Wednesday, October 07, 2015

A Last S.O.S. for the S.S. United States

The super liner U.S. United States was built at Newport News Shipbuilding less than ten miles from where I sit typing this post and was launched in the same year that I was born.   In her prime, she was the fastest ocean liner afloat and counted presidents, movie stars and royalty among her passengers.  Now, she is a rusting hulk facing the scrape yard if funds are not raised to maintain her while a plan to develop her into a water front attraction and hotel in New York City are completed.  The S.S. United States is small compared to some of today's massive cruise ships that resemble mammoth hotels slapped on a hull, but her sleek lines and wind swept superstructure recall the days when crossing the Atlantic was most often for the rich and famous.  The New York Times looks at the ship and the fate that I hope she manages to dodge.  Here are excerpts:
A Titanic-sized supership that once ferried presidents, Hollywood royalty, actual royalty and even the Mona Lisa has a place in the history books as the fastest oceanliner in the world. The owners are now racing to avoid having the ship, the S.S. United States, relegated to the junk heap.

A preservationist group, the S.S. United States Conservancy, saved the vessel from being scrapped a few years ago. Its members are working with a developer to give the mothballed vessel a new life as a stationary waterfront real-estate development in New York City, the ship’s home port in her heyday.

Their big dreams, however, now face a financial crisis: Short of money, the conservancy in recent days formally authorized a ship broker to explore the potential sale to a recycler. In other words, the preservationists might have to scrap their vessel.

The conservancy continues to seek out donors, investors or a buyer to preserve the ship and press forward with development. But unless something happens by Oct. 31, the group said in a statement, “We will have no choice but to negotiate the sale of the ship to a responsible recycler.”

The decision to seek bids from scrappers was “excruciating,” said Ms. Gibbs, particularly since the development plan emerged in the last year. “We’ve never been closer to saving the S.S. United States, and we’ve never been closer to losing her,” she said.

In the 1950s and ’60s, the ship was a marvel of technology and elegance, offering regular passenger service between New York and Europe. The 1952 maiden voyage smashed trans-Atlantic speed records. She was so fast, her propellers were a Cold War state secret.

Passenger jets doomed the superliners, however. The S.S. United States left service in the late 1960s. Today she is docked in Philadelphia, stripped of her interiors and rusting in the Delaware River across the street from an Ikea store.

The redevelopment plan is underway, said Keith Harper, vice president for design at Gibbs & Cox, the firm that originally designed the S.S. United States. Late last year, a real estate developer hired the firm to help devise specific ideas for possible reuse. . . . . The ship has roughly 600,000 square feet of floor space.
Admirers remain optimistic. Among them is John Quadrozzi, whose company happens to own a pier in Brooklyn big enough to accommodate an oceanliner. He says he would welcome the ship there, where docking costs would be considerably lower. The conservancy is considering the move, if the money can be raised.

The S.S. United States was conceived with two purposes: to provide luxury passenger service to and from Europe, and to quickly convert into a superfast military transport, although that need never arose. Built partly with government funds, the ship represented a powerful expression of American postwar optimism and ambition.

Newspapers speculated on her secret top speed and wrote about her comings and goings like no airplane route gets written about. In the 1950s and ’60s, she was featured in a Disney movie, a Munsters movie, and a sequel to the Marilyn Monroe blockbuster “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” according to a conservancy history. Her twin red-white-and-blue stacks can be glimpsed in the opening of “West Side Story.”

America, unlike much of Europe, destroys its history and historic buildings and, in this case, ships.  The S.S. United States is one of a kind and I hope the funds are found to save her and make her into a waterfront destination.    Consider making a donation here.

No comments: