Monday, November 7, 2011

The ISLANDER, a ferry in Los Angeles Harbor

The ISLANDER making its way across the Main Channel in Los Angeles Harbor, about 1957.

Did you know that 70 years ago, a round-trip ferry boat ride in Southern California was worth just 10 cents? This year, 2011, is the seventieth anniversary of the Los Angeles Municipal Ferry Service. Its ferries carried people and cars from the city of San Pedro to Terminal Island, a piece of land that connects together the maritime industries of Los Angeles and Long Beach along a shared waterfront. The ferry began its cross-channel trips in 1941 and made its last trip in 1963 when a brand-new route opened, The Vincent Thomas Bridge, which spanned the waters of the channel and relegated its ferry service to the historical background. Today, ferries are not well-known in this city, but you can still see and ride ferries in other cities in California, as well as in Oregon and Washington, and other states around the U.S.

"Channel Crossings: Work, School and Play"--a new exhibit on the history of the Los Angeles Municipal Ferry Service.

Los Angeles Maritime Museum Curator Emma Lang in front of panels in the new exhibit.

Emma recounts the social history behind the exhibit:

"When I was hired as the new curator I was given the task of developing an exhibit about our building—the former Municipal Ferry Terminal—and history of the ferries who crossed the Main Channel of LA Harbor prior to the building of the Vincent Thomas Bridge. I quickly discovered that other than the building itself we have very few objects in our collection from the ferries or the building’s early days. How could I make an exhibit that was not dominated by images with so few objects to choose from? I went back to my training as a social historian and focused in on the people. Who walked through our doors? Who took the ferry? Where were they going? What were they talking about? What did they carry as they went to work? From those questions I developed the main cases of the exhibit which tell the story of Terminal Island and people who lived and worked there. There are still many images in the exhibit showing the evolution of the ferry service and our building but there is also a yearbook open to a page full of students who took the ferry to school, a pay stub that was carried by a cannery worker home from work on the ferry and a longshoreman’s hook used on the docks on Terminal Island. These objects are as much the story of the ferry services as the life ring from the ferry ISLANDER and the building itself."

Visit the Los Angeles Maritime Museum to see more on the ISLANDER and our ferry service as it once was.