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Homecoming: Historic ferry returns to San Francisco to tell an Asian immigrant story

The Klamath Ferry built in 1925 at the Bethlehem Steel Co. Union Yard in San Francisco, operated by Southern Pacific, and moored at the Embarcadero in San Francisco. | Courtesy Bay Area Council

San Francisco’s waterfront will soon welcome an old-time ferryboat, which has now been transformed into a floating office. Part of the boat will be dedicated to an Asian American immigrant and her story with the city.

The Klamath ferry, first launched in San Francisco in 1924, used to run between the city and other ports in the Bay Area, carrying thousands of passengers daily before its retirement in the 1950s. The Klamath is believed to be one of the last five remaining ferries from the last century, when 120 boats transported residents across the bay before cross-bay bridges were built.

Starting this July, the ferry’s new home will be at Pier 9 as the office for the Bay Area Council, a pro-business and economic development nonprofit.

Florence Fang attends a press conference on April 11, 2019 in Hillsborough, California. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The person behind the historic homecoming is Florence Fang, a prominent Chinese American immigrant known for her previous ownership of the San Francisco Examiner and most recently, her purchase of the famed Flintstone House.

She helped the Bay Area Council to buy the Klamath and restore it for its new office space. Fang co-chairs the Bay Area Council’s China committee

“I want to mark a name of a Chinese immigrant in San Francisco,” Fang told The Standard. “Asian immigrants are part of San Francisco’s history.”

The roof deck of the refurbished boat, which will offer public access, will be named after Fang, and feature an exhibition about her story. There will also be a peacock statue, an animal Fang feels a strong connection to.

Fang, 87, came to the U.S. in 1960 and operated a small printing shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown. She later rose to prominence as a media mogul running the Examiner and Asian Week, and is also influential in relations between China and the U.S. When speaker Nancy Pelosi toured Chinatown to support local businesses at the start of the pandemic, Fang walked alongside her holding her hand.

The Bay Area Council is also working with Fang to build a Chinese railroad worker museum in San Francisco.

“She’s an incredible woman,” said John Grubb, the chief operations officer at the nonprofit. “She was very generous as an investor to be able to help us put up the appropriate amount of funds to be able to buy the Klamath.”

The project, including the purchase and renovation, cost about $13 million and Fang contributed a “significant” part of that, according to Grubb.

The San Francisco Port Commission approved a lease last year allowing the Klamath to dock at Pier 9 for up to 25 years. The monthly rent starts at $15,045.

Han Li can be reached at