SS Catalina

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S.S. Catalina.jpg
Catalina about 1960–64
Name: Catalina (1946–2009)
FS 99 (1942–46)
Catalina (1924–42)[1]
Owner: Hymie & Ruth Singer (1977–96)
M.G.R.S. (1960–75) (M-Vern Maynard, G-June Gates, R-Fred Rosenberg, S-Charlie Stillwell)
Philip K. Wrigley (1932–60)
William Wrigley Jr. (1924–32)
Operator: Catalina Island Steamship Line (1946–75)
US Army (1942–46)
Catalina Island Steamship Line (1924–42)
Builder: Los Angeles shipbuilding and Drydock Company
Laid down: December 26, 1923
Christened: May 3, 1924
Completed: 1924
Maiden voyage: June 30, 1924
In service: 1924-1975
Out of service: September 14, 1975
Fate: Partially sank in Ensenada harbor in 1997, scrapped 2009-2010
Status: Scrapped, 2009
General characteristics
Tonnage: 1,766 GRT
Length: 302 ft.
Beam: 52 ft.
Draft: 16 ft.
Decks: 5, 3 for passenger use
Installed power: 3 Hooven-Owens-Rentschler Co. triple expansion engines
Speed: 15.5 kts
S.S. Catalina
Location Destroyed
Built 1924
Architect Babcock & Wilcox
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 76000495[2]
CHISL # 894
LAHCM # 213
Significant dates
Added to NRHP 1976-09-01
Designated LAHCM 1979-05-16[3]

SS Catalina, also known as The Great White Steamer, was a 301-foot steamship built in 1924 that provided passenger service on the 26-mile passage between Los Angeles and Santa Catalina Island from 1924 to 1975. According to the Steamship Historical Society of America, the Catalina has carried more passengers than any other vessel anywhere. Catalina also served as a troop ferry during World War II, transporting more than 800,000 soldiers and sailors. After a period of service as a floating discotheque, the ship ran aground on a sandbar in Ensenada Harbor in 1997 and remained there half-submerged and decaying for more than a decade.

In January 2009 it was announced that the ship would be cut up for scrap, which has been completed.[4]

Passenger service to Santa Catalina Island[edit]

Avalon harbor on Catalina Island

The ship was originally built in 1924 at a cost of $1 million for William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum and confectionery magnate who owned most of Catalina Island.[5][6] Between 1924 and 1975, Catalina carried about 25 million passengers between Los Angeles and Avalon Harbor. According to the Steamship Historical Society of America, Catalina has carried more passengers than any other vessel anywhere.[7]

In its heyday, the ship was known as the "Great White Steamer" and carried 2,000 passengers at a time on the two-and-a-half hour trip to Catalina.[8] Among its famous passengers were Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, actor Robert Mitchum and many of the great musicians of the Big Band era.[9] The Los Angeles Times recalled the passage this way:

"To board the Catalina during its heyday was to enter a world of luxurious leather settees and gleaming teak. On the upper deck people danced to swinging big bands. Magicians and clowns entertained passengers. On the lower deck youngsters played hide and seek among the lifeboats, and couples found hidden spots where they could be alone. ... Residents fondly remember the rituals with which the ship was greeted as it approached the island: Speedboats would circle the ship, water skiers slicing through its giant wake. Closer to shore, children swam out to dive for coins passengers tossed into the bay. People in Avalon gathered to sing as passengers stepped off the ship that docked near the center of town."[10]

In 1958, the 26-mile trip to Catalina Island was made famous by Four Preps' hit song "26 Miles (Santa Catalina)". The song reached the #2 position on the U.S. popular music charts. The metric distance of "40 kil-o-meters" also is sung.

In 1960, fed up with all of the excessive taxation and union pressure, Phillip K. Wrigley sold the ship to a group of investors, known as M.G.R.S. President, Charlie Stillwell, and Vice President, Vern Maynard who was also President of Channel Concessions, ran the ship, as well as managed the Casino Ballroom during the early to mid-1960s.

The ship is featured in the 1967 film "Catalina Caper".

Troop ferry in World War II[edit]

On August 25, 1942 Catalina was delivered to the War Shipping Administration and chartered by the War Department on the same date on a bareboat basis.[11] The ferry was designated a Coastal Freighter and Passenger Vessel (FS) and assigned the Army number FS-99.[12] US Army FS-99 was used to transport troops from embarkation camps to the ocean transports throughout the San Francisco Port of Embarkation, transporting more than 820,000 sailors and soldiers – more than any other military transport ship, before being returned to civilian service on April 22, 1946.[7][11]

Retirement and abandonment in Ensenada[edit]

By the early 1970s, smaller, faster vessels made it difficult for Catalina to compete for passenger traffic, and she was retired from passenger service in 1975.[7]

In 1977 Catalina was bought at auction for $70,000 by real estate developer Hymie Singer.[9] He bought the ship as a Valentine's Day gift for his wife and the steamship was moved for several years between Newport Beach, San Diego, Santa Monica Bay and Long Beach. At one point, there was a proposal for Catalina to ferry tourists up the Nile River, but her 21 feet of draft was too deep for the river.[13] As the ship bounced from one port to another, one writer noted: "Twice she broke free of her moorings in Long Beach and once nearly hit a tanker; it was as if the ship was rebelling against her fate, having gone from being a source of pride to an embarrassment to a naval hazard."[7]

Catalina aground and partly sunk in Ensenada Harbor

In 1985 Singer moved the ship to Ensenada, Baja California, where she became the focus of a series of unsuccessful business ventures, including a floating discotheque and the Catalina Bar and Grill. In late 1997 Catalina escaped her moorings and grounded on a sandbar in Ensenada Harbor. Since then, Catalina remained half-submerged and stuck in the mud in the harbor. After years of neglect, Catalina was badly decayed and rusted and had been stripped by looters and vandals.

Historic recognition and preservation efforts[edit]

Catalina was recognized as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (LAHCM #213) by the city's Cultural Heritage Commission,[14] and was a California Historical Landmark. She was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Preservationists had sought since the late 1990s to raise funds to return Catalina to Los Angeles for restoration. Others had opposed raising the ship, saying, "It's like digging up grandma and putting her at the head of the table."[10]

1936 schedule for daily steamer service to Santa Catalina Island via Catalina, Avalon, and Cabrillo


Catalina was finally broken up after sitting in Ensenada Harbor for about 12 years. The scrapping of Catalina began in January 2009[4] and was finished by late 2009 or early 2010.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dake, Shawn J. "The S.S. Catalina". Escapist Travel Magazine. 
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  3. ^ "Historic-Cultural Monument Application". Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources. 
  4. ^ a b Pool, Bob (2009-01-06). "SS Catalina is seaworthy no more". Los Angeles Times. 
  5. ^ Lee, Grace (2000-06-26). "Rescue Call: Wilmington Man Joins Effort To Save SS Catalina". The Daily Breeze. 
  6. ^ Cearley, Anna (2000-06-29). "Old ship Catalina starts long journey back to splendor: Mexico deeds vessel to restoration group". San Diego Union-Tribune. 
  7. ^ a b c d Springer, Steve (1999-10-10). "Once-Proud SS Catalina, Now Rusty and Listing, Awaits Rescue Effort". Los Angeles Times. 
  8. ^ Belgum, Deborah (1998-05-08). "SOS for a Steamer: Man Mounts Quest to Save Slowly Sinking SS Catalina". Los Angeles Times. 
  9. ^ a b Gross, Gregory (1998-03-13). "Steamer Catalina may end up as scrap: Ship ferried thousands to Avalon; now it's mired in Ensenada muck". San Diego Union-Tribune. 
  10. ^ a b Marcum, Diana (2000-06-20). "Catalina Rescue Steams Forward: History: Mexico gives group 90 days to remove the steamship, which lies rusting in Ensenada. The vessel carried millions between the island and San Pedro". Los Angeles Times. 
  11. ^ a b Maritime Administration. "Catalina". Ship History Database Vessel Status Card. US Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration. Retrieved February 16, 2015. 
  12. ^ Grover, David (1987). US Army Ships and Watercraft of World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. pp. 75, 78. ISBN 0-87021-766-6. LCCN 87015514. 
  13. ^ Manson, Bill (1997-05-08). "Half the Town Would Run toward the Pier". San Diego Reader. 
  14. ^ Department of City Planning. "Designated Historic-Cultural Monuments". City of Los Angeles. Retrieved 2010-06-15. 

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