Seattle restaurateur Gerry Kingen drove down Interstate 5 last week to have a look at the ferry Kalakala, which was being torn apart for scrap in a graving yard at the Port of Tacoma.
It just didn’t seem right, Kingen said Wednesday, to stand by and watch what once was an icon of the Puget Sound region be tossed away like the household recycling.
So Kingen decided to buy some big pieces of the historic boat, including the wheelhouse and the 32,000-pound rudder, and have them trucked to Seattle for display outside Salty’s on Alki Beach, one of his restaurants.
Crews from Rhine Demolition delivered the goods Wednesday, and workers from Ness Cranes hoisted the pieces off two flatbed trucks and deposited them gently in the Salty’s parking lot as Kingen and his wife, Kathy, looked on.
“It’s keeping an iconic piece of Seattle alive,” Kingen said. “It deserves that, at least.”
The Kalakala was renowned in its day for its art deco styling and silver paint job. It plied the waters of Puget Sound for nearly three decades before being retired in the 1960s.
It then languished in Alaska, Neah Bay and Lake Union in Seattle before being brought to Tacoma about 10 years ago by a South Sound businessman with dreams of restoring her to her former glory.
Alas, that did not happen, and last month the Kalakala sailed her last voyage, with the help of a couple of tugs, from the Hylebos Waterway to a graving yard on the Blair for demolition.
Several people expressed interest in buying parts of the boat, including the City of Kirkland, but Kingen managed to secure some of the most noteworthy pieces, including the wheelhouse with its distinctive round windows.
“The windows tell the story,” Kathy Kingen said.
Her husband, who founded the Red Robin restaurant chain, would not disclose what he paid for the wheelhouse, rudder, crankshaft, door panel and various other smaller parts.
“Let’s just say a lot,” he said.
Gerry Kingen said he plans to erect plaques telling of the history of the Kalakala and allow people at some point to step inside the wheelhouse for a view of the Seattle skyline across Elliott Bay.
Salty’s is situated along Harbor Avenue, which includes a public trail and greenbelt popular with walkers and bicyclists.
“It will be an interactive sculpture,” he said.
Kingen said he also would like to tie the Kalakala display in with a boutique hotel he hopes to build adjacent to the restaurant.
Luis Antezana was walking his dog, Poppy, along the trail Wednesday and stopped to take some photographs of the wheelhouse.
“It’s always been such a beautiful vessel and amazing part of the local maritime culture,” Antezana said. “It lent an air of aspiration, of the future, to the Seattle area.”
Kathy Kingen agreed.
“And now people are going to be able to see it,” she said. “It’s not gone.”