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About Seacliff State Beach
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History of Seacliff State Beach
The Ohlone Indians thrived for thousands of years on the area’s natural resources. The riches of the ocean, rivers and forests provided plentiful sources of food, from fish, shellfish and game to edible plants and seeds. The Ohlone, creative craftspeople known for ornate shell and feather adornments, continue their ancient crafts and traditions today. Spanish colonization led to the
establishment of Mission Santa Cruz. After Mexico broke away from Spain in 1821, the land was subdivided into Mexican land grants (ranchos). Seacliff, known by 1833 as Rancho Aptos, developed into a bustling shipping port with the building of the Castro-Spreckels wharf. In the 1850s, Thomas Fallon acquired part of Rancho Soquel and turned it into a resort named New Brighton, in honor of his favorite English seaside retreat.
In 1910 a Norwegian civil engineer named Fougner thought of using concrete to build ships. It wasn't until 1917, when wartime steel shortages required the use of cement for construction that Fougner's idea was used. Three concrete ships were built. Two, the Peralta and the Palo Alto, were built at the U.S. Naval Shipyard in Oakland, California while the third, the Faith, was built in a shipyard in Redwood City, California. The Peralta and the Palo Alto were built for wartime use as tankers, however World War One ended before ship construction was finished -- so they were never used.
The Palo Alto remained docked in Oakland until 1929, when the Cal-Nevada Company bought the ship with the idea of making her into an amusement and fishing ship. Her maiden voyage was made under tow to Seacliff State Beach. Once positioned at the beach, the sea cocks were opened and the Palo Alto settled to the ocean bottom. By the summer of 1930 a pier had been built leading to the ship, the ship was remodeled. A dance floor on the main deck was added, also a cafe in the superstructure was built, as was a fifty-four foot heated swimming pool, and a series of carnival type concessions were placed on the afterdeck. A neon sign at the top of the bluff at Seacliff simply read The Ship. Thousands dined at the Fish Palace, with its spectacular ocean view on three sides. In the elegant Rainbow Ballroom, diners then danced on a new white ash floor. Unfortunately, the Seacliff Amusement Corporation went bankrupt after only two seasons of dining and dancing, thwarting future plans for expansion. Today, the stripped and abandoned Palo Alto is unsafe and closed to the public, but the pier leading to the ship is open for fishing.