Kalakala’s charm not yet rusted out

It may be just a shell of what it once was, the most iconic ferry ever to crisscross Elliott Bay, but the 1930s-era Kalakala hasn’t lost all of its character. Not yet.

This week I endured a two-hour paddle — and a humiliating plunge into Commencement Bay — to get an up-close look at the historic ferry, which has been moored in an industrial waterway in Tacoma since 2004. Despite the decay and rust, the streamlined vessel — the only ferry of its kind — retains its elegant Art Deco styling and much of its personality. I think it could make a great exhibit space along the future viaduct-free Seattle waterfront.

Mark Greengo, a kayaker who generously took a day off work to lead me to the Kalakala, has another idea. If the boat, whose condition is being monitored by the Coast Guard, can’t be restored, perhaps it could be sunk and made into an underwater park for divers.

Owner Steve Rodrigues, who’s been living in a nearby mobile home for the past five months making improvements and discouraging vandals, is committed to returning the Kalakala to Seattle as a symbol of the city’s history. “It’s a truly magnificent vessel that should never have gotten to this point,” said Rodrigues.

The 60-year-old civil engineer is still looking for a buyer willing to preserve the Kalakala. A reported sale for $1 last December didn’t go through. Rodrigues said it was under the condition that the buyer promised to save the ferry from the scrap yard, and that promise “never happened.”