Letters to the Editor

Your views in 200 words or less

KALAKALA: Shame on us for failing historic ferry

Letter by Jeffrey G. Orr, Tacoma on May 9, 2012 at 11:23 am with 7 Comments »
May 9, 2012 1:38 pm

Re: “Kalakala dilemma: Can’t stay, can’t go” (TNT, 5-6).

As a fourth-generation Northwest native and a student of maritime history, I marvel with dismay at this region’s lack of support and appreciation for historic vessels that at one point were restorable, only to be allowed to rot or disappear from our region forever, with the ferry Kalakala top on that list.

Consider that the MV Kalalaka was built by Alexander Peabody of the Black Ball Ferry Line as a symbol of hope for the people of the Northwest coming out of the bleakness of the Great Depression, that she was one of the first vessels to use an electroweld technique, that she at one point had the largest diesel engine (built by Anheuser Busch) ever installed in a single screw ferry, that she was, even in old age, the second most recognizable symbol of the Northwest after the Space Needle, and that she was the first commercial vessel to have a radar system. The fact that she has survived 45 years of retirement is incredible.

The Kalakala is distinctly Northwestern, an integral part of our heritage that fewer people appreciate in this landscape of urban homogeneity that Seattle and Tacoma resemble more each day.

At this point, the Kalakala is a bitter reminder of how the Puget Sound community willfully throws money at sports venues and other amenities that lose money, yet cannot preserve a single maritime vessel or ferryboat that helped transport our residents and build our region.

Leave a comment Comments → 7
  1. SwordofPerseus says:


    I hate to burst your bubble Jeff, but your version of history is somewhat lacking in historical facts.

    First the “Kalakala” started out being built in 1926 by The Key System as the Peralta and served the east San Francisco bay cities from San Leandro to Richmond, CA. In 1933 the vessel superstructure was destroyed by arson as she lay at her berth in Oakland. The hull was still intact and on 12 October 1933 the vessel was sold to the Puget Sound Navigation Company (PSNC), also known by its marketing name, the “Black Ball Line”. The vessel was renamed in 1934, and served as a passenger ferry on Puget Sound for the next 33 years. The art deco superstructure was added in Puget Sound and gave the vessel its distinctive shape. Sadly marine vessels require more than constant maintenance and without it they slowly slip below the waves and are gone. You will be remembered Kalakala…
    Some inglorious nick names for the vessel were Silver Slug, Silver Beetle, Galloping Ghost of the Pacific Coast, and, among Seattle’s Scandinavian community, Kackerlacka, which means “cockroach”

  2. RLangdon says:

    You can’t save every bit of junk that ever was by calling it “historical.”

    We have pictures of it. What more do we need to know that it once existed?

  3. SOP – on the other hand – the 1889 Parisians thought the Eiffel Tower was an ugly monstrosity.

  4. alindasue says:

    I know the KalaKala is no longer sea worthy, but I’d love to see it fixed up into something like the old Top of the Ocean restaurant. That would be a great way to highlight its Art Deco features and history.

  5. SwordofPerseus says:


    One of many things 19th century Parisians and I agree on. It is an iconic symbol of Paris, however it is quite and ugly iron “antennae” and not aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

  6. SwordofPerseus says:

    I’ll wager $5.00 that it would be much cheaper to simply build a replica at the waterside. Perhaps snatch some genuine artifact from the hulk and place it in the structure to say that it is an extension of the Kalakala. Everything you do on a vessel costs 5 times more, first of all if it were still a floating vessel it would have to meet Coast Guard standards. Not impractical for a restaurant

  7. alindasue says:

    On further reading, I’m finding that’s pretty much what they did with Top of the Ocean. I suppose it’s an alternative if they can’t salvage Kalakala. I’m wondering though if the ship can’t be dry-docked and converted to a waterside restaurant rather than an in-the-water restaurant.

We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

JavaScript is required to post comments.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0