The sight of her felt so wrong it hurt. High and dry, a boat with Long Beach history was ditched by the side of the road. There she was, unceremoniously dragged onto dry land.
On the Garden Highway north of Sacramento, there was barely enough room to pull to the side of the road to get a closer look. Abandoned and unloved, protected by hand drawn “Keep Out” signs, was the shell of a boat that had seen better days — in Long Beach.
During her prime the glamorous paddle wheeler sailed out of Long Beach’s Pierpoint Landing. Judge Gerald Desmond officiated a wedding on board in 1962, Burl Ives performed a one-man show as Mark Twain on her, and locals chartered her for proms, corporate events and class reunions.
Peninsula resident Janet Lichtenhan hosted an Alamitos Bay Garden Club luncheon on board in 1966 (the same year she served as Den Mother for my husband’s Cub Scout Pack). Lichtenhan directed the riverboat to dock at Christman's in Alamitos Bay so the members could walk to the dock. That worked out so well that several groups chartered her for Naples boat parade parties over the years.
City leaders chartered her to take dignitaries on oil island tours — docking on Long Beach YC’s long dock.
She was the star of the city’s annual Sea Festival in October 1966, when she raced in a match against San Pedro’s Ports O’ Call M/V Princess side-wheeler. Sternwheeler Mansion Belle won the grudge race and bragging rights. Both boats sold tickets for passengers to be on board during the “race.”
She was built in 1942 at Berkeley Steel Construction Company as an Army Corps of Engineers snag boat named the Putah and only drew two feet. Snag boats would go up and down the river removing obstructions from the river bottom to clear the stumps and other items to clear the way — like an on the water snow plow.
In 1950, John Wayne bought the Putah for the 1955 anti-communist movie "Blood Alley," starring Wayne with Lauren Bacall as the love interest. The movie’s production crew built a superstructure that was blown up as a part of filming.
After the filming, in 1956 Wayne sold the boat to Sacramento businessman Frank Parisi, who renamed her Mansion Belle and ran river cruises in Sacramento, with a two-year stint in Portland. They left the dock at 7 p.m. each evening and returned at 1:40 a.m. the next morning. Fare was $2.50.
In 1981, Buccaneer Cruises owned, operated and renamed her Showboat out of Ports O’ Call Village. Ten years later, Channel Star Excursions purchased her, moved her back to the delta and renamed her Spirit of Sacramento, running dinner cruises until a fire destroyed the upper decks in 1996.
That’s when Bill Barker purchased the burnt-out hull of the Spirit of Sacramento for about $120,000. It was reported that he spent half a million rebuilding the three decks, with a plan to either run her as a second Grand Romance or to make her a restaurant at Rio Ramaza Marina. (His first riverboat of the same name was based in Long Beach’s Rainbow Harbor for almost 18 years.)
Time had not been kind to the former Sprit of Sacramento. Neither were vandals. Finally, maritime officials expressed concerns the aging boat would break free and wreak havoc along the river. State officials dragged the once-grand vessel out the water where she was half submerged onto the adjacent land. She still sits there today, like a roadside freak show.
Since many regattas have been cancelled, I’ve been tracking down boats with Long Beach history. If you know of any vessels that are in hiding today, that have local history, please email me at Jo@Joventure.com.
The past two On The Water columns, July 17 and 24, by Jo Murray dealt with stories about multiple paddle-wheel boats, with emphasis on the Grand Romance, which spent 18 years in Long Beach's Rainbow Harbor. Grand Romance owner Bill Barker and employee Rich Charley dispute several comments and facts.
In the July 17 column, they say the Reuben E. Lee was built in Wilmington, not the Todd Shipyards in Long Beach, and that it was dismantled, not sunk. Barker said he was rebuilding the Grand Romance and wants to bring it back to Long Beach, not cruise the Napa River. He also said gambling charges on another of his boats based in Sacramento were made in error.
In the July 24 column, Charley and Barker say the pictured boat was not the Spirit of Sacramento Barker owned; that boat burned up in 1990. When in Southern California, that boat, then called Showboat, docked at Ports of Call in San Pedro, not Pierpoint Landing in Long. Beach. Barker did say he is attempting to recreate a Spirit of Sacramento.