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The History of Aptos’ “Cement Ship”

By Carolyn Swift

I’ve read about but never before looked closely at photographs of the “cement ship” Palo Alto before and after it was brought to Seacliff and restored as an entertainment attraction.

The USS Palo Alto on the ocean.

The ship was built in 1919 for use during World War I, but the war ended and it was “mothballed” in Oakland.

Bought by Seacliff developers and towed to Aptos a decade later, the ship was outfitted with a dancing ballroom, swimming pool, and restaurants.

It is NOT true that it was used for gambling or had pinball machines. It did not, because it was illegal.

Nor were alcoholic beverages served, since during Prohibition, these were also illegal. (Wink-wink.)

Aptos’ “Cement Ship” docked and still in good shape.

I must say, what they accomplished with that military ship was phenomenal.

I once interviewed a man, Virgil Macy of Live Oak, a plasterer, who was working just before the ship was to open on Memorial Day, 1931.

He was building a giant seashell to frame the band. It was on the floor directly above the swimming pool. And that day, workers filled the pool and heated it for the first time. The seashell melted and collapsed.

I forgot how long the opening was delayed, but it did not occur on the day advertised.

Cement Ship: The Memories

Photographer Mike Ross snapped this image of the famous Cement Ship at Seacliff State Beach about eight years ago, long before January’s storms destroyed the pier and made it disappear.

When he posted his photo of the S.S. Palo Alto on NextDoor, sharing plans to frame it for his home, he got 380 comments from admiring neighbors, some sharing their own memories.

To see his work, go to or

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