La Jenelle Park – Oxnard, California - Atlas Obscura
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Oxnard, California

La Jenelle Park

Rusty pieces of metal jutting out of a breakwater are all that's visible of the 12,500-ton ocean liner that capsized just off the beach. 

Built in 1931, this luxury ocean liner lived many lives before its unfortunate demise, serving in World War II, then as a Caribbean cruise line, then being sold and renamed multiple times before being given its fifth and final name, La Jenelle. 

The ship was owned by the Western Steamship Company when in 1970, the company decided to cut back on docking fees at nearby Port Hueneme by temporarily anchoring the La Jenelle out at sea before selling it, reportedly to be turned into a floating restaurant. But during a storm that year, the ship was beaten by strong waves and winds, and the one dropped anchor was unable to keep the La Jenelle still. The ship broke loose from its mooring, dragging the anchor along the sea floor toward Point Hueneme on Silver Strand Beach.

Once sufficiently rammed into the shore, the La Jenelle began to tip onto its port side and take on water. The two crew members aboard tried to pump the water out of the ship’s interior, which, thanks to the many broken windows underwater, was impossible. 

As the neighborhood of Silver Strand was very close, word of a 467-foot cruise ship being stuck just off the beach attracted attention from both curious folk and those more interested in stealing the ship’s valuables. The capsized ship continued to suffer structurally, and a fire that gutted everything inside didn’t help. The remains of the ship were now very dangerous, and eventually the US Navy, declaring the ship a hazard to the public, cut off the top half of the wreck and filled what was left of the hull with rocks, concrete, and sand.

Most of the hull is buried underneath the flat part of Point Hueneme, and though an exposed section among the breakwater can be seen, many visitors don’t even know it’s there. A small monument to the wrecked ship, a plaque on a rock, designates its watery resting place. There’s also a commemorative mural on a section of the barrier, detailing a cheery, cartoonish ocean scene that is strangely paired with a gloomy depiction of the La Jenelle rolled on its side.

As an interesting aside, the reason the past owners of the La Jenelle sold it to Western Steamship Co. was the new regulations put into place for passenger liners, which prevented ships with wooden superstructures, like the La Jenelle, from going back into service without first being overhauled. The legislation was the result of the fire on the SS Yarmouth Castle, in which a single mattress too close to a fuse led to the loss of an entire ship and 90 people. Two ships had come to the Yarmouth Castle’s rescue, the Finnpulp, a Finnish freighter, and the Bahama Star, which would go on to be sold and renamed La Jenelle.

Know Before You Go

Parking is very hard to find, as the park lies at the end of a residential neighborhood. Closest road is the junction where Ocean Drive turns left and becomes Sawtelle Avenue.
Outside of street parking, there is beach access from the street, and a small concrete lot by the park. This access is behind a small yellow gate at the end of Ocean Drive, to the right.
Due to concrete being present just below the surface of the sand in some areas, going barefoot is not advised. This rule also definitely applies to the rusty metal.
Port Hueneme is a restricted access harbor, and trespassing is forbidden. The park is located on it's border, so no wandering.
Nearby is the Beachcomber Tavern, a small bar. It is unusual for any sort of business to be holed up in a small, high-rent beach neighborhood.
On Google Maps, several areas within Silver Strand and Port Hueneme have suffered from strange map rendering issues in the Earth function, appearing as giant sinkholes with 3D structures rendered on top of the holes.
Additionally, Google Maps places La Jenelle Park within Port Hueneme, which is incorrect. La Jenelle Park consists of the extended breakwater, wreckage, a plaque, the murals, and the lot.
The breakwater also serves as a fishing spot.
In clear weather conditions, the Channel Islands and several oil rigs are visible from the beach.