Lost sunken gambling ship owned by the Mob reappears 80 years later off Coronado

The SS Monte Carlo was an oil tanker launched in 1921 as the SS McKittrickbut later became a gambling and prostitution ship in 1936 off the coast of Coronado, California.

Monte Carlo was anchored 3 miles off Coronado Beach in San Diego where it was in international waters, outside the boundary of state and federal law. During a storm on New Year’s Day in 1937 the anchor lost its hold and the ship drifted onto the beach in front of what is now the El Camino Tower of the Coronado Shores condos. No one claimed ownership because, once on shore, this gambling and prostitution ship was illegal.

The wreckage can be seen underwater at low tide, and is occasionally exposed during strong storm tides. There has been speculation that there may be $150,000 worth of silver dollar coins remaining in the wreckage, according to the late Bud Bernhard who retrieved hundreds of dollars from the shipwreck as a child. “I’m convinced there is $100,000 in gold and silver coins deep in that wreck.”, he once said.

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It has become a very popular attraction off the coast of Coronado. The wreck emerged recently when the violent waves from El Nino removed the tons of sand covering the shipwreck.

“It’s pretty amazing! I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve been to this beach many times and I had no idea it was here,” said Jill Raschke. “Oh my gosh it’s the shape of a ship! It’s pretty awesome.”“I knew this was my only chance to see a shipwreck!” said Aimy Smith of Chula Vista.

To put everything in to context, we need to go back to the 1930s. Coronado and the rest of the US were emerging out of Prohibition in the 1930s. Gambling and prostitution remained illegal — that’s were California’s mob-owned gambling ships came in – as we know, the Mob doesn’t like to be told what to do, so they carried on with their trade. Anchored several miles off the coast in international waters, these “sin ships” had full casinos, dance halls and brothels. Even Hollywood made movies about them, like the movie “Gambling Ship” starring Cary Grant, that’s how popular they were in popular culture at the time.

Now this is where the SS Monte Carlo comes into play. “The ship was anchored off Long Beach in 1933, but they were still getting a lot of pressure from the police to not have the gambling organization going,” said Leslie Crawford of the Coronado Historical Association. Crawford is the author of “Images of America – Coronado.”

“So after a couple of years, they came down to San Diego in 1936. Just 3 miles off the coast of Coronado, the SS Monte Carlo set up shop. There were advertisements in the local Union Tribune advertising dining dancing and dames. Ferries would leave the Hawthorne Street dock every 15 minutes bringing patrons aboard,” Crawford said.

“All was running well… until New Years day in 1937 when a storm moved in. It was bad weather, high surf, rough seas…and the SS Monte Carlo was in trouble. At about 3 o’clock in the morning the chain broke so it started drifting. She ran aground where she lies today just south of the Hotel Del where the city took control of the ship,” Crawford continued.

Anything that was gambling-related they tried to confiscate, but the SS Monte Carlo sat on her beach grave just to fade away. As you can now see, the storm removed so much sand that the wreck re-emerged.  Check out the video below of the wreck.

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