WPB 83499 after CG
Home Up Tiburon

 

 

The WPB 83499's Civilian Life

by Mark Sublette and used here in with permission

 


 

After the CG 83499 was decommissioned in June, 1959, she was converted into a commercial deep-water fishing/excursion boat and operated out of Destin, Florida on charters and named the "Pandora." Locals tell me that she was around to participate in one of the boat parades in an early Billy Bowlegs Festival held annually at Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Since they have just concluded their 45th such fest in June 2004, honoring Gulf Coast pirate William Bowles, that means the Pandora was converted to a fishing boat by 1960.

At some point in the late 1960s the vessel was taken out of service, hauled up onto dry land on Okaloosa Island just across the Santa Rosa Sound (the Intercoastal Waterway) from downtown Fort Walton Beach. She became "Pandora's Wreck", a nightclub with a two-level structure built onto it's "back", the portside. The starboard side faces Santa Rosa Boulevard. She was located next to one of the original (and for many years the ONLY) businesses built on the island facing the Gulf of Mexico, the Tower Beach Casino. When casino gambling was outlawed in Florida in the '60s it would be converted into a Holiday Inn with two wings of rooms, one of which was adjacent to the side (stern) wall of Pandora's Wreck. A much more modern Radisson Hotel eventually went up on the site in the 1990s.

The Pandora's commercial license lapsed after 1970 and the now-beached vessel served as apopular hang-out through the onset of the disco era in the mid-70s. I first drank there on graduation night from Choctawhatchee High School in May 1974 (I was a cool legal 18, having had my birthday on the 19th of April!). When trends changed, Pandora's Wreck was closed as a night spot, probably in the winter of 1976-77 when the Gulfcoast was hard hit by a recession. By June 1977 a trendy clothing store, "Freewheeling Franklin's Body Shop" moved from its original location in Fort Walton Square where it had opened in 1973, and took over the former disco. Economics were not kind and the fashion shop folded after only a season or so.

 

Photo by Mark Sublette

The next operators made a business decision to convert the property into a restaurant, although a lounge continues to be located on the enclosed upper deck aft of the pilot house and flying bridge location. Now known as "Pandora's Steakhouse," it is the longest operating family-owned steakhouse in the Fort Walton area. The original translucent, lite-from-below, disco floor still
exists in the restaurant's upper level, now covered by carpet. I discovered the vessel's true identity in 1976 when I found that the original hull number 499 was still visible under the paint on the bow, cut into the planking. Research in vintage Jane's Fighting Ships from the war era at the Eglin AFB library uncovered its original identity.When I examined the same location on the bow in June, 2004, the number was no longer visible as so many layers of paint have since been applied...
 

Photo by Mark Sublette

Alas, its days are numbered! The owners are preparing to build a larger restaurant on a parcel on the north side of U.S. Highway 98 about a third of a mile from the current operation, and a condominium is slated to replace the old same place. A closing party is slated for New Year's Eve this winter (2004), after which the current building, and CG 83499, will be bulldozed! ; *sigh*. Many good memories have I of nights spent at Pandora's Wreck... Sic transit gloria mundi!

Mark Sublette

Falls Church, Virginia

PS On January 5, 2005 Mark wrote that the Pandora will close on 16 January and razed soon after.
 


Pandora's Location

Interior Views of Pandora

  Photo by Mark Sublette

The restaurant's downstairs bar located amidships, looking towards the wine cellar where the engines would have been.

 

Photo by Mark Sublette

Below deck, amidships, looking forward

 

Photo by Mark Sublette

 

 

Photo by Mark Sublette

Steakhouse bar amidships
 

Update (4-27-05)

I I passed through Fort Walton Beach last week and checked out the Pandora's situation.  The former location is now a fenced-off construction zone with  the old hull and attached building gone.
The very bow was saved, however, I'm at least relieved to say, and has moved across the Okaloosa Island to the new location of Pandora's.   The new facility had "hiring staff" signs on its front door so they are nearing a reopening.  I will attach several views of what remains of the Pandora.

Mark Sublette
 

Photo by Mark Sublette

Photo by Mark Sublette

Photo by Mark Sublette

PS.  I just noticed:  if you look in the background of the forward looking view, it shows the boathouse in the background with still-unrepaired damage from Hurricane Ivan which came ashore to the west of Fort Walton Beach on 15/16 September 2004.

 Photo by Mark Sublette
             Mark ("Served Time" on the Pandora)