S.S. Palo Alto Centennial

100 years celebrated for Seacliff State Beach's S.S. Palo Alto

The beloved “Cement Ship” at Seacliff State Beach marked 100 years in the water — and 90 years off the coast of Aptos — in 2019. Three special events were held to commemorate the centennial of the S.S. Palo Alto.

  • History Talk, Saturday, May 18: We learned about the building of the S.S. Palo Alto and how it came to Seacliff State Beach. The talk was hosted by the Aptos History Museum at Rio Sands Hotel in Rio del Mar.
  • Musical Tribute, Sunday, May 19: The Cabrillo Symphonic Winds performed a concert of band music with a special tribute to the Cement Ship at Cabrillo College’s Crocker Theater.
  • Centennial Celebration, Saturday, June 1: We celebrated the S.S. Palo Alto at Seacliff State Beach with music, dancing, children’s activities, arts and crafts, food (sold by Taquitos Gabriel’s) and the unveiling of a commemorative historic plaque. Learn more.

The S.S. Palo Alto, one of a few cement ships built during World War I, has been a popular attraction for visitors since it was put in place in 1930. The plan was to turn the ship and the pier into an amusement and fishing ship. The Cal-Nevada Company quickly constructed a dance floor on the main deck, a cafe in the superstructure of the ship, a 4-foot-deep heated swimming pool and a series of carnival type concessions on the aft deck. Richard Cliff Porter was one of the men involved in the enterprise. Read his grandson’s recollections of Porter here.

Unfortunately, the Cal-Nevada Company went bankrupt after only two seasons. The ship was then stripped — leaving the pier and the ship to be used only for fishing and as a nature preserve.

The deteriorating ship was closed to foot traffic in 2000. Winter storms in 2016 and 2017 turned the stern of the ship over onto its side and damaged the far end of the pier.

Still beloved, the S.S. Palo Alto today is a haven for wildlife above and below the water line, and has begun a new life as a thriving habitat.