The historic tugboat Angels Gate allows visitors to get an up-close and unique view of the busiest container port in the United States–the Port of Los Angeles. As part of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in the San Pedro area, the tug tour includes history of the harbor and the museum, as well as the story of Angels Gate.
When viewing container ships from all over the world, it is hard to imagine that, at one time, the harbor was filled with marshes and mudflats. That’s what Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo found when he arrived in 1542. He called it the “Bay of Smokes” because he saw smoke from fires set by Indians on the hillside while they were hunting.
The bay was virtually untouched for the next 200 years since Europeans were focused on America’s East Coast. Many settlers went west during the 1800s and by 1900, Los Angeles had a population of over 100,000. The Port of Los Angeles was officially founded in 1907. Today, it handles approximately eight million 20-foot container units annually.
The Los Angeles Maritime Museum is in the San Pedro Municipal Ferry Building. Built in 1941, this served as a working ferry terminal, transporting passengers and vehicles from the mainland to Terminal Island. The island was the site of canneries and military bases, but also was home to 3500 first and second-generation Japanese. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese community was forced to leave their homes. They were sent to internment camps and the entire neighborhood was torn down.
The ferry stopped operating in 1963 after completion of the bridge connecting the island to the mainland. The people of San Pedro got the building designated as a Historic-Cultural Monument in 1975. Renovation followed, and the Los Angeles Maritime Museum opened in 1979. The building has been part of the National Register of Historic Places since 1996.
Angels Gate, originally known as ST-695, was built in 1944 in Decatur, Alabama for the United States Army Transportation Service. She was part of a fleet of tugs designed for the European theater and served mainly at the Army Port of Embarkation in Wilmington, California. After the war, she was considered “surplus” by the Army and sold to the Port of Los Angeles (known at that time as the City of Los Angeles Harbor Department). She worked steadily for almost 50 years, providing general towing and public relations tours until she retired in 1992 and was acquired by the museum. Since then, she has been providing narrated tours and is a floating classroom for the Port of Los Angeles High School.
She received the 2013 Tugboat of the Year award from the Steamship Historical Society of America. The tug will soon be 70 years old, yet museum preservation has kept her going for educational and recreational use. To learn more about Angels Gate, please visit the Los Angeles Maritime Museum website.
Written by: Cynthia Collins, Senior Museum Correspondent