Saga of the 'Silver Slug'

The near-sinking of the Kalakala raises alarm over the historic ferry's fate.

Crosscut archive image.

The mighty Kalakala, icon of the Sound, in better days.

The near-sinking of the Kalakala raises alarm over the historic ferry's fate.

Before the 1962 World's Fair, Seattle's taste of the future was presented in the iconic, streamlined Art Deco ferryboat the Kalakala, which took passengers across Puget Sound to Bremerton. How retro is this memory: As a kid, I loved watching the sleek, Buck Rogers-style rocket-boat chugging into Elliott Bay from atop of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Others called her the Silver Slug but to me she was a sleek and beautiful ship from afar.

She was brought back from the beach in Alaska, and a small squadron of historic preservationists have tried to find a purpose for her. She has wandered from Seattle to Neah Bay to Tacoma, where she has waited for a savior, or for her current owner to hatch a workable scheme.

Sad news is that she's now listing and taking on water, doing damage to the dock where she's berthed. That situation is not sustainable.

Maritime preservation is difficult because of the speed at which anything that floats in the sea decays. Maritime blogger, historian and preservationist Joe Follansbee worries that the Kalakala might be the next Wawona, the historic treasure that got away, despite the best of intentions, due to neglect, delay, and decay.

As I wrote last year, there have been plenty of ideas for the Kalakala: a conference center, dinner theater, restaurant, museum, even a sunken reef for divers. Hope has been sustained so far by the fact that she still floats. If that's a problem, either it will mobilize another round of activism, or she'll be lost for good. 

Surely with the remaking of the Seattle waterfront and the moving of the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) to South Lake Union, there has to be opportunity somewhere for her — even back in hometown Seattle. The trick is to keep her viable until something clicks.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.