For some, the power of El Niño is somewhat lacking—but for those in Coronado, it has proved to unearth something thought to be long lost at sea: the SS Monte Carlo.
Nearly 80 years after the ship seemingly disappeared at sea after its mooring chains snapped due to a wild winter storm on none other than the first day of 1937, the ship—originally moored in Long Beach from 1932 to 1936—has suddenly been unearthed in Coronado, becoming a tourist attraction. Though small parts of the ship have always been visible during low tide, El Niño’s stripping of sand have uncovered the Monte Carlo in a way previously unseen since it was last floating.
Post-prohibition and directly in the heart of the Great Depression, the Monte Carlo was one of ten gambling shops that dotted the coastline between San Diego and Long Beach. Fro The Lux to The Rex, The Rose Isle to our washed-up Monte Carlo, these reconfigured working ships had one purpose only: to party. “Drinks, dice, and dolls” is what it advertised and that’s precisely what was offered. From gambling to prostitution, drinking to dancing in the wee hours, these former military vessels and barkentines served as the way to make the mantra “a little party never hurt nobody.”
Built in 1921 as part of a government program, the Monte Carlo was acquired an oil company before being sold and filled with cement to become a moored gambling ship three miles off of Long Beach’s coast on her grand opening on May 7, 1932. According to historian Ernest Marquez, she was 300 feet long, making her the largest gambling ship in the SoCal fleet and hosted 15,000 partiers every week in her prime. And the owners, Edward V. Turner and Marvin Schouweiler? They made nearly $3M every year off of Monte Carlo’s indiscretions.
According to Marquez, the ship boasted of every type of gambling addiction: craps, blackjack, roulette, chuck-a-luck, Chinese lottery, poker, slot machines—even gambling on dog fights and horse races took place through what was then an impressive wireless device on board for guests.
The year she left Long Beach is the year she met her fate: in 1936, the Monte Carlo was towed to Coronado to become part of the San Diego coastline. On December 30 of that same year, a storm began to beat the Monte Carlo, leaving its two caretakers, Art Gillespie and John Miller, to abandon the ship come December 31, when its mooring chains snapped. According to legend, the beach was littered with roulette wheels and bottles of booze long before the upper deck—completely snapped off—washed ashore.
Marquez documents the Monte Carlo and other ships in his book, Noir Afloat.