Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The "Buck Rogers" Ferry, Final Chapter

[CC BY 2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons
On Feb. 3 of this year, my third sci-fi romance from Tor Books (ECHO 8) released, and I posted about the story's connection to (and inclusion of) the historic ferry Kalakala. Here's a description from the Seattle PI, which I also included as the opening quote in the chapter called "Derelict."

The Kalakala began life as the Peralta, a 1927 San Francisco Bay steam ferry that was towed north in ruins after a fire destroyed its wooden superstructure. At the old Lake Washington Shipyards in Kirkland, workers grafted a daring new aluminum top on the salvaged iron hull, and the Kalakala debuted on Seattle's waterfront on July 3, 1935. It soon became a world-famous, state-of the-art attraction, synonymous with Seattle long before the Space Needle became a landmark. Billed as the world's first streamlined ferry, it excited imaginations about the future with its Buck Rogers rocket-ship lines and art deco style. 
- “Kalakala’s table set for unseen guest,” Seattle PI, February 13, 2002

Coincidentally the boat, which has had a long and storied past (and no small amount of bad luck), ended up being scrapped at the time of ECHO 8's release.
People in and around Seattle followed the final events closely -- turned out lots of folks besides me had a soft spot for the rusty old thing. Different parties tried for a couple of decades to raise the money to restore her, but no joy.

However, she did receive some TLC in the end. The owner-by-default at the time of scrapping was Karl Anderson, the businessman who owned the moorage where she'd been docked (and sinking) for the past decade. He stated in interviews he felt the boat had reached out to him for help, and it was important to him to give her a death with dignity. If you read some of the coverage from that time, you'll see she got exactly that, complete with farewell ceremony.

View from side of wheelhouse
Heaven knows she deserved it, after burning, running into docks, hosting a suicide in the ladies lounge, getting hauled to Alaska to be used as a fish-processing facility, being the subject of two failed fundraising attempts, and finally ending up moored in the Hybelos Waterway in Tacoma, where she was slowly sinking and represented a major threat to shipping traffic.

But I'm happy to report there was a bright note at the end of this final chapter. A Seattle restaurant owner (Salty's on Alki Beach) made sure the Kalakala wouldn't be forgotten, or entirely gone. He purchased the wheelhouse, rudder, and enormous piston, all of which you can see outside his restaurant, and in the photos I've posted here.

Salty's owner Robert Gerald Kingen plans to incorporate the parts into a sculpture park that will tell the ferry's story. Kingen too developed a fondness for Kalakala, as you can read for yourself in the restaurant's news release about the acquisition:

This is a love story. It's the story of the Queen of Puget Sound — the Kalakala — and the men who were smitten by her Art Deco glory and wouldn't let her be forgotten.

Thanks to Kingen, I was able to visit Kalakala in person for the first time last Friday. She was moored on Seattle's Lake Union when I first moved here, and I remember wondering every time I drove over the University of Washington cut, "What is that great, rusted beast? There must be a story there."

There surely was, and as I began to research her, I knew I had to add to that story. In ECHO 8, a book about parallel universes, she lives on in all her former glory.

By the time I began researching the ferry, she had been moved to Tacoma. I tried to arrange a tour, but it didn't work out. So I'd never stepped foot onboard until last Friday, when I drove to Salty's to visit the wheelhouse and snap these photos. It was a long time coming.

The Kalakala's view of Seattle

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