Kalakala aeriel

When the scrappers torched into the rusted carcass of the Mv Kalakala on a Tacoma waterway in the winter of 2015 they were dealing with more than just a storied ending to a once glamorous and later troubled ferry boat. Tacoma’s most memorable connection with the  Art Deco vessel dates back to a summer day in 1940, when the new Narrows bridge was about to open and ferry service to Gig Harbor was about to end. The Kalakala was chartered to make the last run on the evening of July 2nd carrying some 1400 partiers on a looping voyage from Municipal Dock to Titlow Beach then Gig Harbor, Bremerton and back again to Tacoma. True to its reputation as less than dependable, the streamline ferry turned floating ballroom had trouble and arrived more than an hour late. By the time the costumed celebrants, dancers, band and food and drink were loaded on the car deck the party was in full gear and the Captain was racing to pass twice under the spectacular suspension bridge before dark. The band music and jive dancers competed with the engine noise and hull vibrations on a voyage that must have been like off key chaos inside a giant Dobro guitar. In any event the trip ended well and the revelers got back to Tacoma safely. Early on the morning of July 3rd, after hosing down the decks and picking up the empties, the Kalakala sailed back to Seattle after its ironic nod to the obsolescence of ferry travel and its passing perspective on the marvels of bridge engineering.
Four months later the people of Tacoma were scrambling to find a ferry to cross the Narrows. Another icon of Northwest transportation, Galloping Gerty, had held a rocking party of her own and unlike the Kalakala’s event it didn’t survive.

“And I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinking.”
― Bob Dylan

Written by tacomahistory

This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

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