The Coronado Ferry and the Bridge: Part 1

My original intent was just to tell you about the Coronado Ferry but after thinking about it and discussing it with Pat the story grew a little. Back in the late 1950’s and 60’s San Diego Bay was a busy place. There was a fair amount of merchant shipping doing business at the 10th Ave. Terminal. The Navy had a lot of ship traffic at the 32nd Street Pier. National Steel and Shipbuilding was building and overhauling ships so there was a lot of traffic around their docks. There were usually 2 to 4 seaplane squadrons stationed at NAS North Island and they made take-offs and landings in the bay at all hours of the day and night. There were also Navy fighter squadrons stationed at North Island and they were visible from many spots around the bay.

The Navy had an Overhaul and Repair Facility at North Island taking care of aircraft that had returned from Westpac deployments via aircraft carriers. The carriers and other ships were docked at the North Island piers and sometimes there were other Navy ships at anchor in the bay. Convair was developing the Sea Dart, a jet-powered seaplane that could be seen taxiing in the bay. The tuna fleet was still operating out of San Diego. The fishing grounds within reach of this port were being “fished out” but the fleet was still pretty large. Toward the west end of the bay at the sub base there was traffic consisting of both diesel subs and the new nuclear boats. The ferry boats were on regular schedules and were plowing back and forth all day long. There were motor launches known as “nickel snatchers” that picked up passengers, mostly sailors, at the foot of Broadway and delivered them to the ships at anchor or over to North Island. Take all of this traffic and throw in the tour boats and private sail boats and you can imagine the apparent chaos all day long.


The picture below will give you some indication of the variety of traffic on the bay. The airplane in the upper left hand corner is a P5M-2 seaplane such as I flew in and it is coming in for a landing. The planes flew up the bay (north) and when over the ferry landing made a slight turn to port to follow the curvature of the bay. As they crossed over the ferry slips, the pilot keyed his mike and announced “Ferry slips” and the Air Controller in the tower would take a final look at the sea lane for traffic and acknowledge with “Cleared to land.”


Being from Kansas, Pat and I weren’t used to large bodies of water or waterborne transportation so riding the ferry was a unique and wonderful experience for us. The bay crossing only took a few minutes but there was enough time to jump out of your car and go lean on the rail or go to the top deck and have a seat and enjoy the ride. I believe there were a total of 5 ferry boats. Our favorite was the Crown City because there was no roof over the cars. The other boats had large superstructures that covered the cars on the deck and made you feel like you were in a garage.


I was stationed at North Island, in Coronado, and we lived in Coronado for 2 years. In 1960, we bought a home in San Diego and that’s where my life as a commuter began. I found that even though it was farther to go south and around the bay and up the Silver Strand, it was faster than going through downtown San Diego and catching the ferry. Also, there was the money consideration. I was still in the Navy and riding the ferry would have cost me 90 cents a day but gasoline for driving the long way around was only 27.9 or 29.9 cents a gallon (I can’t remember exactly).

I was discharged from the Navy in March of 1961 and got a job with an electronics firm on Kearney Mesa which meant that I still had a long commute. We soon found out that Pat was pregnant and that made it tough because our doctor, Jim Turpin, was in Coronado and besides his practice being there, he was also associated with the Coronado Hospital. Our boys, Russ and Doug were born in the Coronado Hospital and we thought it would be a nice thing to have the new baby there as well.


A booklet published by Home Federal Savings

Being new on the job, I couldn’t take time off to drive Pat to the doctor for her pre-natal visits. She figured out that she could ride the bus to downtown San Diego, transfer to the Coronado bus and get off right in front of the doctor’s office on Orange Ave. She would take the boys with her rather than trying to find and pay a babysitter. I guess the bus ride wasn’t bad and the best part was that the bus could go on the ferry! Pat and the boys loved that! To be on a boat and crossing the San Diego Bay with all the other boats and ships was pretty heady stuff.



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