ART DECO VESSELS
"Art Deco is an influential visual arts design style that first appeared in France after World War I. It flourished internationally for three decades before its popularity waned after World War II. It is an eclectic style that combines traditional craft motifs with Machine Age imagery and materials. The style is often characterized by streamlined geometric shapes and lavish ornamentation." During the art deco period, the design of automobiles, aircraft, speed boats, buildings, trains, camping trailers and even entire ships was often heavily influenced by this art form.
The most extreme examples of American ships that can properly be called 'art deco vessels' were a ferryboat named KALAKALA [depicted at the top of this page] and an excursion steamboat; the SS ADMIRAL. They both were traditional ships initially, then enjoyed brief fame through conversion before being scrapped.
MV KALAKALA [Kalakla is believed to mean 'Flying Bird' in Chinook;
a Pacific Northwest Native American language]
First Life...As A Jinxed Ship
The MV KALAKALA started off life as a traditional double-ended ferryboat named PERALTA. She and an identical sister ship were 276 feet long and could carry upwards of 4,000 passengers. Their hulls were steel, but these vessels' superstructures included large quantities of wood and other flammable materials. Constructed in Oakland, California, in 1926 for passenger service between San Francisco and Oakland, the PERALTA was considered a jinxed ship by most sailors when she stuck on the ways during launching. Within a month of going into service in 1927, she slammed into docks in San Francisco, causing considerable damage to both piers and herself. A year later, as the PERALTA was approaching her berth in Oakland on a cold day in February, passengers crowded to her bow in anticipation of disembarking, causing the ferry boat's bow to be pushed down. Then she hit a water trough, causing her bow to dip down further, resulting in a five foot wall of water to surge across her main deck. Thirty people were washed overboard. Five of them drowned in the icy waters of San Francisco Bay. The final blow came on the night of May 6, 1933. She was moored alongside a pier for the night when an arsonist set the structure on fire. The ensuing blaze jumped to the PERALTA and by morning she was a smoldering wreck. The insurance company wrote her off as a total loss. Her hull was offered for sale 'as is - where is'. Most maritime observers assumed she would be sold for scrap. But in October of 1933, Captain Alexander Peabody of the Puget Sound Navigation Company purchased the ravaged hull for $6,500. He had it towed to a shipyard in the Seattle, Washington area. His original intent was to rebuild the vessel along fairly standard 'double-ender' ferryboat lines. But Mrs. Peabody and an aircraft designer from the Boeing company had other ideas...
"She Ought to be More Rounded!"
One night after dinner, Captain Peabody laid out his preliminary plans for creating a more modern looking, yet still fairly traditional ferryboat design on the family's dining room table. Mrs. Peabody suggested something more distinctive and modernistic.
Louis Proctor, a Boeing engineer was engaged to go in that direction. As a result, Captain Peabody's original design was radically altered, resulting in the world's first streamlined vessel. His ideas were then incorporated in a five foot model, which measured up to Mrs. Peabody's suggestion... and then some. The image on the left shows her admiring the model in their home.
Salvaging & Naming the Vessel The rebuilding effort commenced in November of 1934. The following image shows the hull after most of the fire damage had been cut away. The main deck plating was left intact, although it had been rippled in places by the intense heat of the fire that ended her career as a San Francisco Bay ferryboat. That deck's overhang on both sides was removed, reducing her beam from 68 feet to 55 feet.
That same month, William Thorniley, publicist for the ferryboat company suggesting naming the vessel KALAKALA. His intent was to emphasize the nickname 'Flying Bird' in advertising materials; evocative of the sweeping design to be used when rebuilding the vessel. When Captain Peabody agreed, Thorniley embarked on a promotional blitz. Billboards with just the word 'KALAKALA!' soon appeared all over Seattle. Once the public's curiosity was aroused, an artist's conception of the vessel's new look was added to the billboards.
External Features In addition to her radical superstructure and unconventional window treatments, depicted below in early 1935 during the rebuilding, the vessel's design included additional unusual features. Electro-welding, a metal joining process that was fairly new in the 1930s was utilized instead of using traditional rivets. This resulted in a much smoother look for the vessel's superstructure seams. The KALAKALA's bridge and wheelhouse were set back much further from the vessel's bow than normal for ferries; intended to mimic the look of an aircraft cockpit. However, once in service, this feature proved unwise, as it was impossible to see the vessel's bow from her bridge, making it difficult to safely dock. The highly streamlined bridge and wheelhouse were built entirely of copper. This was done due to an unfounded fear that if steel were used, it would interfere with the ship's compass. A capability to carry up to 85 motor vehicles on her main deck was incorporated during the rebuild, which was very different from her original 'passenger-only' design. The vessel's main deck was renamed the car deck. Her fully rounded bow was fitted with clamshell-like doors [right] to keep rough seas from entering the vehicle parking area.
No longer configured as a 'double-ender' ferryboat, its stern following modernization, featured a large archway on the centerline for vehicle access. On either side of her stern, cutout areas in the superstructure [left] were created to house the KALAKALA's lifeboats at the Car Deck level instead of atop the superstructure, as found on most ferries.
Internally, the art deco theme was continued throughout her public spaces. Moldings and trim around the many wide, rounded windows, faux portholes and the railings of her cast iron staircases were finished in gleaming brass. Eggshell, tan and brown hues were chosen for interior paint and upholstery use.
The lunch counter [left] was located one deck up from the main passenger cabin [below, right]. It functioned as a quick order restaurant and featured a double horseshoe counter. Aft of this space was the 'Palm Room', fitted with wicker chairs. This space provided access to areas of the promenade deck open to the weather.
Wary of the 1933 fire that largely consumed the vessel, fire resistant materials were used throughout. A sprinkler system was installed along with several 'fire stations'. These installations consisted of brass pipes fitted with fire fighting nozzles that could be pivoted in any direction.
Somewhat incongruently for an otherwise totally art deco atmosphere, the vessel's forward observation lounge [left] on the promenade deck was furnished with red velvet upholstered chairs. The contrast with the modernistic stair railing was a bit startling.
Amongst the numerous luxurious amenities provided - unusual for a ferryboat - Mrs. Peabody insisted that a well furnished ladies' lounge be installed. Located aft on the main passenger cabin, it was fitted with full-length mirrors and plush seats. It is not recorded if those 'plush' seats were also of the flush variety... Not to be undone by his wife, Captain Peabody had a masculine lounge, called the Tap Room installed under the car deck, near the vessel's stern. A narrow stairway led down to that male sanctuary. No known pictures of the Tap Room could be found, but it apparently included a bar along one side of the space and a circular art deco bench in the center. Aft of the Tap Room, in the very stern of the vessel and below the car deck was a changing room and showers. That area was designed to cater to shipyard workers who lived in Seattle and traveled daily by ferryboat to their workplaces at the Bremerton Navy Yard across Puget Sound. On their return trip home, tired and dirty shipbuilders could clean up there and also knock back a beer or two.
Propulsion Particulars The 1933 fire ruined the vessel's original steam engines and boilers. Her radical redesign included fitting the KALAKALA with a large direct-drive diesel engine and a single propeller. Accordingly, she was classified as a Motor Vessel (MV). She was repowered by a 10-cylinder Busch-Sulzer diesel that produced 3,000 shaft horsepower and gave her a top speed of 17.5 knots. One of thirteen identical engines built at the same time, the one mounted below KALAKALA's car deck [right] became the only shipboard installation in this production run. Adolphus Busch had acquired rights to build diesel engines designed by the Sulzer Brothers of Switzerland at the beginning of the 20th century. This particular engine was built at an Anheuser-Busch manufacturing facility in St. Louis, Missouri. Busch-Sulzer built diesels there between 1911 and 1946, before divesting of that product line and concentrating on the beer brewing business. The MV KALAKALA's huge engine, the largest ever previously installed in a ferryboat was connected to her propeller by an extremely long shaft. Apparently, the engine and shafting were poorly aligned, for during the vessel's initial operation at high speed, she vibrated badly. This condition was partly cor