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tribune ship

USAT General Frank M. Coxe (ship)

The General Frank M. Coxe is a ferry that was built for the United States Army to provide transportation services among the military facilities which ring California's San Francisco Bay.

The was built in 1921 and, along with sister-ship General John McE. Hyde, was designed and built shortly after World War I to ferry army personnel to island bases in strategic harbors, in answer to the increasing military importance of the Pacific ports.

Prior to the availability of the current system of bridges and highways, in San Francisco Bay, mobility on the water was critical. It is estimated that the General Frank M. Coxe carried six million passengers during her military service

Design and construction

The Coxe was not a navy ship, it was among the thousands of vessels owned and operated by the US Army for specific logistical purposes. It was designed by the New York firm of Cox & Stevens , who were renowned Naval Architects specializing in yachts and small commercial and military craft. The Coxe was built in 1922, along with the General John McE. Hyde (built 1921), to Cox & Stevens design #244 by Charles Ward Engineering Works of Charleston, West Virginia, located on the Kanawha River, a firm which specialized in shallow draft vessels such as ferries, riverboats, and tugs. The Hyde was sunk during World War II at Corregidor , by Japanese artillery on April 15, 1942

History

Military use

The Coxe was an active military vessel on San Francisco Bay from the 1922 to 1947, being decommissioned and sold for surplus in 1947 after the end of World War II.

Prior to the building of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges in the mid 1930s, ground transportation in the Bay Area was hampered by the Bay and rivers which bisected the region from San Jose to the Sacramento River Delta. However, this region was heavily populated by the Army personnel who garrisoned and maintained the ring of fortresses and ancillary facilities from Fort Point and Fort Cronkite at the mouth of the Bay to the Benicia Arsenal at the mouth of the Delta. There were two island fortresses: Fort McDowell (Angel Island) and Alcatraz, with each of these becoming special purpose facilities by the time of the Coxe.

By the 1920s Angel Island and Alcatraz were considered obsolete as artillery positions, with their purposes supplanted by larger coastal guns and extensive electronic mines as the primary coastal defenses, and as aircraft developed even these became irrelevant. Angel Island developed as processing center for inductees and recruits, and Alcatraz had developed into a maximum security military prison. The Coxe provided regular service between Fort Mason on the north coast of the San Francisco peninsula and Fort McDowell on Angel Island, with periodic stops at Alcatraz. The Alcatraz service continued after the Army relinquished control to the Federal Prison Bureau in the mid 1930s.

Alcatraz prison break

Alcatraz Prison, almost lost one of its boarders when John K. Giles, 50, a mail robber and four-time convict, stole an army uniform from the prison laundry and jumped aboard the Coxe just before she departed for Angel Island. Although a count of both the soldiers on the Coxe and the prisoners working on the docks alerted the authorities to an escape, an error in communication and forged documents allowed Giles to land at Fort McDowell. However, a discrepancy in his uniform brought him to the attention of an officer, who then recognized his forged documents and arrested him not knowing of the prison break. Giles was returned to Alcatraz to serve-out his sentence. There was some controversy over whether this constituted a successful escape and a recapture, or a foiled plan. Officially Alcatraz retained its perfect record as “escape proof” until it closed in the mid 1960s, since it was assumed that all other missing prisoners had drowned.

World War II

With the outbreak of World War II Angel Island became a critical processing center for US troops heading to the Pacific theater of battle. The processing was substantially divided between Fort McDowell and Fort Mason, and despite the new bridges and highways, ships and ferries were the only connection between the locations. During World War II, the Coxe made as many as eight scheduled trips per day between Fort McDowell and Fort Mason. However, after satisfying the exigencies of the war, Fort McDowell was eventually phased-out after World War II and closed as a processing center prior to the Korean War By 1947 the Coxe was obsolete and was decommissioned.

Post military use

Tour Ferry

After her military service the Coxe was bought by the Golden Gate Scenic Steamship Line, which now operate the Red & White Fleet of ferry and tour boats on San Francisco Bay. The Coxe was operated as the SS Frank M. Coxe as local cruise ship and tour ferry until the 1960s.

Restaurant and night club

After retiring as an active vessel, the Coxe was converted to a floating restaurant called the Showboat in Stockton, California . The restaurant went through several leases and was operated under several names in various locations. At one point is was a dance club catering to the “under 21” patrons. In the late 1980s it was berthed at Jack London Square in Oakland, California operating as the Pattaya Princess, a Thai restaurant that closed in 1990.

Current use

For the next 16 years up until 2006, the General Frank M. Coxe was a vacant hulk, until local restaurateurs bought the ship from Mr. Robert Sherman, who had preserved the General Frank M. Coxe on an unused canal in Burlingame, California just south of San Francisco International Airport.

The new owners obtained an extended lease from the City of Burlingame and renovated. The name of the vessel has been changed from the General Frank M. Coxe to The Sherman in honor of the longtime owner, and is now operated as a restaurant of that name.

Notes

References

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