SS CITY OF HONOLULU’s Maiden Los Angeles Sailing (90 Years Ago)

SS CITY OF HONOLULU ready to undertake her first trip on the new LASSCO service to Hawaii.

Extracts from Chapter Two: September 23, 1922

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

Marking 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)

SS CITY OH HONOLULU (ex HURON) in dressed for maiden voyage September 1922, photo author’s collection

Back at the Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Drydock Corporation the CITY OF HONOLULU was being prepared for her maiden voyage to Hawaii without the benefit of sea trials in spite of the native islander warnings that a ship of this name was a harbinger of bad tidings.  At 7:20 am on the morning of Tuesday, September 19th an explosion aboard the freighter WILLIAM DONOVAN at berth 122 rocked the port and shattered windows throughout San Pedro.  The stricken craft lay barely more than 300 yards across the channel from the CITY OF HONOLULU and there was trepidation in the early minutes of the calamity that the LASSCO steamer was involved.  Six men succumbed to the conflagration aboard the cargo ship and it took five fire truck companies over six hours to suppress the resultant flames.  It was not left unnoticed that the inferno could be interpreted as a pantheistic warning from the Hawaiian deities regarding the second big LASSCO steamer’s anticipated island sailing.  But steamship companies have always been notoriously unaffected by divination and two days later under the command of Captain Harry Lester, formerly master of the HARVARD who had turned command of the coastal vessel over to Captain Fred Irvin Hamma, the CITY OF HONOLULU was brought around from the shipyard to the LASSCO terminal at berth 156 even though a nasty shroud of fog blanketed the harbor.  At noon on the same day the YALE – inbound from San Francisco and two hours behind schedule due to poor visibility – narrowly avoided a collision with the anchored battleship USS CONNECTICUT in the outer harbor.  Picking their way though the tenacious fog bank Captain Arthur Self and the port pilot managed to bring the white flyer into berth 155 without further incident. Sidelong glances and raised eyebrows on the waterfront belied the fact that island superstition may have permeated the thoughts of the modern 20th Century sailor.

Timetable cover for LASSCO’s new service depicting CITY OF HONOLULU.

On Saturday, September 23rd 1922 the CITY OF HONOLULU was ready to undertake her first trip on the new LASSCO service to Hawaii.  As most of the local civic royalty had sailed twelve days before on the CITY OF LOS ANGELES the passenger list for the initial departure of the CITY OF HONOLULU was less than overwhelming.  Among the more recognizable passengers aboard the heavily booked liner were Kelichij Yamasaki (the Japanese consul to Honolulu); B.S. Dennison (official of LASSCO port agents Charles F. Dillingham Company of Honolulu); and Hollywood actors Charles Lang, James Groton and Charles Moffett.  Whereas the CITY OF LOS ANGELES had sailed under sunny skies, the CITY OF HONOLULU’s cast-off was dimmed by an incessant fog bank that had been occupying the port.  At noon the steamer was pulled away from the LASSCO dock amid the expected barrage of colored serpentine streamers and fanfare as the ship’s orchestra played the wistful “Aloha Oe” that had characterized the departure of the flagship earlier in the month.  Captain Harry Lester threaded his way through the fog-bound and anchored “Man O’War Row” navy ships in the outer harbor before rounding the well-known concrete lighthouse and setting course for his command’s namesake port to the west.

Back ground: Built by Vulcan Shipbuilding Corp. Stettin, Germany as FREIDERICH DER GROSSE for North German Lloyd.  Maiden voyage was Bremen to Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, November 21, 1896.  She sailed on both Australian and North Atlantic service then in after 1907 she added the Mediterranean-New York service. FREIDERICH DER GROSSE was interned in New York Harbor in 1914 then seized as a prize of war on April 6, 1917.  Her crew had sabotaged the boilers, she was moved to Robbins Dry Dock Co., Brooklyn for repair.

FREIDERICH DER GROSSE. Photograph in author’s collection

The United States Shipping Board then turned the ship over to the Navy Yard, July 1917.  Renamed HURON September 1, 1917, she became a troop transport for the eight round trips to France before the armistice, then seven more, bringing American soldiers returning from Europe.  Arrived in New York following her last voyage August 23, 1919 and was decommissioned and returned to the United States Shipping Board who sent her to Morse Shipbuilding in Brooklyn for conversion to oil burning. Assigned to Munson Line, her first voyage peace time voyage took her from New York – Buenos Aires, May 15, 1920.  On December 1, 1921 she was chartered to Los Angeles Steamship Co, for delivery the following Spring.

During her brief time with Munson Line HURON in her peace time colors 1920.


End of part four

Book Review: Hollywood to Honolulu: The story of the Los Angeles Steamship Company

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