brief history of the
Angeles Steamship Company (LASSCO)
Los Angeles Steamship Company came into being around the
purchase of two ships already famous on the West Coast;
the YALE and HARVARD. These two vessels were built for
New York-Boston service, then operated by Admiral Line
on the West Coast before World War 1. The U.S. Navy purchased
them in 1918 for use as troop transports between Southampton
and Le Havre.
they offered for sale, a group of Los Angeles business
men, with the backing of the LA Chamber of Commerce, formed
the ‘Yale-Harvard Syndicate’ and bought the ships from
the Navy. Thus the Los Angeles Steamship Company was formed
on June 10, 1920. Harry and Ralph Chandler of the Los
Angeles Times were included on the Board. YALE and HARVARD
were brought around from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and
extensively reconditioned by the Los Angeles Shipbuilding
and dry-dock Company, and converted from coal to oil burning.
scene on board the YALE
YALE sailed from Los Angeles for San Francisco May 2,
1921 with a festive and gala departure. HARVARD followed
in August 5. These fast coastal ships became known as
"white Flyers of the Pacific", they each made four sailings
a week and carried 565 passengers at an average speed
of 24.6 knots between Los Angeles and San Francisco. They
operated this fast service almost continuously in to the
1930s, adding San Diego as a stop. Pacific Electric Company
began a boat train from Downtown Los Angeles at sixth
and main to the dockside at Wilmington for a direct connection
Matson (not related to Matson Navigation of San Francisco)
and Captain Frederichs of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce
sensed enormous potential in the Port of Los Angeles and
lobbied Washington for the loan of Government surplus
ships for a service to Hawaii. The U.S. Shipping Board
agreed to charter two vessels on condition that an existing
steamship Company operate them. The Chamber of Commerce
approached LASSCO, and at a special lunch aboard HARVARD
on September 19, 1921 LASSCO officials mapped out their
German built war prize liners were chartered to LASSCO
in December of 1921. The former GROSSER KURFURST, and
FREIDERICH DER GROSSE of Norddeutcher Lloyd, had served
as Transports in World War 1 as AEOLUS and HURON. Well
suited for the Hawaiian service the liners as they had
been built for Norddeutcher Lloyds tropical service and
were used both on the Atlantic and Far East routes.
on the east coast AEOLUS was renamed CITY OF LOS ANGELES
and HURON became CITY OF HONOLULU. Arriving in the Los
Angeles July 16 1922, the CITY OF LOS ANGELES was the
largest American ship in Pacific waters, the CITY OF HONOLULU
followed 11 days later. Both were overhauled to all first
class accommodation by Los Angeles Shipbuilding and Dry-dock
Company, painted white with black stacks. A gymnasium
and pool were added to their many amenities.
maiden voyage of CITY OF LOS ANGELES to Hawaii was of
great significance to the port of Los Angeles, this voyage
represented the first regular connection to Hawaii from
Los Angeles and presented the first competition to the
dominance of San Francisco’s Matson Line. The LA Chamber
of Commerce was in charge of recreation and entertainment
for this voyage to Hawaii, reservations were made by members
of the Chamber and families then to the general public.
Round trip fare ranged from $325 to $635 for staterooms
with private baths. 264 passengers booked for the trip.
from the CITY OF LOS ANGELES complete with the Captain's
12:30pm on September 11, 1922 CITY OF LOS ANGELES departed
with a gala send off. Hundreds lined the docks, the Los
Angeles Police Band played aboard a tug; yachts fired
cannons and the USS CONNECTICUT saluted with three blasts
of her siren. Seven days later she was greeted in Hilo
by thousands of islanders, she sailed on to Maui, then
on to Honolulu to an even greater ovation then returned
to Los Angeles.
new "sister" ship CITY OF HONOLULU followed twelve days
later. With Captain Lester at the helm she departed Los
Angeles for Honolulu, September 23rd to send
off similar to that of her running mate. On her return
voyage 5 days out of Honolulu disaster struck. At 4 a.m.
on October 12 a mysterious fire broke out, efforts to
fight it proved useless, as it spread over the next few
hours it became clear that the ship was doomed. Captain
Lester gave the order to abandon ship at 8 a.m. when she
was about 600 miles from the Coast of California. The
orchestra played jazz as passengers were loaded into the
boats. Two hours later all crew and passengers had left
the ship, the sea was clam and a SOS had been sent out.
The disaster was dubbed "ship wreck de luxe" as the chief
steward had provisioned the lifeboats with roast chicken,
delicacies from the galley, plenty to drink and cigarettes.
doomed CITY OF HONOLULU
freighter WEST FARALON was 50 miles away and arrived at
the scene a little before 3 p.m. Other vessels picked
up the distress message and the Shipping Board dispatched
two cutters, SHAWNEE and TAROROA. The U.S. Army Transport
THOMAS came along side the freighter at 11pm and at dawn
all passengers were transferred as there was no accommodation
on the freighter for them.
U.S.A.T. THOMAS proceeded on to its intended destination
San Francisco with soldiers returning home from a tour
of duty. When Harry Chandler heard that the San Francisco
press was preparing sending out a boat to meet the THOMAS
and interview the survivors he sensed a media disaster.
He quickly contacted his associates in Washington, the
result was the THOMAS reversed course in sight of the
coast and returned to Los Angeles almost causing a mutiny
THOMAS docked in San Pedro limousines were sent to met
the passengers and special trains were put on. The WEST
FARALON had attempted to tow the still burning liner but
salvage proved impossible. She has become a danger to
shipping so five days after the fire the cutter SHAWNEE
fired 25 rounds in to the still burning ship and sank
before the burning CITY OF HONOLULU went to the bottom,
plans were made to charter the PRESIDENT HARRISON to complete
the bi-monthly sailing schedule. Only two days late LASSCO
made good on its timetable with PRESIDENT HARRISON filled
a more permanent replacement LASSCO bought the transport
U.S.A.T. SHERMAN, formerly the British liner MOBILE of
1893. Refitted as a passenger liner, again by LA Shipbuilding
and Dry-dock Co., she was ready for service as CALAWAII
with accommodation for 178 1st class and 52 third. February
10th 1923 saw her sail to Honolulu in her new white LASSCO
livery. She proved a popular cabin liner.
bought the Government Chartered CITY OF LOS ANGELES in
1923 and LA Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co re-engined
her at a cost over a million dollars to reach the Hawaiian
islands in five and a half days instead of the previous
by Matson Lines’ construction of MALOLO, a replacement
for CITY OF HONOLULU was purchased. The PRESIDENT ARTHUR,
formerly PRINCESS ALICE, another ex German war prize.
Reconditioned to luxurious standards she was made ready
for the Hawaii service. On June 7. 1927, 7,000 people
crowded the LASSCO dock to bid farewell to the 300 passengers
on sailing on the new CITY OF HONOLULU.
that LASSCO was bidding on the United American Lines ship
RESOLUTE came to nothing, but a freighter WEST ERRAL was
purchased and reconditioned for 16 passengers and tanks
for molasses and oil, renamed DIAMOND HEAD. She was advertised
as a relaxed way to travel and started her service from
Los Angeles Feb 2, 1929
were the best years for LASSCO and by 1929 layover periods
were getting shorter and all ships were sailing more frequently.
Passenger volume exceeded that of the Matson Line. Plans
were announced to build two new coastal steamers to replace
the YALE and HARVARD.
following year, however, world and local events changed
everything. The stock market crash saw freight and in
particular passenger volumes decrease, then in May 1930,
a fire over took the CITY OF HONOLULU (II) while she was
berthed at Honolulu. The passenger areas were damaged
beyond repair though her machinery was still good. With
the insurance LASSCO officials announced plans for a new
$7million dollar vessel, then instead looked for a replacement,
Ralph Chandler surveyed the REPUBLIC in New York. By mid
1930 with LASSCO financially over extended, plans for
the coastal steamers were abandoned. With the added competition
of Matson’s new MALOLO, LASSCO sort talks with Matson.
In October LASSCO was absorbed by it's competitor Matson
with the date of transfer as January 1, 1931. LASSCO ships
were to be operated from the Los Angeles office as a subsidiary
of Matson. At the time of the merger LASSCO owned CITY
OF LOS ANGELES, CITY OF HONOLULU (burned and laid up),
YALE, HARVARD, CALAWAII, DIAMOND HEAD, WAIMEA, and the
freighters GENERAL M.H. SHERMAN, MARIAN OTIS SHERMAN,
HELEN WHITTIER, CONSTANCE CHANDLER and FORT WAYNE.
and HARVARD continued fast coastal service LA-SF-San Diego
and in November 1930, YALE flew a 60 foot pennant to celebrate
her 1000th voyage between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The following May disaster struck when HARVARD on voyage
number 972 slammed in to rocks off Point Arguello, near
Santa Barbara at 3 am. All 497 passengers and crew were
rescued by freighter San Anselmo and cruiser U.S. LOUISVILLE
but the ship became a total loss.
replace her HARVARD, CALAWAII made a few coastal trips
until the chartered IROQUOIS came into service in mid
summer 1931. The 1927 built liner had superior interiors
to the 1906 YALE but proved slower. However, with declining
passenger volume, she was returned to Clyde Line by December
and YALE sailed alone with the freight traffic handled
by three small freighters.
1932 CITY OF LOS ANGELES and CALAWAII were laid up finally
ending LASSCOs service from Los Angeles to Hawaii. The
CALAWAII towed the burned CITY OF HONOLULU for the final
voyage to Japan to be scrapped in 1933. In May 1933 DIAMOND
HEAD ceased carring passengers, reverting to freight only.
CITY OF LOS ANGELES was moved for lay up to San Diego,
then plans for a "South Sea Islands Cruise" were made.
She departed Los Angeles Jan 12, 1934 and returned Feb
24 after a 12,000 mile cruise, and three days late. A
second cruise from San Francisco began June 27, 1934 and
ended August 13 after 13,020 miles of steaming. Old and
tired, the ship received many complaints and was again
laid up in San Francisco. She sailed to San Diego in May
1935 to serve as an Hotel during the San Diego Exposition
returning to San Francisco March 1936 for a year then
sold for demolition. Making one stop in Los Angeles for
the last time to load scrap metal she sailed for Japan.
competition from railroad and cars took passengers away
from the coastal run, YALE was withdrawn in October 1,
1935. Matson put her back in service in May 1936 for three
sailing weekly between Los Angeles and San Francisco,
but she service was withdrawn by July and YALE laid up
at Antioch and sold. After U.S. Navy service in Alaska,
she was finally broken up in 1949.
December 30, 1937 the Los Angeles Steamship Company was
formally dissolved. LASSCO (with the help of LA Chamber
of Commerce) had made a profit and substantially advertised
the Port of Los Angeles. They had gained a share of the
Hawaiian tourist trade from zero in 1920 to more than
Matson Line by 1927. In freight, its impact on manufactures
can be seen in that in 1920 there were about 100 Los Angeles
companies in trade with Hawaii, by 1930 it was 1,000.
During this same period Los Angeles' exports rose and
by 1928 equaled that of San Francisco's. Though LASSCO
was in existence for little over a decade, it had great
significance for the Pacific Coast and Hawaiian shipping
industries and the routes it pioneered were continued
Martin Cox, 1999
welcome comments or corrections and any further information
relating to LASSCO. I have been collecting information,
printed materials and photographs on LASSCO since 1995.
Sunset Blvd, #211, Los Angeles CA 90026 USA or email at:
story and other LASSCO information and images can be found
at my Ocean Liner History web site at http://www.maritimematters.com