Kalakala sold for a buck?

Kalakala on Lake Union, 2003. Photo by M. Steck

When my husband and I were planning our wedding in 1999, we considered having our reception at the Kalakala. Back then, the iconic streamlined vessel was berthed on Lake Union, still somewhat structurally sound and open to the public. I had grandiose visions of an art deco-themed party.

In the end, we discovered that the Kalakala was only open for fundraising efforts, so we bagged that idea. But we hoped that someone would host a New Year’s Eve party on the old ferry so that we could enjoy that little piece of history. Unfortunately, the Kalakala’s fundraising parties were shut down a year later due to safety reasons.

The last decade has been unkind to the 76 year-old vessel. In 2003, the Kalakala Foundation had to put the ferry up for auction, and new owner Steve Rodrigues moved the ferry from Lake Union to Neah Bay, then back down to Tacoma where it (just barely) floats today. Time and neglect has turned the ferry into an eyesore despite Rodrigues’ promise to restore the ferry to its original beauty.

On December 18, the Tacoma News Tribune reported that the Kalakala has been sold again, only this time to an out-of-state buyer for one dollar. Rodrigues had until January 1 to move the vessel from the Tacoma Hylebos waterway. An announcement on the Kalakala’s website reads:

After considering offers from two interested parties, the Kalakala has been sold for $1 to an anonymous buyer. The Kalakala has been saved from the scrap yard and restored to her full glory. More to come as it develops.

There’s nothing on the website indicating the Kalakala’s next destination, but the Seattle Times reported on Tuesday that Rodrigues said he’d been “given an extension (to remain in the Tacoma harbor) until June 18 next year.” Rodrigues was also quoted as saying that the ferry belongs in Seattle, and would like to see it at Pier 48, by the Washington Street Boat Landing, but there’s a chance it will wind up on New York’s Hudson River. “That’s where the Kalakala’s revenue will best pencil out.”

A Seattle icon, second only to the Space Needle, in New York? That’s about as blasphemous as the Sonics relocating to Oklahoma City, to which I say, “Phooey!”


(Update 1:00pm: Reader Rachel forwarded us an article that appeared in today’s Seattle Times. Apparently, the Coast Guard has declared the Kalakala “a hazard to navigation” and gave Rodrigues until December 19 to tow it out of the Tacoma harbor. Rodrigues filed an appeal which was rejected. What’s more, Rodrigues has yet to provide any sort of documentation of the sale. Read the article here for further details.)

  1. eM said,

    an icon second only to the space needle that I have never heard of during my 8 years in Seattle

    Fri, December 23 at 1:22 pm
  2. Domenic said,

    Steve Rodrigues found a sucker who’d buy the KALAKALA for $1. That removes any responsibility he has in the vessel. As a former Coast Guard pollution investigator and Federal On-Scene Coordinator Representative (for the Puget Sound Captain-of-the-Port zone), I’d often respond to sunken derelict vessels in the Sound that were discharging oil (usually diesel fuel) and hazardous materials. Some of them were sold to their current owners for $1. These current owners suffered from ideas of grandeur believing they could restore boats to their former glory… but they never took into account the costs for moorage, fuel, general maintenance and upkeep, let alone restoration costs. I guarantee that USCG Sector Puget Sound, WA Department of Ecology, and WA Department of Natural Resources (who keeps a list of derelict vessels) will watch the KALAKALA closely. This is NOT good news.

    Fri, December 23 at 2:04 pm
  3. CB said,

    I guess you have to have lived here more than 8 years to appreciate the Kalakala. It was a state of the art and much loved ferry that traveled between Seattle and Bremerton. I loved riding on her and I miss her and had hoped she would be restored to her former glory.

    Tue, December 27 at 2:37 pm
  4. Doug said,

    She’s always been a bit cursed. Very early in her career a malfunction in a state of the art balancing system caused it to dump passengers into the ocean, several of whom drowned.

    I’ve never made it down to Tacoma to see her, maybe I should do that before she’s gone forever.

    Tue, December 27 at 6:51 pm
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