SS Del Orleans 1940-1941

Cargo ship illustration at the loading dock

ARTSHIP was built as a C3 cargo-passenger ship in 1939 under the name Del Orleans. It originally had two other sister ships, built under the same exact parameters. ARTSHIP was the last surviving C3 cargo-passenger ship.

Bulk Cargo

Loading of cargo onto the Del Orleans

The Del Orleans' initial purpose was to serve the US-South American trade lines, it had six cargo holds, three forward and three aft. The total cargo capacity was 495,000 cubic feet. Along with the six cargo holds were 14 tweendeck compartments. The Del Orleans was equipped with refrigerated compartments for the safe shipment of South American fruit. The ship's net tonnage was 5,100 tons, its length 492 feet and its depth 39 feet and nine inches. Del Orleans took its first commercial/cruise trip in 1940 when it sailed to South America to transport coffee and fruit back to the US. The ship made a few more voyages before having to enter the war. Out of the three initial identical C3 passenger cargo ships, the former Del Orleans is the only one still in existence. She is the last of its kind. Mark H. Goldberg, author of the book Caviar & Cargo and an expert on C3 cargo passenger ships, saw the former Del Orleans in 1991, when it had become the training ship Golden Bear. He had this to say: “Sparkling white all over, she gleamed like a newbuild in the early afternoon sun. Trim and handsome she is a most appealing vessel. She is a real survivor from another time. In our day there is nothing like her. Long may she sail!”

Longshoremen are a vital part of the inter-modal transportation network. They have a historic profession, one of the strongest unions in the world and a love for ships and ports. Although the profession has changed in some ways, longshoremen are still the ones in charge of loading and unloading ships and of general dock activity. Before the introduction of a lot of modern machinery, longshoremen played an even greater role in successful cargo ship trade.

Ship's Log

Name U.S.Departure Destinations Comments
Del Orleans 9/5/40 from New Orleans Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina maiden voyage
11/1/40 from New Orleans Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina
12/40 from New Orleans Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina
2/21/41 from New Orleans Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina
4/18/41 from New Orleans Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina

Oral Histories

Historian Harvey Schwartz conducted and collected a large number of interviews with longshoremen in the period 1994-2001. Below are some of the excerpts of these interviews, which paint a picture of what it meant to be a longshoremen in the period Del Orleans sailed.

Interview with Frank Sundstedt

“In the 1920's, they had a shapeup system down here. You showed up at the dock where the ship was coming in. If they needed you they'd hire you. If they didn't know you or didn't like you they wouldn't. They had all kinds of little systems. For example, the old timers would wear matches stuck in their hat bands. Three matches was a code. Maybe it meant a duck to the boss, or a chicken, or a turkey, or a bottle of wine or whiskey. It was a signal that the longshoremen would take care of the boss if he'd give him a job.”

Interview with Henry Gaitan

“If the ship was going to sail that day you kept working until it left. The longest shift I ever worked was 32 hours. On one long jitney driving job I done pretty good until midnight, when I started going to sleep. I was pulling this ore. They had a steel bucket that landed on the four wheeler. I had to take it off the hook. So when the guys seen me sleepy they hit the side of the bucket to wake me up. Boy, was I glad when I was through. I had a bite to eat, laid down in my car, and completely passed out. I'd worked 30 hours. I was making 60 cents an hour, no overtime.”

Interview with Bill Ward

“Before the 1934 strike longshoring was all heavy, hand-handled work, and the men were fighting the speed-up at every turn. After those 12 and 18 hours shifts some longshoremen would go to the Robel Inn, a transit hotel in San Pedro where I used to deliver papers. They'd be completely exhausted. They sleep eight, ten, twelve hours. It was usually a day and a half or two before they were ready to go again. One time I went down there to deliver my papers and five or siz longshoremen were getting rubdowns. They had hot steam towels they'd wring out and put on. Their legs were all sore and bruised.”

Interview with Elmer Mevert

View down into one of the cargo bays on the Del Orleans

“Nitrate jobs were tough. I did that at Outer Harbor. They'd just hire enough guys. The higher the piles got &endash; they'd go clear to the beams with sacks of nitrate &endash; the more guys they'd have to hire to keep passing the sacks up. It was just a continual operation, and your hands would bleed from that rough burlap. Packing bananas, your shoulders would swell up, your arches would break down. God it was tough. Sesame seed come in great round sacks and they were slick as silk. You couldn't stack those things for love or money. And they weighed 100 kilos, that's 220 pounds. If you had a bum partner who didn't know how to handle them you broke your goddam neck.”

A possible Longshoremen Plaza is now a one-acre open space that surrounds the Ninth Avenue Terminal on the Oakland Waterfront. With gradual development, this space would become a plaza open to the general public and would offer an ideal space for community and cultural events, gatherings and celebrations. Historical artifacts indicative of a thriving past activity at the Ninth Aveneu Terminal would make the plaza an interesting cultural sequel. The interpretative sequence of ship to shore to terminal to trains would offer a culturally-rich environment. The existing "live" railway lines along Ninth Avenue Terminal that run from Embarcadero, down the western side of 10th Avenue towards the site of the projected plaza, will be preserved. The placement of one to five historic train cars with an engine along the tracks would recreate a piece of longshoremen history. Oakland has a fully restored locomotive and a number of historic rail cars that could be displayed there. The terminal also neighbors a natural shoreline that can be brought to resemble the pre-Columbian landscape it used to be. The shoreline is framed by a railway trestle which will provide main access t Artship.

Plans for the Longshoremens Plaza as part of the Artship dock and complex
Legend for the Longshoremens Plaza plan

Ninth Avenue Terminal has a rich history and with a 1930's-1940's ship, the longshoremen plaza will gradually come to life. The terminal was a bustling trading area, being an international cargo-related shipping point. “In the 1930's, the Port's work force of longshoremen averaged about 175 unionized men.” The revolution in containerized shipping changed cargo handling and the intermodal dynamics. Longshoremen went from spending as much as three weeks for unloading and loading a ship to as little as 16 hours. (Minor, Woodruff, Pacific Gateway. p. 43 and 47)

Art Deco on the ARTSHIP, Oakland CA

Looking up at the bridge from the dock

ARTSHIP, originally known as the DelOrleans, was built in 1939 as an art-deco passenger/cargo ship. Artship was moored on the Oakland Waterfront.

Art Deco building facade

The Art Deco style had developed as an art movement in the 1920's and 30's, combining various modern decorative art styles derived from the avant-garde painting of the early 20th century. In America, Art Deco continued throughout the 1940's and well into the 50's.

Del Orleans, view of the port side Modern shot of the Artship

ARTSHIP, through its geometrically shaped salons and the overall tribute to technology and speed, was a historical art-deco heritage site. The ship's form serves its function.

Art Deco coffee and tea service tray

ARTSHIP's design adopted practical principles of hydro-dynamics and combined them in an elegant architertural style of seemingly simple sophistication. ARTSHIP's general design reflects the Art Deco principles of simplication and modernism.

Staircase and formal entrance foyer of the Del Orleans
The staircase and formal entrance foyer leading to the Lounge (forward in the main-house) are typical of the period.

Compared to famous luxury liners of the time such as the Normandie, ARTSHIP (formerly known as Del Orleans) appears as a modest example of Art Deco style. In fact, the ship's architecture was “…calculated to satisfy the requirements of the most discriminating travelver,” according to President N.O. Pedrick of the Delta Liners Company (to which Del Orleans belonged). Pedrick is quoted in Mark Goldberg's book Caviar & Cargo. Thus, the passenger's comfort was a key architectural goal, achieved along simple, "modern" lines.

Salon aboard the Del Orleans

The ship's wood-paneled art deco Lounge was carefully designed to avoid crowding. The furniture included a large semi-circular sofa and a marble fireplace. The Bakelite logs in the fireplace were maskin the air conditioning, which oozed cool air in the summer and hot air in the winter. The fireplace and wood paneling survived the ship's transformation into a World War II troop transport combat vessel (1941-1948), and then into an officers' training facility for the California Maritime Academy (1970-1995).

Aerial photo of the Crescent City

Veranda Cafe aboard the Del Orleans

The art deco salon, originally known as the Veranda Café, provides a perfect example of American art deco, with semi-circular booths around circular tables, a small dance floor for tango, mirrors, murals and the practical use of aluminum fixtures. Also, an art deco staircase descends from the Veranda Café, connecting it to the deck below, where the art deco passenger state rooms are.

Art Deco stateroom aboard the Del Orleans

The standard passenger rooms were each furnished with two beds, a pull-man upper berth and two chairs, providing for utmost modernity and comfort. Spacious and simple in design, the rooms had plenty of closet and drawer space. They were equipped with ventilation, two windows and an electric fan. All the passenger rooms had private bathrooms.

Section plan of the Del Orleans decks and holds

The ship's machinery is worth mentioning as an example of optimistic machine age design, with solutions that fit the simple yet modern art deco style. The materials used for ship construction were the best in quality and performance. The ship was steam-operated and could cruise at a speed of up to 17.5 knots (an extra knot above the normal speed at the time.) Historical facts and some descriptions were taken from Mark Goldberg's Caviar & Cargo.

“As we are beginning to restore, clean and maintain the ship, like archeologists who uncover a tomb in the desert, are we uncovering an art deco ship design.”

Rear salon on the ARTSHIP

Detail of the table from Art Deco Salon aboard the ARTSHIP

Aft salon aboard the ARTSHIP

These three photos above are of the ARTSHIP spaces are they were in July 2002.