Hollywood To Honolulu: SS CITY OF LOS ANGELES Arrives (90 Years Ago In LA) by Martin Cox

To mark the 90th anniversary of the start of the first regular passenger and freight service from Los Angeles – Honolulu, I have serialized some extracts from our book Hollywood to Honolulu: the story of the Los Angeles Steamship Company by Gordon Ghareeb and Martin Cox. (Published by Steamship Historical Society of America 2009)

LASSCO advertising for the new service to Hawaii – author’s collection

The new Los Angeles Steamship Company (LASSCO) had in 1921 begun coastal service between Los Angeles and San Francisco, but further ambitious plans were set into motion at the insistence of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce who approached LASSCO about running a year-round schedule into Honolulu.  The United States Shipping Board had announced a conference in Washington D.C. to charter ships under their jurisdiction to Pacific shipping operators. The pair of steamers to be assigned to LASSCO had been constructed respectively as the seventh and second units of a series of eleven near-sister ships all built in German yards between 1896 and 1902 and both had been confiscated by the United States from their German owners during the Great War.  The two liners earmarked for the new Southern Californian endeavor had been intended for the Norddeutscher Lloyd to operate interchangeably on their North Atlantic routes as well as on the emigrant run to Australia.

The AEOLUS had been launched in 1899 as the GROSSER KURFURST and departed on her maiden voyage from Bremerhaven to New York on April 26, 1900 before alternating New York with Australasian services. The HURON had been completed in 1896 as the FRIEDRICH DER GROSSE and had made her maiden sailing on May 5, 1900 from Bremerhaven to New York.

Hollywood to Honolulu: the story of the Los Angeles Steamship Company by Gordon Ghareeb and Martin Cox

Extracts from Chapter Two: 1922

With plans for growth already blooming into fruition in spite of industrial strikes dogging the country, LASSCO let out bids for the tropical refitting of their two recently acquired liners.  Not surprisingly the Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Drydock Corporation came in with the lowest estimated cost of renovation and the CITY OF LOS ANGELES (ex GROSSER KURFURST) sailed from New York under the command of Captain Walter Brunnick on June 29th for the seventeen-day trip to California where she arrived on July 16th and went straightaway to berth 104 at the local San Pedro shipyard.  The appearance of the CITY OF LOS ANGELES in her namesake port was met with civic ballyhoo, pomp and flag waving while it was acknowledged in the Los Angeles Times that the liner was the biggest ship to have ever entered the harbor and was also the largest vessel under the American flag in the Pacific Ocean.  The old transatlantic advertising ploy of superimposing ocean liners onto landmark cityscapes to over-accentuate their nautical stature was also invoked and local publications graphically exposited that if dropped onto the metropolis whose name she bore the CITY OF LOS ANGELES,  “would practically fill Broadway between Sixth and Seventh Streets and is as high as the Bradbury Building from the bottom of its keel to the top deck.”

Commanded by Captain Thomas W. Sheridan the CITY OF HONOLULU left the Hudson River on Friday, July 14th 1922 for her delivery voyage to Los Angeles. Since both of the “new” LASSCO steamers were of similar size and design it was expected that once refitted the vessels would make ideal consorts to maintain the proposed fortnightly service between Hawaii and the mainland.  Although of slightly larger dimension the CITY OF LOS ANGELES also had proportionately larger engines and it was planned that the two ships were to make the crossing in seven days, each sailing on the second Saturday of the month, one from Wilmington and one from Honolulu, with arrival on the following Saturday leaving a week in port for turn-around and cargo transshipment before departing for the return voyage on the fourth Saturday of the month.  During their hiatus at Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Drydock the liners had their compound reciprocating steam engines thoroughly overhauled, boilers cleaned, tail shafts pulled for inspection and each ship underwent a complete hull examination.  Already fitted with three refrigerated cargo holds apiece and 41,000-barrel capacity bunkers – enough to steam 17,000 miles without refueling – the vessels were anticipated to haul fresh citrus fruit and fuel oil to the islands while returning with ripe pineapple, bananas and molasses for the mainland.  Externally the ships were painted the familiar white overall with red-lead boot-topping and glossy black funnels.

Appearing in her gray AEOLUS hull, but with the hew name on her bow, the liner SS CITY OF LOS ANGELES arrives in Los Angeles. Author’s collection (Martin Cox/Gordon Ghareeb)

To save time on the already delayed start-up date for the new Hawaiian operation the existing accommodations on the two liners were to be only cosmetically refurbished while any major construction and reconfiguring of the passenger facilities was to take place once the ships were actually chartered or purchased as agreed upon between LASSCO and the United States Shipping Board.  Staterooms intended for the initial start-up service were all outside and only first class were to be carried in the cabin accommodation.  Upper berths in the passenger quarters were reduced giving the eight deluxe suites and 83 staterooms aboard the CITY OF LOS ANGELES beds for 188 travelers while the corresponding six two-room suites and 69 cabins on the CITY OF HONOLULU were able to handle 143 passengers.  First class accommodations aboard both ships were fitted with hot and cold running water, electric fans, bedside reading lights, telephones and almost all had private or semi-private bath and toilet.  Second class areas were to remain unused during the six-month interim phase and only a limited number of third class berths were to be made available aboard each ship.

Built as near sisters the LASSCO liners had similar layouts comprising of four passenger decks while public spaces aboard the pair were worthy matches for each other as well.  On either craft a smoking room, sky-lit music room, and glass covered entrance lobby were all found on B deck, the library on C deck, and the domed dining saloon below on D deck.  The CITY OF LOS ANGELES, due to her slightly larger size, also had an auxiliary lounge at the head of the main staircase on B deck.  In addition to the shipboard games and sunshine offered topside each vessel was also fitted with a complete gymnasium, steam bath and massage facilities aft on A deck.  Although no permanent swimming pool was installed a makeshift outdoor plunge could always be fashioned with oilskin canvas tarps as other companies sailing in the tropics had been doing for years.  Plenty of open and covered deck space was provided for passenger recreation while the forward half of B deck on each ship was glass enclosed to provide a promenade free from tropical trade winds.

LASSCO china and ephemera, Martin Cox collection

No detail was overlooked.  The crockery designed for the new ships was white vitrified ceramic decorated with red hibiscus blossoms and golden California poppies – the official flowers respectively of the island territory and the southwestern state – intertwined on their vines to embrace the green and yellow LASSCO logogram on every piece of fine china used aboard the new liners.  Silver-plated table cutlery bore the name LASSCO stamped into each handle while all other silver service was prominently embossed with the circular company trademark.  Even the individual bars of Palmolive Soap were stamped with the ship’s name and secured in green LASSCO wrappers complete with the corporate emblem.

SS CITY OF LOS ANGELES at Wilmington, Los Angeles, CA. Author’s collection

On September 5th 1922 the CITY OF LOS ANGELES left the San Pedro shipyard, rounded Los Angeles light and worked up speed for her sea trials.  On the bridge was Captain Hans Poulsen, recently transferred from his position as master of the YALE – now under the command of Captain Arthur A. Self – and LASSCO general manager Ralph J. Chandler.  Representing the Federal owners of the liner was E.E. Remsberg, the Southern California district agent for the United States Shipping Board (who also just happened to be the brother-in-law of President Harding).  Fred Baker, president of Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Drydock as well as of LASSCO, and Erle Leaf, likewise vice president of the shipyard and of LASSCO, were also onboard for the gala occasion as were company directors Harry Chandler, General Sherman and John Coverly as well as D.W. Whittier, L.K Whittier and Paul Whittier – the three sons of the ailing Max Whittier representing their father.  Expectations were running high for the gleaming white liner as the bone bit further into her teeth with each increase of the propeller revolution indicator.  The one-day trial run went smoothly as anticipated and the CITY OF LOS ANGELES returned to port and docked that evening at her LASSCO terminal berth 156 in Wilmington to store for the upcoming Hawaiian maiden voyage.  Erle Leaf commented from onboard the dockside flagship that to meet her scheduled sailing date, “Reconditioning of the steamer CITY OF HONOLULU (ex FRIEDRICH DER GROSSE) is being rushed at the yards of the company.”  He continued to explain that considering the success of the CITY OF LOS ANGELES test run, and to expedite her delivery to LASSCO, “The CITY OF HONOLULU will be put into the new Honolulu-Los Angeles express service without the formality of a trial trip.”  One could almost hear the inrush of breath from the island kahunas two time zones to the west.

End of Part One – Martin

Special thanks to my co-author Gordon Ghareeb


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