Port Angeles floats idea of acquiring the Kalakala

Posted: Tuesday, October 24, 2000

SEATTLE (AP) -- Port Angeles is gaga over the Kalakala.

The town's movers and shakers figure Seattle has had its chance to restore the Depression-era icon after rescuing it from a Kodiak beach two years ago. They are floating serious talk about acquiring the ferryboat as an arts and entertainment center for their northern Olympic Peninsula town.

It all has Kalakala Foundation President Peter Bevis' head spinning. ''I think it's a viable option,'' said Bevis, who has spent much time lately carrying a camera and tape measure to shop for mooring sites around Puget Sound.

The Port Angeles movement took on a life last month when Seattle building inspectors found that the historic, art-deco vessel was projecting 50 feet too far into navigation lanes from the North Lake Union site it has occupied for 18 months. The Kalakala Foundation was told to move the boat or face $75-a-day fines.

If the venerable old boat was going to be homeless in Seattle, that gave Port Angeles a chance. These are, after all, many of the same civic leaders who thought of staging a mock hijacking when the vessel passed by Port Angeles on its 1,700-mile tow from Alaska to Seattle two years ago.

Port Angeles civic leaders invited Kalakala Foundation officials Monica Mulligan and Sharon Carlson for a chat Oct. 13. The two expected an offer for temporary moorage from a handful of people. Instead, they found a standing-room-only crowd with a serious idea about making the boat the flagship of inner harbor development.

''The talk has been to bring the Kalakala here and set it down either on land or on the water off of some vacant land on our harbor,'' said Louann Yager, acting executive director of the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce. ''It would be used as a fine arts center and an entertainment and convention center after it has been renovated.''

Everything is still in the pipe-dream stage. ''But everyone came away very enthused with the idea of putting together some firm, basic ideas,'' she said.

A lot hinges on a planned fact-finding bus tour to Seattle so those interested can lay eyes on the boat. How people react afterward could determine how committed they will be, Port Angeles civic leaders say.

''At this point, this is not a city of Port Angeles project, but we are very receptive to the huge reception that the business community is extending,'' said Tim Smith, the city's director of economic development.

''Port Angeles has pulled off some amazing things,'' Smith said of the

community's determination to diversify itself after its timber-based economy declined.

''There is a spirit here that. . . can get into the hearts and minds of the people of Port Angeles. And they just become determined and don't let go.''

Bevis said he and Mulligan were so stunned by the Port Angeles reception that they had to step back and let it settle in.

''Afterwards, we talked and thought that if Port Angeles accepts the

responsibility of caring for the Kalakala, that is what we are looking for,'' he said.

Bevis acknowledged that his long-range vision for the boat, that it travel again, doesn't mesh with a proposal to permanently moor it.

''For the health of a boat, it's far better to work it. I would want it to travel again under its own power,'' he said.

But that isn't necessarily practical, he said. ''It's a vision; it's not my priority. I will do the next best thing if that's as far as we can get,'' he said.

The foundation already has met the first priority, preventing the boat from being scrapped in Alaska, then returning it to Seattle in November 1998.

The boat is undergoing preservation and restoration work as volunteers sandblast rust, work on the engines, find and archive old records and mold brass fittings from scratch.

But the priority remains finding $700,000 to get the vessel into dry dock, where the all-important hull can be inspected and repaired.

To be sure, the Kalakala has lots of supportive fans in Seattle, where hundreds of volunteers and donors, many with memories of its glamorous heyday, have signed on to help. The Seattle City Council even came through with a $285,000 federal grant.

But the effort is treading water as funds go to pay $5,500 a month for moorage and insurance expenses alone, reaching nearly $10,000 a month for office space, an employee and equipment.

The boat was considered to be on the cutting edge of design and technology when it debuted in 1935. People congregated in its Horseshoe Bar and danced to the music of the onboard Flying Bird Orchestra.

From 1935 until 1969, the Kalakala was a Seattle superstar, the subject of postcards and named the 1962 World's Fair's second-most popular attraction after the Space Needle.

After it was sold in 1969, it was gutted and grounded in Kodiak, became home to a seafood processor.

Bevis, a Fremont sculptor, spotted it on a fishing trip in 1988 and began his quest to save it.

After its 30-year absence, the boat returned to a changed town, one with a taller skyline and more attractions, which have diluted memories, Bevis said.

''Aesthetically, it would be lost in Seattle's waterfront,'' he said. ''In Port Angeles, it would be on center stage.''

The Kalakala was, for a number of years in the 1940s and 1950s, Port

Angeles' boat, reassigned from Seattle to carry cars to Victoria, B.C.

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