckling at the wheel. All hands sang Kalakala's praises. She had great speed and responded at a touch. Her streamline design cut wind resistance. Her hull had twenty-five watertight compartments. The 3000 hp engine was powerful and large, containing ten pistons. Passengers spoke in glowing terms about the dance floor, orchestra, air conditioning, innovative fire protection and gracious furnishings. 

Kalakala had been built for speed, but also for beauty. The Seattle Star wrote that she was "as modern as tomorrow". Well, it's tomorrow and yes, she will fit in quite well. Kalakala will once again grace our waterfront, ready to symbolize the sense of community throughout Puget Sound. She will be our modern day surprise package, renovated and gently teaching this throwaway society that quality is a strong foundation. 

One of the dignitaries aboard for that first run was J.T. Hefferman, a shipyard owner. He spoke to the crowd. "You can't keep Seattle down. When you think the old town is slowing up her pace, she comes through with a masterpiece such as this." 

The masterpiece is here once more, ready and eager for her rightful place in this great historic maritime city. I'd like to give credit and thanks to the unidentified reporters of the Seattle Star and Seattle Daily Times of July 1-3, 1935; HH of the Seattle PI July 1, 1935; Lawton Wright of the Saturday Evening Post magazine dated April 5, 1941; and Steve Russell and Susan Paynter from his book, Kalakala, Magnificent Vision Recaptured. 

Until the whistle blows.

-Judith Ann Ennes



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