State's $100,000 grant brings old ferry 'halfway to dry dock'

Funds earmarked for Kalakala vessel towed from Alaska in 1998

Posted: Sunday, July 22, 2001

SEATTLE -- The ravaged art-deco ferry Kalakala has been awarded a $100,000 state history-and-heritage grant.

It's not all its rescuers had hoped for -- they requested $320,000 of the $4.5 million recommended by the Legislature this year for such projects. But combined with a $285,000 federal grant that the City Council accepted last year, "we're halfway to dry dock," Kalakala Foundation President Peter Bevis said.

The grants, both contingent in part on private matching funds, are to get Kalakala into a dry dock -- expected to cost more than $700,000 -- for its first hull inspection in 30 years.

Cursory inspections indicated the hull is in good shape. After all, the 66-year-old vessel was towed 1,700 miles from Alaska to here in 1998. But a fuller inspection would provide information for regulators and insurers, and aid renovation and funding plans, Bevis said.

Backers hope the state grant, administered through the 2001-2003 Heritage Capital Projects Fund, indicates the cash-strapped restoration effort has turned a corner.

Things are moving at "a fast clip," said foundation board member David Ruble, who helped organize a long-needed business plan.

The foundation has 672 dues-paying members, many of them among the 1,200 who signed up as weekend volunteers, working on the vessel at a Lake Union dock.

But the elegant, aging ferry takes the standard boat-owner complaints about costs to a new level, and private contributions haven't kept up.

The foundation owes nearly $38,000 for such basics as moorage, electricity, insurance and taxes -- not to mention leftover debt from the 1998 recovery effort.

So Bevis can no longer can afford to mail a newsletter, and the Kalakala's portable toilet was repossessed.

"Funding has been dismal, but with recent developments, there has been a new energy," Bevis said.

The Kalakala was billed as the world's first streamlined ferry when it debuted on the Seattle waterfront July 3, 1935. With its on-board orchestra and radio station, it was a pre-Space Needle symbol of Seattle.

Retired and sold in 1967, it was used in Alaska as a fish processor. Bevis, a Seattle sculptor and sometime fisherman, saw it deteriorating on a Kodiak mud flat in 1988 and was inspired to save the vessel.

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