Exit133 is about Tacoma

Say Farewell to the Kalakala

It appears that the end is near for the Kalakala. The historic ferry launched in 1927 in California, suffered a series of mishaps, and was rebuilt in Washington in the iconic Art Deco design we know.

After sailing the Puget Sound for more than three decades she was retired and went through a series of less than dignified existences, including use as a fish cannery. Ultimately she was towed to Tacoma in 2004, where despite the efforts of well-meaning supporters, she continued to deteriorate. 

A lot of people, including current owner Karl Anderson, have invested a lot of money and effort trying to restore the ferry, but the structural challenges and environmental threats have proven insurmountable.

At high tide on January 22 the Kalakala will be towed to the Blair Waterway, where she will be cut up for scrap, according to The News Tribune. After such a long fight to save her, it seems highly improbably that the historic ferry will get a last-minute stay of execution.

"... Anybody who wants to stop this should have about $25 million in their pocket.”

Anyone have a spare $25 million to save a piece of Puget Sound history?

Read more, including a bit of the history, from The News Tribune.

Do you want to help the folks at Exit133 pay our bills and keep up with of all things Tacoma? Do you want to see even more coverage? Exit133 has always been free to read and comment, and it will stay that way. However, over the years, readers have contributed to the bank account to help us keep up our coverage of goings-on around town. Contribute and this message disappears!

Support Exit133



Can we rename her the Karlakala just for a few last days?  For the money he is sinking into that hole in the water, he deserves to have it named for him.

January 5, 2015 at 9:23 am / Reply / Quote and reply

6 | 0


It’s too bad that they can’t separate the upper structure from the hull and move it (just the deco body) to land, for storage and possible restoration. The Art Deco body structure would be a nice addition to MOHAI or LeMay Museum, if it were restored to the point of being used as a part of the museum.
I’m sure if someone had interest….. they would have done it by now. More history on the scrap heap.

January 5, 2015 at 4:03 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

11 | 0


Would make an awesome restaurant for Ruston Way… “Welcome to the new Top of the Ocean!”

January 9, 2015 at 7:52 am / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0

Eric LeMay

The Kalakala got looked at and thought about by the LeMays two ways to Sunday. This thing is just a painful liability to any responsible nonprofit museum; LeMay-Marymount or LeMay-ACM. Applaud Karl that it was all well documented by the museums and historic groups in pictures and videos. See, folks, the trick is not saving things that can’t be saved, it’s saving things when you even have the option. This ferry is just too far out of options. I’d love a plan to get the wheelhouse to Marymount…it’s the sight of the first sonar on a civilian ship. (See, we get it.) But it got lost because back in the 1960s nobody was thinking about saving it. The Kalakala is an “oops” that could have been a environmental disaster if not for Karl helping keep it upright. But think about that with other things out there. What do we care about saving? Seriously. What do you care about saving that no one is thinking about now and in 50 years will matter? That’s the question you want museums to spend their thin budgets on. I don’t care if it ships, or cars, or art, or buildings…it’s very for a region and a community and a society. What do we want to save and why?

January 7, 2015 at 4:43 am / Reply / Quote and reply

5 | 0


I’m glad to hear that the Kalakala was looked at and considered by different preservation organizations. If it’s a lost cause, it’s a lost cause, too bad. I do like the idea of trying to salvage some key pieces, like the wheel house, I hope someone makes that happen.
The point about “what should be preserved in the future” is an interesting one.  Here’s a couple points:
There was an age when manufactured goods (cars, trains, boats, capital equipment, etc..) were a blend of “modern” production and craftsmanship (metal working, woodworking, etc) and these things had utility purpose, but, were aesthetically pleasing / interesting to look at. You could see the workmanship or form & function design, in other words, things had a soul or character.
What have we had for the last 50 years? Mass production. Everything is about cost saving design. Function and efficiency. Same criteria in most cars, buildings, consumer goods etc…... Gone are the Italian stone workers, German carpenters, Norwegian boat builders, so on and so on. What to save? Good question?
Good news….... plastic lasts for 100s of years, so we’re in luck.

January 9, 2015 at 9:01 am / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 0

Eric LeMay

CJ: I appreciate your thoughtfulness about this, Just don’t get fooled into thinking industrial sized plastic things last 100 years. The hardest things for museums to curate are often times the most modern stuff. I remember being at a conference in the 1990s where some of the greatest museum minds for cars declared that the EV-1 by GM was too much of an industrial hazard for most to afford preserving. The plastic starts melting and the batteries are corrosive and a fire danger. Preservation is a tough job that takes a lot of resources to try and be responsible about it. When you go to the Karples next times (best museum around for doing this), consider each document you see as a miracle. So much of it was ephemera that 99.9% of society would have thrown away; they have not only saved it, they tell stories with it and preserve it. It can be fascinating to look at things in almost any museum and think “someone saved that” and then ask why and how. (Some art museums are awesome at this, too, buying collections in real time…)

January 13, 2015 at 12:49 am / Reply / Quote and reply

3 | 0


Anyone know the route that the vessel will take on Jan 22 from its current location (Hylebos Waterway?) into the Blair Waterway?

Is there a good spot along that route for pedestrian viewing/photo op?

January 9, 2015 at 8:57 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

2 | 0


Tacoma Dragon Boat is planning to paddle out to say goodbye I think, next Saturday. Please look us up on the web and come along. You’ll even get to paddle in 40 ft canoe!

January 10, 2015 at 7:00 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

3 | 0


In comparison to saving what is left of our pavement infrastructure, the Kalakala should shrink to insignificance.  Tacoma has far more pressing problems.

January 13, 2015 at 10:16 am / Reply / Quote and reply

2 | 4

James Harvey

I have the most beautiful and unusual colored photo of the Kalakala, shot professionally start of the world fair, interested?

Jim Harvey

October 28, 2015 at 4:27 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 1

Potentially Related Articles