‘The Silver Slug’ was scrapped, but fellow Art Deco landmarks remain ... on land.
TO OCCUPY THE attention of his two youngest sons, David and me, during long family road trips, Dad devised and repeatedly replenished what we called “Pop’s pop quizzes.” On one such trip from Spokane to Seattle, I was able to easily answer Pop’s query, “What is the name of the world’s first streamlined ferry?” The fact that I knew this as a 10- or 11-year-old is testimony to the widespread popularity of the feted Kalakala.
The Black Ball Line’s flagship ferry was the most popular man-made creation on Puget Sound until the raising of the Space Needle in 1962. We have, perhaps inevitably, featured this ferry for “Now & Then” more than once. For instance, on Nov. 3, 1991, we showed her passing through the Chittenden Locks in 1947 for one of her few visits into our fresh waterways. Ordinarily busy carrying tourists and Naval shipyard workers back and forth to Bremerton, the Kalakala did not need our lakes.
Of the many photographs or illustrations of this ferry that I have collected and/or copied, this over-the-shoulder portrait by Frank Shaw is one of my favorites, for several reasons. By contrast, the clouded sky brightens the ferry’s silver shine. The slide’s stern-end view improves the ferry’s streamlined claim. Still, the Kalakala’s less-than-kind nickname, “The Silver Slug,” might have been inspired as much by this tapered stern as by the ferry’s bowl-shaped bow, where two doors opened wide enough to admit the big trucks of its years, 1935 to 1967.
Perhaps the photographer’s most effective assistant for embellishing the streamlined qualities of the ferry was the low tide. It drops some of the ferry’s vertical chunkiness, hiding it below Shaw’s prospect, the exposed deck of the Grand Trunk Pier, Colman Dock’s neighbor to the south.
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With the sensational introduction of its modern service in the mid-1930s, the streamlined ferry was promoted with a makeover of its Colman Dock terminal with Art Deco touches. You will know, perhaps, that the Kalakala had been transformed from the burned shell of the Peralta, a fire-gutted San Francisco Bay ferry that was sold cheaply to the Puget Sound Navigation Company. Rebuilt here as the PSNC’s flagship, it was also a moving monument to Art Deco design.
At its center, Shaw’s waterfront glimpse also includes a second Art Deco landmark, the Securities Building. It still faces Marion Street from the full block between First and Second avenues. In his contribution to the University Press book “Shaping Seattle Architecture,” Seattle architect-historian Grant Hildebrand considers this 1929-31 landmark “perhaps architect John Graham Sr.’s finest work.” The reader surely would enjoy a visit to the building’s lobby.
The Securities Building still stands back-to-back and in contrast with the 17 stories of International-style aluminum and glass curtain-wall construction of the Norton Building. Built in 1959, it is sometimes considered Seattle’s first modern skyscraper. The tops of the Securities and Norton buildings can be found in our “Now” photo — just barely.