Watch: The Cement Ship’s losing battle against a raging ocean at Seacliff State Beach

The iconic WWI "Cement Ship" off the Aptos coast.
The combination of high tides and huge swells did extensive damage to the pier at Seacliff State Beach and the iconic Cement Ship that lies off the Aptos coast.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Mother Nature brought her wrath to the Santa Cruz County coast Thursday morning, and one of the most notable victims was the historic Cement Ship off Seacliff State Beach.

Lookout’s Kevin Painchaud was on the scene to capture the damage.

But first, a little history ...

What locals know today as the Cement Ship is officially named the SS Palo Alto, a concrete ship built for action in World War I (a steel shortage at the time compelled the military to look for alternative materials for shipbuilding). However, the war ended before the Palo Alto could ship out to Europe.

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It remained in mothballs at a Navy shipyard in Oakland for about 10 years before it was hauled to Aptos in 1929 by a private entrepreneur who came up with the brilliant idea to turn into a party boat, with (as hard as it is to fathom today) a casino, a ballroom, a restaurant and a swimming pool.

The heyday of the SS Palo Alto lasted only a couple of short years. The Great Depression doomed the ship and it was closed in 1932. A few years later, the state of California purchased the ship and made it a part of Seacliff State Beach. The price the state paid for the ship? One U.S. dollar.

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Since then, the ship, which recently marked its centennial, has taken one ruinous battering after another from the indifferent Pacific Ocean, a war that the ocean will inevitably win. For a great history lesson on the cement ship in song, check out Steve Forbert’s tune “Palo Alto.”

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