Ursula’s Hawaiian Adventure

I just ordered a hardcover book called Hollywood to Honolulu, The Story of the Los Angeles Steamship Company. I can’t wait to see the photographs and read about the ships Ursula sailed on to and from Hawaii. In the meantime, from the book’s promotional material, below is a description of the joyful L.A. harbor departure that Ursula and her friend Elizabeth would have experienced on January 14, 1928:

S.S. City of Honolulu

The S.S. City of Honolulu

“For over a decade during the Roaring Twenties, a great white ocean liner would sail from berth 156 in Los Angeles every Saturday. The pier was packed with waving and cheering people looking up at the happy passengers crowding the railings. The vessel’s band on deck played jazz tunes and popular favorites. The captain stood forward on the bridge wing watching the lowering of the gangway amid a hail of colored streamers and confetti. The liner’s whistle would blow at noon, raising the cheering to a higher pitch as the band played ‘Aloha Oe.’ Slowly the great mass of the liner inched away from the dock.”

cloche hats 1920s

Cloche hats were popular in the 1920s

Can’t you just see Ursula leaning over the ship’s railing, laughing with excitement, one hand on cloche hat while waving with the other to her smiling, yet tearful, mother down on the dock?

In my last post, I imagined Ursula aboard the S.S. City of Honolulu sipping cocktails with Elizabeth and young gentlemen admirers. Despite Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933, many of the ship’s passengers would have indeed enjoyed imbibing. According to a Los Angeles Times article about the vessel’s sister ship, S.S. City of Los Angeles:

Elizabeth Everyhardy passport photo

Ursula’s friend Elizabeth Everhardy (1924 passport photo)

“During Prohibition, travelers had a strong reason to board a ship that made a monthly voyage. Although liquor was supposedly banned from the ship, the City of Los Angeles held nightly cocktail parties in a library devoid of books.”

After six days at sea aboard the City of Honolulu, one of the first sights Ursula would have seen as the luxurious liner approached Honolulu Harbor was the new 10-story Aloha Tower. Built in 1926 to welcome arriving passenger ships, this lighthouse/clock tower was the tallest structure in Hawaii at the time, and still stands today as a historic landmark and iconic symbol of Hawaiians’ hospitality.

Illustration of the S.S. City of Honolulu arriving in Honolulu Harbor, with the Aloha Tower depicted on the right

Vintage illustration of the S.S. City of Honolulu arriving in Honolulu Harbor, with the Aloha Tower depicted on the right

In his interesting paper “Creating ‘Paradise of the Pacific’: How Tourism Began in Hawaii,” University of Hawai’i professor James Mak describes the over-the-top welcome Ursula, Elizabeth, and their fellow passengers would have received as their ship neared the shore on January 20, 1928:

SS_City_of_Honolulu_Illustration

Vintage illustration of the S.S. City of Honolulu entering Honolulu Harbor

“Reminiscent of ‘Steamer Days’ from many decades earlier, ‘Boat Days’ would be celebrated beginning in the late 1920s to welcome passenger liners arriving at the Aloha Tower in Honolulu. Ships were met by swarms of lei-bearing greeters, newspaper reporters were on hand to interview dignitaries, female dancers performed hula to Hawaiian music played by the Royal Hawaiian Band, and outrigger canoes and coin divers circled the ships. Each arrival became a festive occasion, and it has been reported that many locals left work early to take part in the festivities.”

Unfortunately, there are no photographs from Ursula’s Hawaiian adventure, but here is a short home movie (with period music) taken by another tourist visiting Hawaii that same year; Ursula probably saw some of these same or similar sights:

Film highlights include entering Honolulu Harbor (at the beginning); ­hula dancing (2:18); ‘Iolani Palace (4:24); coastline (5:20); beautiful park-like grounds of a hotel (5:35); Hawaiian boy diving and catching coin (5:48); majestic palm tree (6:10); sugar cane plantation (6:22); and driving in the mountains (7:21).

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Hawaii-Bound

Brady_BunchWhen I was a kid, I loved “The Brady Bunch” episode where the family travels to Hawaii. I have wanted to visit the “Aloha State” ever since, but, alas, have not made it there yet. But Ursula has!

When she was 26, Ursula and her long-time friend Elizabeth Everhardy embarked on a trip to Hawaii aboard the S.S. City of Honolulu on January 14, 1928. I learned this from the California, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1882-1959 that I accessed on Ancestry.com. For some reason, the ship’s manifest lists Ursula’s age as 20 and birth date as June 4, 1908 instead of June 9, 1902. Perhaps it was a mistake, or perhaps Ursula was trying to pass herself off as a younger woman!

Passenger list

S.S. “City of Honolulu” passenger list with Ursula departing Los Angeles on January 14, 1928

Unfortunately, the antique photo albums have yielded no pictures of Ursula’s Hawaiian holiday, nor have I found any information online about her time there. However, the ships she traveled on to and from Honolulu have fascinating histories. In this post, we learn about the ship she sailed on to Hawaii.

SS-kiautschouBuilt in Germany in 1899 for a German shipping company called Hamburg America Line, the ship Ursula and Elizabeth sailed on was originally named the S.S. Kiautschou, after a German colony in China. It initially traveled between Hamburg, Germany and East Asia. In 1904, the ship was traded for five freighters to another German company. Renamed the S.S. Prinzess Alice, it spent the next 10 years traveling between Bremen, Germany; Suez Canal; East Asia; New York; and Cherbourg, France.

S.S. "Prinzess Alice"

S.S. “Prinzess Alice,” German-owned, sailed 1904-1914, seized by the U.S. in 1917

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the S.S. Prinzess Alice was interned in the Philippines. The United States seized it three years later and renamed it the U.S.S. Princess Matoika—a variation on the spelling of the birth name of Pocahontas, and meaning “flower between two streams.” According to a book by Wikipedia, the German crew did not sabotage the ship before its seizure, “unlike most other German ships interned by the US.”

As a transport ship for the US Navy during WWI, it carried more than 50,000 US troops to and from France from 1918 to 1919. It was decommissioned in September 1919, then operated as a US Army transport, continuing to return healthy and wounded troops and repatriating the remains of Americans killed overseas during the war. The following year, it carried much of the US team to the 1920 summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.

U.S.S. Princess Matoika, 1919

U.S.S. Princess Matoika, 1919

But wait—there’s more! The ship was chartered to the U.S. Mail Steamship Company, and in 1921 began service for civilians between New York and Italy. More adventures ensued. While carrying about 2,000 Italian immigrants to the United States on its first return trip from Italy, Princess Matoika reportedly hit an iceberg off Newfoundland, but was not seriously damaged. On the ship’s third and final return voyage from Italy, the Wikipedia book notes:

“U.S. Customs Service agents at New York seized $150,000 worth of cocaine—along with valuable silks and jewels—being smuggled into the United States. Officials speculated that because of a maritime strike, members of a smuggling ring were able to infiltrate the crew of the ship.”

Palestine_AdThe ship changed hands a couple more times, was renamed the S.S. President Arthur, and purchased in 1924 by American Palestine Line, reportedly the first Jewish-owned and operated steamship company. After being refurbished, the ship sailed on its maiden voyage to Palestine in 1925. President Arthur was claimed to have been the first ocean liner to fly the Zionist flag at sea and the first to have female officers.

Finally, the Los Angeles Steamship Company acquired the ship in August 1926 for future service between Los Angeles and Hawaii. The vessel was docked in LA and underwent a $2,500,000 rebuild over the next eight months. Renamed the S.S. City of Honolulu, it set sail on its maiden voyage June 4, 1927, just two days after Ursula’s 26th birthday and seven months before she and Elizabeth stepped aboard.

City of Honolulu could accommodate around 450 first-class passengers (which the young women were) and 50 third-class. This is the luxurious setting in which Ursula and Elizabeth spent six days at sea, arriving at the Port of Honolulu January 20, 1928 (text from Wikipedia: Featured Articles, “Voyage: Inspired by Jules Verne”):

“[City of Honolulu’s] hull was painted all white…, and she sported period designs in her common areas. The dining room, large enough to seat 300 in a single sitting, was decorated in a Grecian theme, and featured 18 stained glass windows designed by San Diego architect Carleton M. Winslow. The smoking room was done up in a Tudor style; the music room was decorated in a combined French and Italian Renaissance manner; and the writing room was in Adam style. The suites were all done in either Adam, Queen Anne, or Louis XVI styles. The ship featured six passenger elevators, and a swimming pool patterned on a Pompeian design. One of the few remaining traces of her pre-war German decoration was the rosewood railing on her grand staircase.”

SS_City_of_HonoluluDuring its brief, three-year career as a tropical ocean liner, City of Honolulu carried a number of notable passengers, including movie stars, sports figures, an arctic explorer, a chewing gum magnate, Stradivarius instrument dealer (and three Stradivarius violins), government officials, Hull House founder and settlement house pioneer Jane Addams, and singer Al Jolson.

But to me, the SS City of Honolulu’s most notable guest was Ursula Claire Cheshire. I imagine her floating down the grand staircase in an elegant evening gown, sipping cocktails and trading bon mots with Elizabeth and some young gentlemen admirers, and even playing the piano and singing in the music room, sharing her lovely voice with fellow passengers on their way to a tropical paradise.

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