Why is it so hard to save our maritime heritage?


1935 ferry Kalakala in Tacoma. Photo by Joe Follansbee.

The news I dreaded for years arrived this week. The 1935 Kalakala, the only art-deco ferry ever built, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is headed for the breakers. Its death was slow, painful, and probably inevitable. It’s passing should not be a surprise. I listed it as endangered in 2011 and 2012 on my old Fyddeye website. The ferry is one of a handful of decaying large historic vessels, which include USS Olympia and SS United States, both in Philadelphia. Our national patrimony is rusting away.

For a generation in Seattle, Kalakala’s sleek design and quirky behavior stood for a city of chance-takers and idea-evangelists long before the Space Needle was built in 1963. I got to know her after the sculptor Peter Bevis rescued her from oblivion on tide flats in Kodiak, Alaska in 1998. That was the beginning of her end. I was at the auction when the 276-foot “silver slug” was taken away from Bevis in 2003. The new owner, Steve Rodrigues, had big dreams, but no money and even less political savvy. He blames her final disposal on a “conspiracy” among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the State of Washington, and the cities of Tacoma, Seattle and Kodiak. The facts are simpler: He neglected to pay her bills, and ownership fell to Karl Anderson, a Tacoma businessman. He’s had enough of her; she’ll be shards of metal by the end of this month. Continue reading

New heritage area is like Cool Whip: A tasty froth

Fireworks over Lake Union

Fireworks over Seattle’s Lake Union, which is part of a new King County maritime heritage area. Image courtesy Northwest Seaport.

Politicians love symbolic actions, especially when they’re sending a message to Congress without any cost at home. That’s the most realistic way to interpret a move by the King County Council (which governs Seattle’s home county) this week to create a county maritime heritage area. The action covers all of the county’s saltwater shore on Puget Sound and the freshwater shoreline on Lake Union and the Lake Washington Ship Canal. All the freshwater shore is within Seattle’s city limits. The county action a good thing, but only as far as it goes.

The new ordinance takes particular pains to head off any cries of “takings” or other property-rights nonsense by Tea Party fanatics or otherwise ignorant property owners. An email by King County Councilmember Larry Phillips, whose entire district is inside liberal Seattle’s city limits, says the ordinance “carries no regulatory, procedural, or property management constraints. It is intended solely to support heritage and tourism potential.” In other words, it does nothing concrete; it’s symbolic only, and even then, it only touches “potential,” a philosophical construct for something that doesn’t exist, but might. Wrap your head around that logic. Continue reading

Historic Oregon Fishing Boat Broken Up

Tradewinds Kingfisher

Tradewinds Kingfisher on her maiden voyage in 1941. Photo courtesy Lincoln County Historical Society

The Oregon-based Lincoln County Historical Society has demolished a boat listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 50-foot Tradewinds Kingfisher, a charter fishing boat long associated with Depoe Bay, Ore., was deteriorating quickly and may have posed an environmental hazard, if it had sunk. “It had to be scuttled,” said Historical Society Director Steve Wyatt in a news release. “As a museum professional, my job is the preservation of objects; this was a difficult decision.”

Tradewinds Kingfisher was built in 1941 by Westerlund Boat and Machine Works of Jantzen Beach, Ore. After the Kingfisher owner and skipper, Stan Allyn (1913-1992) took possession of the boat, the U.S. entered World War II. The Kingfisher served as a boarding and patrol craft from Astoria to Coos Bay. At war’s end, the Kingfisher returned to Depoe Bay to serve as Allyn’s flagship charter boat. Many charter boats built in the 1950s copied the Kingfisher’s then innovative styling. The Kingfisher was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 and retired from service in 2000. Continue reading