EXPENSIVE PILE OF SCRAP
Marks 43rd Anniversary, End of "Old" Coronado
By Joe Ditler
In her prime, the ferryboat San Diego was taken for granted, as were her four sister ships.
But now, we see just how effectively they protected the small-town magic of Coronado.
Photo courtesy Coronado Public Library and the Frank Jennings Collection.
ALAMEDA, CA - From backyard to bone yard to scrapyard, the ferryboat M.V. San Diego has been slowly whittled down to a few buckets of scrap iron. The well-documented demise of the familiar old boat ends here, on the 43rd anniversary of her forced retirement as a San Diego-Coronado ferryboat.
On August 2, 1969 the car-carrying ferryboats ceased to operate in our waters. On that night, at midnight, the ferry engines went cold, the Coronado Bridge opened. On that night we said good-bye to the romantic old ferryboats and to the small town of Coronado.
"The sound of her whistle on a foggy night,
of her chains rattling, pilings creaking,
and cars driving over old wooden planks
lulled us to sleep like a heartbeat in the womb."
In hindsight, it is so easy to see how the slow and methodical ferryboats had kept Coronado’s small town character glued together, staving off an inevitable and uncontrollable growth.
Last week, word was received from the California State Lands Commission that it cost more than $636,000 to demolish the ferryboat San Diego. Her scrap metal steel was sold for roughly $168,000, which brought the overall demolition costs to nearly half a million dollars – a figure believed to be $100,000 more than it cost to build the boat in 1931.
Slowly but steadily the once magnificent ferryboat San Diego was whittled down to this small pile of scrap iron. This is the last photo ever taken of the ferryboat. Photo courtesy California State Lands Commission.
These costs do not include the hundreds of man hours by commission staff spent inspecting the vessel, researching her long list of alleged owners, and orchestrating the complicated process of literally removing a vessel of that size from existence. It also did not include the expensive costs of a trespass suit brought by the commission to obtain rights for the boat.
The ferryboat San Diego will never again appear in a headline or news article, unless it is in historical reference. In her prime she sported immaculate white paint with emerald isle green trim and shuttled us back and forth, to and fro, never complaining, never asking for a day off, never asking for a raise.
The sound of her whistle on a foggy night, of her chains rattling, pilings creaking, and cars driving over old wooden planks lulled us to sleep like a heartbeat in the womb.
The ferryboat’s final “voyage” has been chronicled in great detail over the past six months as she went from being a derelict vessel and a hazard to navigation on the Sacramento River (San Francisco) to the scrapyard for complete and thorough demolition.
In 1931 the M.V. San Diego – measuring 191 feet on deck (LOA), 43.5 feet wide and drawing 14 feet – made her way to San Diego from Oakland under power from her three 350-hp diesel-electric engines. She barely survived a storm rounding Point Arguello that nearly ended her career before it had begun.
Headed south around Point Arguello on her maiden voyage (1931), with the owner's car
strapped to the deck, the ferryboat San Diego nearly didn't make her destination
of San Diego. Photo courtesy Coronado Public Library.
At this point there is a lot of “what if” taking place on Facebook and the Internet. “What if we could have brought her back? What if we could have saved her?”
While it would have been cheaper than buying the Padres, bringing that ferryboat back to Coronado was a pipe dream, a dream that others had tried and failed at. Like small town Coronado, the Great Ferryboat Era had been left in the dust of what once was. Denial of that is but a vain grasping at the wind.
Time marches on, we embrace the future, but we honor our past. Thanks to the enormous reach of the Internet, many people have documented the ferryboat San Diego and, in fact, the Great Ferryboat Era. This has been through first-hand descriptions, through photos and ephemera dealing with the era, and through the most moving accounts from those who remember.
The once-glorious old working ship M.V. San Diego will be forever documented in the halls of the Coronado Public Library for everyone to see and enjoy, for generations to explore. The price to cross the bay of history on a ferryboat of memory? A library card. For more information visit www.coronado.ca.us/library.
The ferryboat San Diego prepares to leave the Coronado Ferry Landing.
Photo taken by the author - summer of 1966.