By Christian Knight, Neighborhood Services Coordinator
Public Works Department, Capital Improvement Program
Gordy George has moved all kinds of unwieldy objects in his 27 years as a Rhine Demolition truck driver: backhoes, cranes, excavators, rock crushers.
A wheelhouse was never one of them.
That changed Feb. 19, 2015 however, when George received an assignment to transport a wheelhouse, a pair of bus-sized doors, four valve wheels, 10 feet of hand-railings and a silver-colored steel shell called an ‘essence’ to a loading yard in Bothell.
George seized the opportunity. “It was an honor to pack something that was built in the 30s,” he said. “I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Until February, those pieces belonged to the Depression-era Kalakala, the world’s first streamlined passenger ship—built at Kirkland’s Carillon Point and dismantled February in a Tacoma dry dock.
Now those pieces belong to the City of Kirkland and eventually to anyone who will walk, run, or bike along the Cross Kirkland Corridor.
That’s where the City of Kirkland plans to place its pieces of the Kalakala.
Right now, those pieces are in rough shape. The essence is twisted and dented, with jagged edges, where workers cut it from the Kalakala. The floor of the wheelhouse is flaking. Clumps of rust coat the valve wheels.
And besides, this isn’t the ultimate state of the Kalakala. Later this year, the City of Kirkland will request proposals from artists, who will use the wheelhouse, the essence and the other pieces to establish the Kalakala’s permanent Kirkland legacy.
Several people have already commended the City for its pursuit. One of them is Ted Lagreid, a retired City of Seattle urban planner and current resident of Scottsdale, Ariz. He read a Feb. 11 Tacoma News Tribune article that said the City of Kirkland was interested in acquiring some pieces of the old ferry.
“It was the icon of Seattle prior to the Space Needle,” Lagreid said. “When that ship was seen sailing around Puget Sound, it was like ‘whoa.’”
Lagreid wrote a letter to the City Council to commend it for the vision it used to identify the opportunity and the courage it demonstrated to seize it.
“Kirkland showed some real vision [in the 60s, 70s and 80s] when turning all that waterfront land into park land,” Lagreid said. “And now, the City has decided to perpetuate that history and use what they have that’s representative of what the Kalakala was.”
The idea for Kirkland to bring the Kalakala back home emerged as part of a community brainstorm back in the summer of 2012. The question posed by then-Mayor Joan McBride to scores of community members gathered at the Kirkland Arts Center was what to do with the Cross Kirkland Corridor.
“There were no constraints on the ideas,” says Lisa McConnell, Houghton’s neighborhood association chair and a present member at that meeting. “Money was no issue. We were supposed to come up with big ideas and I came up with a big one.”
McConnell’s idea was to extract the top deck from the Kalakala and place it over the Cross Kirkland Corridor near the South Kirkland Park and Ride.
“So you could ride a bike right through it,” McConnell said. “That would be our trailhead.”
The meetings’ attendees chuckled politely, McConnell says.
“And then they were like, ‘Oh my gosh. This would be pretty cool,’” McConnell said.
The chair of the Cultural Arts Commission isn’t sure exactly what an artist will make of Kirkland’s pieces of the Kalakala. But she’s glad Kirkland is pursuing it.
“You take historical objects and make them into something that’s art,” said Melissa Young, the chair of the Cultural Arts Commission. “You do it to bring that history into the art and in order to bring that art to the people.”
Young and McConnell certainly weren’t the only ones who thought it would be a cool idea. Even before Joel Simmonds’ Rhine Demolition began dismantling the Kalakala in early February, treasure hunters had already seized their pieces of history.
“So much of [the Kalakala] was already picked over by the time we got there,” Simmonds said. “Anything that wasn’t bolted down—or that even that was—was already gone.”
By the time his crews had dismantled it, Simmonds had received nearly 250 requests to purchase a piece of the Kalakala. The requests came from people who had, at one time or another, and in one form or another, experienced the Kalakala.
“They rode on it as a kid, they are history buffs, their family rode on it,” Simmonds said while reading his synopses of the emails. “Their father worked in its engine room as an employee. It was their first ferry boat ride ever. One person is 84 years old and had ridden on it when he was younger. Another one worked on it when he was a kid. Another one’s uncle bought it and brought it to Alaska.”
And of course, one of those 250 requests came from the City of Kirkland.
Top: Kalakala pieces being transported to storage in Bothell, WA (photo by City of Kirkland)
Middle: Wheel house of the Kalakala (photo by City of Kirkland)