Cruising on the SS Yale and the SS Harvard between San Francisco and Los Angeles during the “Roaring Twenties”!

Cruising on the SS Yale and the SS Harvard between San Francisco and Los Angeles during the “Roaring Twenties”!

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The SS Yale and SS Harvard became known as “white Flyers of the Pacific”! The sister ships each made four sailings a week, carrying 565 First Class passengers at an average speed of 23 knots between the two major California cities. The fast coastal ships provided an overnight cruise on the Pacific. They were a very popular way for traveling between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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The Yale and Harvard in Los Angeles Harbor.

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Coastwise sailings on the Yale and Harvard.

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USC students head north for a Stanford vs. USC football game.

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The Harvard sails from San Francisco.

  • The ships began their careers on the East Coast, making fast runs between New York and Boston before being brought for service on the West Coast in 1910.

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Souvenir menu from the SS Yale

  • They were immediate successes, outclassing their  West Coast competition, but the service came to an abrupt halt toward the end of World War 1 when U.S. Navy purchased both ships for use as troop transports.

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Sailing aboard the SS Yale 

The “White Flyers” in the “Roaring Twenties.”

The Los Angeles Steamship Company (LASSCO), backed by Harry and Ralph Chandler, owners of the Los Angeles Times, bought the Yale and Harvard back from the government in 1920. The new owners rebuilt and refurbished the Yale and Harvard.

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Accommodations on the Yale and Harvard

With an 18-hour overnight schedule between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Yale and Harvard resumed service in 1921. The two sister ships were the only way to travel in style between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

  • California residents regarded it as an entertaining, as well as a comfortable, clean, restful and refreshing, way to travel.
  • The ocean voyage proved a romantic getaway for many.

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On the Sun Deck

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Sailing into San Francisco

  • The coastal ships were a welcome alternative to the 12-hour train ride between Los Angeles and San Francisco aboard nonair-conditioned and dusty trains.
  • The competitive fares included transportation, entertainment, accommodations, and meals.

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Heading north on to a football game and newspaper ads

  • For tourists to California, the trip was a highlight of a western tour, enabling those who had never experienced ocean travel to “sail on the Pacific.”
  • The ships featured a veranda cafe ballroom and a ship’s orchestra to dancing, observation lounge, music room, writing room, smoking room (a bar after prohibition ended in 1932) along with a spacious and popular sun deck.

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The all-girl dance orchestra

  • The large dining provided all meals with large menus featuring fresh dairy and farm products, choice cuts of prime meats, choicest seafood, delicious fruits and all in abundance prepared by master chefs and served by skillful and attentive stewards.
  • The ships were 407 feet long overall, with a beam of 61.3 feet and a gross tonnage of 3,818. They were oil-burners and driven by triple-screw turbine engines of 11,500 horse-power. The ships had a capacity of 488 first class passengers.
  • A wide choice of stateroom accommodations was provided, ranging from standard inside and outside rooms to spacious deluxe quarters with cabins and suites with private bath.

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Boat train and steamship ticket for the Yale to San Francisco

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Pacific Electric Special Train and Parlor Car

Partly because California was attracting population rapidly, the Los Angeles Steamship Company did well in the 1920’s. The company reached its peak of 129,000 passengers in 1929, and the following year announced plans for a second pair of express liners to allow the frequency to be increased from four times weekly to daily.

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The Yale docks in San Francisco

But the Great Depression intervened to prevent these plans, and finally to kill the service entirely.

The 1930s, tragedy for the Harvard and the Yale goes it alone.

LASSCO became unprofitable in 1930 and was sold to the Matson Line, with which it had competed on Hawaiian service from Los Angeles.

June 1931: Aerial photo of wreckage of S.S. Harvard after May 30, 1931 gounding in fog at Point Arguello.

Aerial photo of the wreckage of the S.S. Harvard after May 30, 1931, ran aground in fog at Point Arguello.

Wreck of S.S. Harvard is taken in aerial photo two weeks after the passenger ship ran agound in fog at Point Arguello. The forward third of ship had already broken off.

Wreck of S.S. Harvard is taken in aerial photo two weeks after the passenger ship ran aground in fog at Point Arguello. The forward third of ship had already broken off.

After only some eight months of Matson control, the Harvard ran aground off Point Arguello as a result of an error in navigation on May 30, 1931, and shortly broke up. There was no loss of life, but the accident left the Yale without a partner on the coastwise service.

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The S.S. Iroquois was chartered to join the Yale but it didn’t work out.

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Postal Menu from the S.S. Iroquois

After 1931, the Yale ran alone, and with increasing unprofitability. By the mid-1930’s, she was running up costs well over double the revenues. Service was suspended on October 1, 1935, but resumed for the summer season of 1936. The resumption proved misguided, and the Yale was withdrawn permanently on July 6, 1936.

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Fares were cut during the Great Depression.

By the mid-1930’s, she was running up costs well over double the revenues. Service was suspended on October 1, 1935, but resumed for the summer season of 1936. The resumption proved misguided, and the Yale was withdrawn permanently on July 6, 1936.

Service was suspended on October 1, 1935, but resumed for the summer season of 1936. The resumption proved misguided, and the Yale was withdrawn permanently on July 6, 1936.

Bringing back service didn’t work, and the Yale was retired permanently on July 6, 1936.

The Yale was laid up at Antioch, California until she was taken to Alaska for use as a barracks ship for construction workers at an air base on Kodiak Island during World War 2. Subsequently, she ran between Dutch Harbor and Kodiak.

She returned to the San Francisco Bay she knew so well for scrapping in 1949.

Coastal cruises today.

Today, all of the major cruise lines offer coastal service between Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco and Canada. These are usually repositioning Alaska cruises during the Spring and Fall. Many cruise lines are also offering coastal cruises, with a visit to Ensenada, during the Winter months.

But it is impossible for foreign flag vessels to transport passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco, or any American port, because of the Jones Act.

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White Flyers, coastal cruises California, cruise history, SS Yale, SS Harvard. Los Angeles Steamship Company, Los Angeles Times, Harry Chandler, Ralph Chandler, World War 1, World War 2, night boats

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About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…