Ferry fan fights to save historic boat

Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2000

SEATTLE In its heyday, the Kalakala ferry was considered a technological marvel. Passengers in the 1930s delighted in its electric lights, its telegraph machine and its slick art deco looks.

Three decades later, the craft was sold to an Alaska company, which placed it on the mudflats near Kodiak, processed fish in its belly and let oceans of raindrops beat mercilessly against its hull.

The 276-foot boat eventually was rescued by Peter Bevis, a local sculptor, who stumbled upon it in 1988 while working in Kodiak as a commercial fisherman.

Hundreds greeted the Kalakalas return to Seattle in 1998, and Bevis imagined a new life for the 65-year-old ferry as a museum, restaurant or dance club.

Now the up-and-down career of the Kalakala again has encountered rough waters. What once was the pride of Seattle now rusts away on Lake Union, and the man who poured his heart, soul and pocketbook into saving her can barely afford basic expenses.

I feel its my duty to continue to fix up this boat, to make sure this project gets finished, said Bevis, who borrowed money and mortgaged his house to rescue the Kalakala.

Initial interest and donations to fix up the craft have dried up. The Kalakala Foundation, formed by Bevis and nearly 2,900 volunteers to restore the boat, makes just enough to pay insurance and moorage.

Bevis still owes nearly $1 million for preparing the Kalakala and towing it home, and the foundation estimates it needs another $20 million to restore the boat.

It should be considered a historic site, said 73-year-old Mary Ellen Kanyer who rode the Kalakala as a child. Were not like the East Coast. Were too young to appreciate antiques.

Historic ships have little federal or state support. The Kalakala Foundation received a $285,000 federal grant to be administered by the city of Seattle, but needs $190,000 in matching funds before it gets any money.

Although the Kalakala is a one-of-a-kind artifact, soliciting money for a boat in its condition is difficult, said Bob Sittig, executive director of the Seattle-based Maritime Heritage Foundation.

The Kalakala was launched in 1935 to carry passengers and cars across Puget Sound. It embodied the most advanced technology of its time.

More information about the Kalakala Foundation is available on the Internet at http://www.kalakala.org.

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