An old concrete ship in Aptos, California: the SS Palo Alto.

An old concrete ship in Aptos, California: The SS Palo Alto.

One of the ships that should have been in the First World War is called the SS Palo Alto. It took so long to build that she didn’t get to fight in the war. Seacliff State Beach, in California, is where she is now. She was built in 1918. This ship is very special because it is made of reinforced concrete, which is very strong.

During the First World War, there was not enough steel in the United States. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson agreed to a fleet of ships made of reinforced concrete for an emergency.

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By Steven Rojo, Flickr @pidooma

This is the concrete oil tanker, the SS Palo Alto, on a test run on September 10, 1920 in Oakland.

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By Steven Rojo, Flickr @pidooma

The SS Palo Alto and two other tankers were built in Oakland, California, in 1917. They were 420 feet long. When the SS Palo Alto was built, it was one of three concrete tankers that were made in California. During the war, the tankers were meant to be used to refuel other warships at sea.

Both of them were built in May 1919. Construction was done late, so the ships didn’t get to fight in the war, which was over only a few months after the construction was done.

She instead lay empty at a naval dockyard in Oakland for more than a decade until 1929, when she was bought by a Nevada-based company called Seacliff Amusement Corporation, which used the ship to bring people to Seacliff Amusement Park in Nevada.

This company owned most of the land in Aptos Township in California, and they wanted to build nice homes for wealthy San Francisco residents. If there were a lot of storms, the company would have to start over and build a huge pier all over again because the large waves would break the pier and destroy it.

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By digital94086

Because of this, the company bought the SS Palo Alto in 1929. The Corporation thought the ship would be a great place for fun and fishing, so the ship was moved to the bay.

People didn’t like the idea of going on trips to the ship at first. Because her doors were open, water flooded in, and the ship was stuck to the ground for good. A year after that, a pier was built that led to the half-sunken ship.

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By Steven Rojo, Flickr @pidooma

The ship was changed so that there was a casino, a dance hall, a heated swimming pool, and a restaurant on board. In 1932, Seacliff Amusement Corporation went out of business. This was because of both the Great Depression and the seasonal nature of the business.

A winter storm hit the area soon after the company went bankrupt. The SS Palo Alto was left with a huge crack in her middle. Afterward, when the ship was even worse off because it was hit by the waves, its owners were broke and had to sell off all of its valuable parts. This included steel, engines, and even the dance floor!

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By Steven Rojo, Flickr @pidooma

In 1936, the state of California bought the ship for $1 and turned it into a fishing pier, which was very popular with local anglers right away. The SS Palo Alto was made a part of Seacliff State Beach because it was built there.

In 1950, the ship was closed down because parts of it were too dangerous, so fishermen and people who wanted to see it had to stay away. The condition of the ship had deteriorated a lot because she had been hit by storms.

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By Steven Rojo, Flickr @pidooma

People could enjoy the ship again for a short time during a restoration project that ran from 1983 until 1988. An all-time visitor ban was put in place in 1998.

In 2003, oil leaked from an unknown source and killed dozens of seabirds. There was a leak on the SS Palo Alto in early 2005, and it was found that it came from there. People from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife started a project in the fall of 2006 to clean up the ship. They drained 500 US gallons of oil from the ship.

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Overhead drone picture of the USS Palo Alto on July 3rd, 2019. By Onebadagr, CC BY-SA 4.0

More than 200 dead birds and two seals were found during the cleanup. About $1.7 million was spent on the project, which is the same amount that was spent on the first ship.

The ship is getting worse and worse, and every storm causes her to break apart a little more. A piece of the ship was turned over by strong waves in 2016. In January 2017, the stern was torn off.

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By Steven Rojo, Flickr @pidooma

Because of its oil leaks, the ship now serves as an artificial reef for seabirds and fish. When you look at the concrete structure, you can often see seabirds like pelicans and cormorants sitting on top of it. Below the surface, fish eat algae and live in the sunken parts of the pond where they can. Sea lions and other marine animals also come to the ship from time to time.

A lot of people have called on the state to get rid of the SS Palo Alto because of how bad it is. However, the costs of getting rid of the ship can be in the tens of millions of dollars. This is because the ship is very heavy and stands in the sand. Because the shipwreck is so popular with people in the area, there are a lot of people who don’t want the vessel to be taken away.

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By Steven Rojo, Flickr @pidooma

The SS Palo Alto is not open to the public right now. Whether you’re in a boat or a fisherman, you must stay at least 100 feet away from the ship at all times. Centennial events were held in 2019 for the Seacliff, which has become an important part of the town.

Photos of the shipwreck in Aptos, California, taken by Steven Rojo are for sale, and he owns them. It means a lot to us that he let us use his pictures. In his Flickr account, there are more pictures of the SS Palo Altro. You can see more of them there. Please follow him on Flickr so you don’t miss any of his beautiful work.

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By Steven Rojo, Flickr @pidooma
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By Steven Rojo, Flickr @pidooma


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