The Avalon’s Long History
By James Donahue
The fire that destroyed the steamship Avalon at Long Beach, California, on July 18, 1960, spelled
the end of a long and historic run for the 269-foot steel-hulled ship that was launched at Cleveland, Ohio, in 1891
This ship was first named the Virginia. It was built and designed as a passenger steamer for the Goodrich
Transit Company carrying passengers between Chicago and Milwaukee.
In 1893, during the Chicago World’s Fair, the Virginia and the famed whaleback passenger liner
Christopher Columbus made headlines when the captains became involved in a midnight race that led to a deadly boiler explosion
on the Columbus. Two sailors died and six others were seriously burned in the blast.
When America went to war in 1918, the Navy requisitioned the Virginia and converted it fokr use as
a troop transport. She was renamed the USS Blue Ridge when the ship entered the high seas. Before renovations were completed,
however, the war ended in 1919 and the ship was sold as government surplus to William Wrigley Jr. and the Wilmington Transportation
Company and brought to the West Coast where it was given its final name, Avalon. There it was put on a regular two-hour daytime
excursion run between Catalina Island and Los Angeles.
Also on the run with Avalon were the steamers Catalina and Cabrillo.
Catalina Island was a popular tourist mica in the 1920s, built and maintained by Wrigley, who headed
the Wrigley chewing gun operations.
The Avalon was considered among the finest ships in the excursion fleet. She was fast, plush and comfortable,
and could carry up to 3,000 passengers on a single trip. This ship was estimated to have made thousands of crossings to Catalina
during those years.
The Second World War broke out and the ship was again requisitioned by the government for military
service. There is no record of it ever being used as a troop transport, however. After the war it was returned to its owners,
who retired it in 1951.
The old ship was sold for scrap and its machinery and most of the superstructure was removed. On July
18, 1960, a fire gutted what remained of the ship. The hulk was bought by James and Jerry Kryda and James Adams, the hull
cut to the water line, and a large crane mounted on the stern. It was rumored that the old hulk was used in wreck salvage
off Point Vicente.
A storm on September 16, 1964, spelled the end of the Avalon. The anchor chain broke, the hulk drifted
until it sank in 70 feet of water off Palos Verdes, California.