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***FILE PHOTO*** The steam boat Wapama will be moved from Sausalito to the Port of Richmond where preservationists hope to restore it to its former glory on Thursday Thursday 28, 2000 in Sausalito, Calif. (CONTRA COSTA TIMES/ GREGORY URQUIAGA)

RICHMOND -- No one doubts the beauty or historical provenance of the steam-powered wooden schooner that sits on a barge at Port of Richmond's Terminal 3.

But the Wapama's age and status as the last vessel of its kind won't save it from the gnashing mechanical pincers and work crews scheduled to begin demolition next week.

"There's a lot of hazardous waste involved, lead and asbestos," said Lynn Cullivan, spokesman for San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, the boat's owner. "So we'll take her down careful and cautiously ... at some point, it will be down to hand crew work."

The Wapama is the last survivor of 225 steam-powered schooners built around 1915. The 204-foot vessel had a long career ferrying lumber up and down the Pacific Coast. In its prime, the Wapama could haul 1 million board feet of lumber, plowing through the Pacific swells from Alaska to California with her 825-horsepower steam engine.

Later, the Wapama became a museum ship at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, first going on display as a museum ship at the Hyde Street Pier in 1963. Its stately lines, grand staircase and robust hull drew praise from visitors and sea buffs.

In recent decades, the ship has fallen victim to leaks, dry rot, several relocations and general deterioration.

The ship has been moribund since a 1997 National Park Service decision to cease maintenance work, but now there is a new urgency to destroy the ship.

"Over the last couple years, pieces have been falling off," Cullivan said. "We fear it will crumble into (the) water." As a result, Cullivan said, the Park Service contracted for the demolition and waste hauling job. Taking down the Wapama will cost about $1.6 million.

But key pieces of the Wapama will be preserved.

Cullivan said the massive 30-ton steam engine, measuring 16 feet by 16 feet, is being disassembled and will be on display at the Hyde Street Pier beginning in June.

"Characteristics" like railings, mirrors, capstans and other accouterments from the old rig will be preserved and interred initially at a Park Service warehouse in San Leandro.

It's sad to see a piece of history go, Cullivan said, but there is little choice.

A short-lived effort to save the ship, mounted in the 1990s by a group of maritime aficionados, was soon scuttled.

By 1997, the ship's deterioration was terminal, and the maritime park's general management plan stipulated cessation of all maintenance. Leaks and rot have rived the wooden hull, and park estimates are that it could cost as much as $60 million to fully rehabilitate the ship.

Richmond Councilman Tom Butt, a history buff who has helped save historic buildings all over town, noted that wealthy benefactors have helped save other historic ships, but the Wapama is "probably too far gone."

"It's sad, but there's no real alternative," Butt said. "If it were up to me, I would torch it like Burning Man and let it go out in a blaze of glory."

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.