SS Palo Alto, Seacliff Beach

SS Palo Alto, Seacliff Beach

by | Feb 3, 2023

SS Palo Alto is a shipwreck that now serves as an artificial reef for marine life at Seacliff State Beach on the northern coast of Monterey Bay, about 6.4 miles (10.3 km) east of Santa Cruz and 0.9 miles (1.5 km) southwest of Aptos, California. Palo Alto was a tanker built out of concrete when steel was in short supply during World War I, by the San Francisco Shipbuilding Company at the U.S. Naval Shipyard in Oakland, California, and launched on 29 May 1919. It was completed after the war ended and was moored in San Francisco Bay for a decade. In 1929, the ship was towed to Seacliff and intentionally sunk in shallow water for use as an amusement center with a pier connecting the ship to the beach. During the winter storms of 2016-2017, a section of the ship overturned, and the pier was damaged. In the winter of 2022-2023, a series of storms destroyed the pier.

In 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailed into Monterey Bay while exploring the coast on a Spanish naval expedition. He named the bay Bahía de Los Pinos, probably for the forest of pine trees first encountered while rounding the peninsula at the southern end of the bay. In 1791, Franciscan missionaries established the Mission Santa Cruz. As with the other California missions, Mission Santa Cruz served as a site for the religious conversion of natives, first, the Amah Mutsun people, the original inhabitants of the region renamed the ‘Ohlone‘ by the Spaniards, and later the Yokuts from the east. In 1821, when Mexico gained independence from Spain the area was divided up into land grants. The area of Seacliff Beach was a part of the Rancho Aptos land grant with 6,686 acres (2,706 ha) given to Rafael Castro in 1833. Castro worked with Claus Spreckels to establish the Castro-Spreckels wharf at Seacliff Beach and it became a successful shipping port. In 1838, King Kamehameha III of Hawai’i requested that Mexican vaqueros from California teach Hawaiians how to manage herds of wild cattle. Seacliff became a popular place to recruit vaqueros, who were known as paniolos by the Hawaiians. During the mid-1920s, landowners built summer homes on the bluffs above Seacliff.

In 1929, the Palo Alto was bought by the Seacliff Amusement Corporation and sunk so that the keel rested on the beach near Aptos, California. In 1930, a pier was built connecting the ship to the beach and a dance floor was constructed on the main deck, a cafe in the superstructure of the ship, a heated swimming pool, and a series of carnival-type concessions on the aft deck. In 1932, during the Great Depression, a series of storms cracked the hull and the investors, hoping to cut their losses, sold their beachfront property and the Palo Alto to the State of California in February 1936 for $1. Seacliff Beach was designated as one of the first state beaches and the pier became a popular recreational site for fishing until the hull deteriorated to an unsafe condition. In 1950, the pier was permanently closed to the public. Read more here and here. Explore more of Seacliff State Beach here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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