HOLLYWOOD TO HONOLULU: The story of the Los Angeles Steamship Company

Written by Gordon Ghareeb and (MaritimeMatters publisher) Martin Cox

Review published in Sea Classics, April 2010 by Rod Redman

Travel nostalgia lovers will be thrilled by this well-illustrated tribute to one of the most celebrated regional steamship lines of the Roaring Twenties – The Los Angeles Steamship Lines. Every Saturday for well over a decade, a gleaming white ocean liner would sail from the Port of Los Angeles Berth 156 to the cacophony of hooting whistles and cheering well- wishers as the steamship embarked for the majesty of the Hawaiian Islands. With the vessel’s band playing to the strands of popular jazz rhythms and the ever-popular Aloha Oe as the ship inched away from the dock, everyone present knew those aboard the liner were destined to enjoy an unforgettable vacation in a tropic wonderland. With a puff of smoke and belch of its whistle, the liner would emerge from the sea of confetti and colored streamers and soon begin its near 3000-mile romantic trek across the broad Pacific

In this distant era, it is difficult to believe now that in the 1920s, the only way to get to Hawaii was by one LASSCO’s gleaming white liners. The regal well-appointed ships were known for their haute cuisine, superb service, and leisurely comfort. From Hollywood film stars to island-bound missionaries and well-heeled vacationers, LASSCO’s fleet of ships set a standard that made everyone know Los Angeles was fast becoming a major world class harbor.
This delightful book shares the stories of this era in an easy reading style largely gleaned from the pages of the Los Angeles Times. As such, it covers all of the tempestuous stories of the day including the major and minor scandals about the crew’s misbehavior and periodic drunkenness. It pulls no punches and relives the era of prohibition that was in itself no stranger to garish headlines and scandals. This is a fun book for serious armchair travelers who delight in reliving what was and what might have been as America and the Hawaiian Islands came of age.

HOLLYWOOD TO HONOLULU: The story of the Los Angeles Steamship Company By Gordon Ghareeb and Martin Cox 286 Pages, over 100 illustrations, 8.5-in x 11-in, Hardback. ISBN: 978-1889901-44-2 – $35.00.

Cruise History: New book published by the Steamship Historical Society of America features company founded by Harry Chandler, Los Angeles Times publisher, during the 1920s. Hollywood to Honolulu, the story of the Los Angeles Steamship Company by Martin Cox and Gordon Ghareeb.

The authors spent 14 years researching the company (aka LASSCO) that offered cruises and liner service to the Hawaiian Islands during the 1920s. They have produced a very informative book on the steamship line along with a good deal of social history and politics of the time. This provides a terrific and very readable context to the ships’ lives. The book has many rare photos contributing to a top notch maritime history.

For over a decade during the “Roaring Twenties,” a great white ocean liner would sail from berth 156 in Los Angeles every Saturday. The pier was packed with waving and cheering people looking up at the happy passengers crowding the railings. The vessel’s band on deck played jazz tunes and popular favorites. The captain stood forward on the bridge wing watching the lowering of the gangway amid a hail of colored streamers and confetti. The liner’s whistle would blow at noon, raising the cheering to a higher pitch as the Royal Hawaiian band played “Aloha Oe.” Slowly the great mass of the liner inched away from the dock.

These magnificent ocean liners provided not only a regular connection between the mainland and the islands, but were a high-profile means of proclaiming that Los Angeles was becoming a world class harbor, financial center and artistic metropolis. And the Los Angeles Steamship Company, “LASSCO,” became known across the country.

Order the book from Amazon.

Hollywood to Honolulu, the Story of the Los Angeles Steamship Company. Published by the Steamship Historical Society of America. Printed by Glenncannon Maritime Press 2009. Order copies by clicking here.

Harry Chandler, publisher of The Los Angeles Times and one of the founders of LASSCO, enjoys festive greetings from Olvera Street children, 1938.

(above) 1920s advertisement in a LASSCO folder featuring the California coast wise and Hawaii sailings. (below) Ad from November 1927 appearing in Travel Magazine (Grace collection).

The Roaring 20s saw many institutions fall by the way side. Flappers, the Charleston and bathtub gin all arrived on the scene and, almost as quickly as they appeared, they dropped out of history. So it was with the shipping line that hailed from Southern California: the Los Angeles Steamship Company. This once magnificent ocean going operation put its namesake harbor on the map, brought the idea of a glamorous ocean passage into the price range of the newly forming tourist population, and once and for all time branded the vision of a stately white cruise ship gliding effortlessly into a tropical Hawaiian paradise into the mind of the nation.

Cox and Ghareeb have joined forces and together told a story of glamour, high finance, movie stars and gossip. It’s all here in this 282 page compendium of a world that once was and never will be again.

Operated under the aegis of the Chandler publishing family of Los Angeles and the rest of their contemporary Chamber of Commerce associates, the Los Angeles Steamship Company (or LASSCO as it came to be known across the nation) brought to the world the realization that fledgling Los Angeles was coming into its own as a financial, industrial and culturally cosmopolitan crossroads of the country.

Scouring microfilm of virtually every page in the LA Times from 1921 to 1935, Ghareeb and Cox recreate a lost world of a nation riding high on the crest of a military victory from World War I juxtaposed against labor problems, political unrest and an economy gone mad. The entertaining 70,000-word text is augmented by an armada of photographs (largely from private collections) and color reproductions of LASSCO’s elaborate advertisements. This hard-covered time machine brings to life the people, the dreams, and the celebrities of the era all paraded against a backdrop of global, local and cinema-graphic history.

It took the authors fourteen years to piece the story together, configure it into a readable prose, and polish it to perfection. It is a tale as alive today as it was when it happened ninety years ago, due largely to the contribution of family members of the maritime participants depicted for the reader. Piece by piece, the story solidified and is brought to life for those fascinated by LA history, steamship lore and moviedom. This story almost vanished into the footnotes of literature because LASSCO was slowly absorbed by the juggernaut of SF-based Matson Navigation Company.

In less than ten years LASSCO managed to sink half of its passenger fleet. But public confidence continued to propel the entity forward, even to the point of surpassing the number of passengers sailing to the Hawaiian Islands by any other shipping line. Had not the Great Depression overtaken the world, LASSCO might have very well continued on. This is a great book about a great corporate excursion into uncharted waters. The big gamble to make the Port of Los Angeles a world-class harbor (it worked, the Port of LA is the largest port in the nation today) is a fascinating blend of speculation, hope, determination and undaunted romance. Get it. Read it. And relive a world long gone…

LASSCO’s City of Honolulu and City of Honolulu (Maritime Matters).

Gordon Ghareeb – Born and raised in the Wilmington district of the Los Angeles Harbor complex, Mr. Ghareeb grew up around and aboard the great postwar Pacific liners. His affinity for ships and the sea was instilled in him at a very early age by his father who had been a bosun’s mate in the South Pacific during World War II. Mr. Ghareeb holds a degree in English Literature and is the co-author of “The Dictionary of Nautical Literacy” published by McGraw Hill in 2001. In addition to being a contributing editor for Nautical World and Ship Aficionado magazines, his maritime work has also appeared in Nautical Collector, Professional Mariner, Ships Monthly, Maritime Matters, Steamboat Bill, and Titanic Commutator. One of the original tour guides aboard the QUEEN MARY when she opened in Long Beach, he joined the SSHSA in 1972 and has been a member of the American Petroleum Institute since 1991. He is currently Vice President of the Port of Long Beach Port Ambassadors Association. Mr. Ghareeb also actively serves aboard the s/s LANE VICTORY as a deck hand and tour guide for the Merchant Marine Veterans of World War II. With co-author Martin Cox, Mr. Ghareeb produced a multi-media exhibit at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in 2004 extolling the history of the Los Angeles Steamship Company and aptly entitled Hollywood to Honolulu. When time permits he can be found lecturing about LASSCO and narrating guided tours of the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors.

Martin Cox – Growing up in Southampton, England he witness the final departure of the QUEEN MARY which left an indelible mark on the young observer. His fascination with liners grew when his former seaman Uncle handed on a large collection of ocean liner photographs. Cox grew up viewing the last gasp of the great British liners entering Southampton in the mid-70s. He completed his Fine Art Bachelor’s degree with honors at Exeter College of Art and Design in Devon before moving to London where Mr. Cox exhibited his black and white photographs. Following exhibitions in San Francisco and New York he moved to Los Angeles in 1990 and began to explore LA’s local passenger ship history. A member of the Steamship Historical Society of America since 1995 – his brief but authoritative history of LASSCO appeared in the Southern California chapter’s “Ocean Times”. Mr. Cox served as president of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Society from 1997 to 1998 and maintains his own website known worldwide as “”. For a two year stint, Mr. Cox authored the West Coast News for SSHSA’s Steamboat Bill. Working with co-author Gordon Ghareeb, Mr. Cox produced a multi-media exhibition at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in 2004 on the history of the Los Angeles Steamship Company, aptly entitled Hollywood to Honolulu. Mr. Cox works as a freelance photographer and maintains a commercial studio while exhibits his images in galleries in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

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