SS Palo Alto, Seacliff Beach

SS Palo Alto, Seacliff Beach

by | Mar 26, 2020

The SS Palo Alto is a shipwreck that now serves as an artificial reef for marine life at Seacliff Beach on Monterey Bay, about 6.4 miles (10.3 km) east of Santa Cruz and 0.9 miles (1.5 km) southwest of Aptos, California. The ship was built as a tanker for use during World War I by the San Francisco Shipbuilding Company at the U.S. Naval Shipyard in Oakland, California. She was launched on 29 May 1919, too late to see service in the war effort.

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 because of the forest of pine trees first encountered while rounding the peninsula at the southern end of the bay. In 1791, Spanish missionaries established the Mission Santa Cruz. As with the other California missions, Mission Santa Cruz served as a site for ecclesiastical 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 the beach was a part of the Rancho Aptos grant to Rafael Castro in 1833. Castro worked with Claus Spreckels to establish the Castro-Spreckels wharf. The beach soon 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. In the 1850s, Thomas Fallon acquired part of the beach and turned it into a resort. He named this new resort “New Brighton”, in honor of his favorite seaside resort in England. In 1930, the first California state grant for preserving land was granted for the beach and it became a state beach.

The SS Palo Alto was built out of concrete when steel was in short supply during World War I. It was completed and launched after the war and sat unused on San Francisco Bay for a decade. In 1929, the ship was towed out to Seacliff State Beach where it was sunk and turned into an amusement center, complete with a dance floor, cafe, pool, and carnival booths. The Cal-Nevada Company constructed a dance floor 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. The company went bankrupt two years later during the Great Depression, and the ship cracked at the midsection during a winter storm. The State of California then purchased the ship for a fishing pier and it became a popular recreational site until the hull deteriorated to an unsafe condition and was closed to the public in 1950. Winter storms in 2016 pushed the wreck onto the starboard side and on January 21, 2017, another winter storm tore the stern off the ship. Read more here and here. Explore more of Seacliff Beach here:

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About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (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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