Hard, rough concrete. Man’s creation enveloped in nature’s design. Seaweed, snails and sea creatures line the rugged exterior of a once glorious ship, the SS Monte Carlo.

Cold rain drops on Feb. 19, found their way onto her fading hull, mixing with the ocean water swirling in and out as the shipwrecked vessel came into view off the Hotel del Coronado. It was one of the few times most of the ship could be seen, thanks to unusually low tides.

Dark brown and jagged, decaying features protrude out of the sand, outlining the shape of a 300-foot -long concrete oil tanker-turned-sin ship in the 1930s. 

America in the 1920s and 30s was a cocktail of deep revelry, the unwelcomed Prohibition and the Great Depression. And the SS Monte Carlo managed to escape it all. 

Construction under Woodrow Wilson

Historical records show the Monte Carlo was a concrete ship approved for construction under President Woodrow Wilson during World War I and was originally commissioned as an oil tanker for the U.S. military.

She was purchased to be used as a commercial oil tanker in 1923, where she stayed for the next decade before coming into her final occupation: the ungovernable sin ship. 

The SS Monte Carlo. Photo taken by Madeline Yang.

Operated by infamous rumrunner Tony Cornero, he was known for his crooked lifestyle…and his floating casinos. Cornero turned the Monte Carlo into a haven for drinking, gambling and prostitution. 

Her final party was New Years of 1937 when a big storm hit San Diego and she escaped her anchor, beaching on the shores of Coronado. 

On Sunday, she was visible for residents and tourists to poke and prod at and be enamored by.

Snails the size of the palms of your hand decorated the ship in an ironic display of life. Orange snails living in purple shells speckled throughout the dying ship, as if pulling from the Monte Carlo’s life force. 

Snails living on the SS Monte Carlo. Photo taken by Madeline Yang.
Snails living on the SS Monte Carlo. Photo taken by Madeline Yang.
Snails living on the SS Monte Carlo. Photo taken by Madeline Yang.

Children and adults alike climbed aboard her skeletal remains, peeking into crevices and nudging the sea creatures surrounding the ship. The voice of a lifeguard echoed from a distance warning people to stay off of her as she could be unstable and dangerous – traits that haven’t seemed to change since she was afloat. 

Fabled history

The Monte Carlo made a name for herself on the California coast for a good part of the 1930s, and has now made a name for herself almost a century later as the concealed shipwreck in Coronado. 

She was a sinking pit of crime and felony and evidence of that had washed ashore. No one wanted to be incriminated, associating themselves with the illegal Monte Carlo. 

At just about 300 feet long and made of concrete, she was too big and heavy to be moved.

The ocean claimed her, giving her a natural burial – and like most buried things, in time, they become unearthed. 

Now, almost 90 years later, visitors and residents were able to enjoy her under the canopy of a cloudy sky.

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Madeline Yang is a reporter for The Coronado News, covering the City of Coronado, the U.S Navy and investigating the Tijuana/Coronado sewage issue. She graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University with her Bachelors in Journalism with an emphasis in Visual Storytelling. She loves writing, photography and videography and one day hopes to be a filmmaker. She can be reached by phone at 916-835-5843.