Atlas Obscura

The Many Lives of the SS Palo Alto

The SS Palo Alto.

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The SS Palo Alto was one of three concrete tankers built in California to serve in World War I, but it was late to be finished and the war came to an end before construction did. Without any war duty ahead, the question became: What to do with 6,100 tonnage of concrete shaped like a ship?

By the end of WWI, iron and steel had become scarce, and a few ships were fashioned instead from concrete, intended to work as tankers. Construction on the SS Palo Alto started in Oakland in 1917, and the ship was set to sail a couple of years later—but the war soon ended, and so the Palo Alto needed to find a new job. It sat in the shipyard, unemployed, for the next 10 years until 1929 when an enterprising company from Nevada thought it might make a good entertainment and fishing destination. They bought the ship, found a willing beach town to set up excursions from, and towed it down the coast to Aptos, just a few miles south of Santa Cruz on Monterey Bay.

The excursion idea never really caught on, so the company tried to create a permanent home for their new venture. The ship was positioned just off Seacliff Beach, the hold was opened up, water poured in, and it nestled right down in the sand. The next year an access pier was built out to the ship, and she got a full facelift adding a ballroom and dancefloor, a casino, a café, a 54-foot swimming pool (heated—that Monterey Bay water is cold), and a number of carnival games and booths. The dancing, dining, and swimming lasted only another two years, and the company went bankrupt in the wake of the depression. The ship was stripped bare and turned into a fishing pier.

Today you can fish off the pier, but fishing from the ship itself is no more. Instead the SS Palo Alto has embarked on its fourth career and now acts as a different kind of destination. This time it’s the abundant marine life and shorebird populations of Monterey Bay who have run of the ship.

Submitted by Atlas Obscura contributor ARedd.

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