Hotel ship Catala, moored at Pier 58 during the Century 21 World's Fair, closes on September 17, 1962.

  • By Rita Cipalla
  • Posted 6/27/2023
  • Essay 22748
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On September 17, 1962, the SS Catala closes after a disappointing five-month run as a hotel ship moored at Pier 58. The ship, built in 1925 as part of Union Steamship Ltd., a Canadian line, was purchased by a group of Seattle businessmen and outfitted as a hotel to accommodate visitors to Century 21, Seattle's world's fair. The Catala arrived at Pier 58 on April 5, 1962, and opened for business on April 20, just one day before the Fair began. Although popular, the ship was not highly profitable and the Catala closed a month before the fair ended. The vessel was sold to a couple who intended to repurpose it as a floating restaurant in Venice Beach, California. After a few months, the boat was sold again to a charter fishing company in Ocean Shores, where it remained until a winter storm on New Year's Day 1965 caused catastrophic damage. The shipwreck lay, rotting and rusting, on the beach as an unplanned tourist attraction until it was first salvaged, then fully dismantled in 2007.

Canadian Roots

Built in 1925 in Montrose, Scotland, and originally part of the Union Steamship Ltd. fleet, the Catala carried miners, loggers, and adventurers up and down the Canadian coastal waterway, primarily calling at isolated towns between Victoria and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. From 1958 to 1961, the vessel was owned by several other Canadian firms. In 1961, it was sold to a group of Seattle businessmen who intended to refurbish the ship and moor it on the Seattle waterfront to serve as a floating hotel for the thousands of visitors expected to arrive for the Seattle World's Fair. The owners of Catala Enterprises, Inc., were Murdock D. MacPherson (1921-2016), president; James R. Soley, vice president; F. Melville Milby, secretary; and W. R. MacPherson, treasurer. All were affiliated with MacPherson Realty, a local real estate firm.

Although the Fair was to run only six months (April 21, 1962 – October 21, 1962), Catala's owners expected the "boat-el" to do extremely well and signed a lease at $440 a month to berth at Pier 58 through September 1964. As a bonus, the pier could accommodate 45 cars.

The 229-foot Catala arrived in the U. S. in December 1961, where crews were hired to outfit it as a hotel. Approximately 70 staterooms (reports varied from 70 to 75) were rented at an "economy rate" of $16 for two guests or $20 for four ("Acapulco Cuts Tab on Rooms, Food"). The ship also offered a dining room, cocktail lounge, and cabaret space. The dining room, known as the Chartroom, offered lunches starting at $1.35; dinners cost $3 to $5.

Hotelship Row

The Catala arrived at Pier 58 on April 5, 1962, and prepared to open on April 20, but a few days before the ship was to accept guests, maritime union employees picketed the vessel in what was called a "'jurisdictional dispute.' [Catala's owners] started to staff their ship-hotel with members of the Hotel, Motel and Club Service Employees Union Local 551, and immediately got picketed by the sea-going Marine Cooks' and Stewards' Union, Sailors' Union of the Pacific, and the Marine Firemens Union" ("Judge Halts Picketing ..."). Superior Court Judge Story Birdseye ruled that the moored ship was a hotel, not a ship, and prohibited the maritime unions from picketing.

With that situation resolved, plans proceeded for the grand opening on April 19, 1962. The celebration featured two dancers performing the twist while accompanied by a Scottish bagpipe band, a nod to the ship's Scottish origins. The SS Catala was now officially open.

The Catala was one of three hotel ships berthed on the Seattle central waterfront during the World's Fair. The others were the Acapulco, a Mexican liner, moored at Pier 70, and the Dominion Monarch, which was at Pier 50. Joining them were the Yarmouth at Pier 66, which ferried passengers up and down the coast from San Francisco, and the Princess Marguerite, which offered a shuttle service to the fair from Victoria, British Columbia, arriving each night and departing the next morning. Local reporters dubbed the stretch of waterfront Hotel Ship Row. 

The boat-els seemed to appeal to a certain type of traveler. "Many of the floating hotel's patrons are visitors from inland states whose experience with saltwater is limited to the soaking of tired feet. They find living aboard a bobbing hotel the best of two worlds" ("World's Fair Floating Hotels ...").

Disappointing Returns

Novelty factor notwithstanding, by June all three ships reported they were disappointed with their returns. The owners blamed it on officials of the fair whose projections of a housing shortage never materialized. Despite reducing costs for meals and rooms, the situation did not improve.

"Operators of the SS Catala also have been disappointed with patronage since they brought their ship to Pier 58 shortly before the Fair opened:... Patronage is improving and the Catala is about 75 per cent full now. However, in her first weeks, there were nights when the Catala was almost empty. Chief Purser David Rhind blames this on the fact that the hotelship is 'off the beaten path' for hotel seekers and lacked the advantage of having been in business over the years" ("Acapulco Cuts Tab on Rooms, Food").

Seattle boosters, however, were enthusiastic about the floating hotels' impact on the waterfront. In a Seattle Times editorial, the board lauded

"the measurably large contribution that the various floating hotels have made to enlivening the Seattle scene during the exposition. The Acapulco, Dominion Monarch and Catala engendered much publicity for the community, and give color and atmosphere to our waterfront, which otherwise would be lacking ... The departure of these ships will leave a void which should be a reminder to public officials, labor unions and the community at large that efforts must be mounted to regain our position as a major world port" ("Ships That Enliven Our Waterfront").

In September, Catala Enterprises, Inc. decided to close the hotel ship early. The vessel was sold to a Los Angeles couple, Mr. and Mrs. Earl Back, owners of a real estate company. The Backs intended to operate it as a floating restaurant and nightclub in Venice, California. They paid about $150,000 for the Catala, outbidding several other buyers; the Catala was towed out of port on September 28, 1962. 

Ocean Shores Curiosity

The Catala was used as a floating restaurant for only a few months, then was resold and moved to Ocean Shores, Washington, where it served for two years as the lead vessel in a charter fishing-boat operation. But on New Year's Day 1965, during low tide, a severe winter storm blew in. Seventy mile-an-hour winds washed water up and over the boat, causing extensive damage. "Sand was scoured out from under her starboard side, and piled up under her port bilge keep. When the tide went out, the Catala came down, tilted, and filled with water" ("Elements Give Resort Its Own Shipwreck"). The boat was left at a 30-degree angle, wedged in the sand. As a beachfront oddity, the shipwreck drew hundreds of visitors each month. Many risked injury to climb aboard the listing hulk. "It was looted, set on fire, partied on and written on for 20 years" ("Shipwreck Emerges from Shifting Sands").

In 1976, Stephen Kaliman bought salvage rights to the boat, a move that irked Ocean Shore residents. "They think of the Catala as a community heritage. But she sits on state land, and the City of Ocean Shores isn't about to accept ownership – or liability – for the accidents that might result from tourists prowling about such a rusty, listing 'attractive nuisance'" ("Prudhoe Winter Vets Due Today").

After usable parts were salvaged, the Catala was left to decay on the beach at Damon Point on Protection Island. A lawsuit arose in the late 1980s, caused when a young girl fell through a rusted portion of the deck, breaking her back. The state ordered the wreck be cut up and buried.

Even after that, the Catala continued to haunt the Pacific Coast after a series of storms exposed enough of the ship to make it once again a shorefront curiosity. "The once-buried hulk of the SS Catala was first exposed by erosion in the winter of 2002 and was further uncovered Feb. 4 [2006] by high winds and seas that rearranged beaches at Damon Point State Park" ("Shipwreck Emerges From Shifting Sands"). This time, it took about a year for crews to completely remove sludge from the ship's oil tanks. In 2007, the last large pieces of the Catala were removed from Damon Point.


"Judge Halts Picketing at Fair Hotel Ship," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 19, 1962, p. 8; "Floating Hotels Due This Week, Ibid., May 27, 1962, p. L-28; Don Page, "Acapulco Cuts Tab on Rooms, Food," Ibid., June 19, 1962, p. 4; Charles Dunsire, "World's Fair Floating Hotels Joining Sea-Going Tradition, Land Customs," (Pictorial Review) Ibid., June 24, 1962, p. 5; "Hotelship Catala to L. A. Pair," Ibid., September 4, 1962, p. 31; "Elements Give Resort Its Own Shipwreck," (Pacific Northwest Magazine) Ibid., May 2, 1965, p. 3; Don Page, "Prudhoe Winter Vets Due Today," Ibid., September 2, 1976, p. E-4; "Shipwreck Oil Isn't Much of a Treasure," Ibid., August 13, 1979, p. A-6; Doug Esser, "Shipwreck Emerges from Shifting Sands," Ibid., March 13, 2006, p. B-2; "Canadian Ship to Be Hotel During Fair," The Seattle Times, December 7, 1961, p. 25; "Hotel Ship Nearly Ready for Business, Ibid., April 5, 1962, p. C-9; "Ships That Enliven Our Waterfront" (editorial), Ibid., August 12, 1962, p. 8; "Catala," Nauticapedia: The Virtual Maritime Museum of Western North America website accessed May 30, 2023 (; Erich Ebel, "The Wreck of the S. S. Catala," December 2, 2019, Washington Our Home website accessed May 31, 2023 (

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