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From the Archives: Passenger ship Harvard runs aground

From the Archives: Passenger ship Harvard runs aground
June 12, 1931: Wreck of the Harvard two weeks after the passenger ship ran aground in fog at Point Arguello. The forward third of the ship had already broken off. (Duke Ledford / Los Angeles Times)

The Harvard and sister ship, Yale, were popular steamships serving San Francisco and Los Angeles. On May 30, 1931, in heavy fog, the Harvard ran aground at Point Arguello.

The grounding was reported in the May 31, 1931, Los Angeles Times:

Unscathed and undaunted by the shipwreck that interrupted their voyage, nearly 500 passengers of the stranded San Francisco-Los Angeles passenger ship Harvard last night were landed at Los Angeles Harbor by the U.S.S. Louisville, when the new Navy speed cruiser anchored at 7:10 p.m. after having dashed through fog and darkness to their rescue.

At almost the moment of their arrival, Santa Barbara reported lines were being put aboard the Harvard by the tug Tamaroa in preparation for floating the vessel from the rocks at Point Arguello, where it went aground before dawn Saturday in heavy fog. Damage to the ship may be greater than first estimated, according to a boat's crew which brought a line ashore from the Harvard. They said the vessel apparently dragged its entire keel over a reef….

May 30, 1931: S.S. Harvard lifeboat being launched and filled with women after the ship ran aground
May 30, 1931: SS Harvard lifeboat being launched and filled with women after the ship ran aground at Point Arguello. Photo taken by a passenger and published in the May 31, 1931, Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times

Experiences were related with gusto. Some called the entire thing a thrill they "wouldn't take a $100 for."

"Shipwreck de luxe is what it was," said Mrs. Elizabeth Stoddard, a gray-haired Oakland woman, as she came ashore. "Nobody hurt, all our baggage saved, a ride on the Navy's newest cruiser and a turkey dinner to top it off."…

All the passengers from the stranded vessel were agreed that the wreck had been the calmest they had ever experienced or heard about. There was no confusion, either among passengers or crew, although the shock woke up nearly everyone on board….

Lifeboats were swung overboard, loaded and lowered to a calm sea, standing by the ship until the arrival of the freighter Anselmo, which took many aboard, later to be transferred to the Louisville. ...

The Harvard was a total loss. Aerial photos taken two weeks later by staff photographer Duke Ledford showed the bow of the ship had broken off.

According to the Naval History & Heritage Command website, the Harvard was built in 1907 at Chester, Pa. In 1918, the U.S. Navy commandeered the 3,700-ton steamship for World War I service. Commissioned as the U.S.S. Charles, and later briefly the U.S.S. Harvard, the ship served as a troop transport.

In 1921, the Harvard resumed passenger service with the Los Angeles Steamship Co. The Harvard and her sister ship, the Yale, sailed between Los Angeles Harbor and San Francisco.

This post was originally published on Sept. 12, 2013.

Aug. 5, 1921: The S.S. Harvard steams out of Los Angeles Harbor bound for San Francisco for its firs
Aug. 5, 1921: The S.S. Harvard steams out of Los Angeles Harbor bound for San Francisco for its first coastal run following service in the U.S. Navy duringthe first World War. Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA
June 12, 1931: Wreck of S.S. Harvard is taken in aerial photo two weeks after the passenger ship ran
June 12, 1931: Wreck of the Harvard is taken in aerial photo two weeks after the passenger ship ran aground in fog at Point Arguello. The forward third of the ship had already broken off. Duke Ledford / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA
June 1931: Aerial photo of wreckage of S.S. Harvard after May 30, 1931 grounding in fog at Point Arg
June 1931: Aerial photo of wreckage of the Harvard after May 30, 1931, grounding in fog at Point Arguello. Based on the status of wreck, this aerial photo was probably taken on June 12, 1931, by staff photographer Duke Ledford. Los Angeles Times

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