Hello Friends and Family,

1984 - Seacliff Beach

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

Previously, I shared a photo and brief history of the S.S. Palo Alto seen here in this vintage photo (not mine, of course). Just to refresh your memory, it was an oil tanker made of concrete for service during World War I. The war ended before the ship entered service and was eventually sold to the Seacliff Amusement Corporation who had it towed to Seacliff Beach where it was beached to be refitted as a pleasure ship, and the 630 ft. fishing pier was built to connect with the ship’s stern.

The Palo Alto’s renovations included a 54 by 154 ft. dance floor, a 54 ft. heated swimming pool, a café, and carnival-type concessions. In the summer of 1930, 3,000 people attended the opening of the ship’s Rainbow Ballroom, which featured famous big bands like Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey. The ship was also a hotspot for games of chance. There were slot machines and bingo on the deck, and it’s rumored, gambling below it. As legend has it, during Prohibition the surrounding beach was also a notorious hotspot for deliveries of illegal liquor.

After two summer seasons, the owners went broke. In the following winter of 1932, the Seacliff Amusement Corporation went bankrupt and a storm cracked the ship’s hull in the middle. The ship was stripped of everything of value, and in 1936, was sold to the state for one dollar.

Public access was still permitted for fishing or ocean gazing until 2001 when storms damaged the ship to the point where it was a clear and present danger for anyone on the broken concrete superstructure.


I took the photos below when I was living in Rio Del Mar. A major storm had hit the coast and the waves were said to be incredible. So I grabbed my camera and walked down to Seacliff Beach (right next to Rio Del Mar). The waves were still massive — and it was clear that anyone on the beach had to be careful.

Here you can see the ship sitting at the ocean end of the pier being battered severely. The pier itself had sustained significant damage — some from this storm and some from previous storms.


Down at beach level, but still a safe distance from those nasty waves, I could see, hear and feel the battering that the S.S. Palo Alto was suffering. Only a few seagulls braved the dangers being inflicted on that ship.


This shot clearly shows the height of the waves — almost as high as the highest point on the concrete structure of the ship.


The noise of the waves was deafening. But it did remind us all to keep a safe distance.


By the way, there were no surfers this day that I saw. Even they were not willing to risk these huge waves (and I have seen photos and videos of surfers risking waves generated by hurricanes).


The violence of the waves is shown clearly here where the waves had engulfed the utility building sitting on the pier. It's funny that even here, the seagulls did not seem concerned.


This shot shows the far side of the stream that feeds into the Pacific Ocean. This stream actually is the dividing point between Rio Del Mar and Seacliff. Do note the amount of concrete, rocks, and wood pilings that were previously installed to protect this area.


I saw this and my mind asked the obvious question, "what do we have here?" It appears that streams coming from the Santa Cruz Mountains had uprooted trees (some of which had already been cut down) with the remains washing down raging waters into the ocean which then spit them back up onto the beach.


And we're not talking just about little trees — look at this pile of redwood stumps and then compare their size to the guy looking over the railing. The power of Mother Nature is amazing.


And it appears that earlier waves had washed up smaller debris into the picnic area, even damaging the picnic tables.


BTW, I found this update online, "Update: In early 2017, strong waves broke the ship apart and flipped one of the pieces onto its side. The wreckage is still at the site, but now looks dramatically different than most pictures." If you are interested in seeing my more recent photos of the wreckage, go to here.


Life is good.

Aloha,
B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com