Posted on Wednesday, April 7, 2010 by Peter Knego
When beloved ships such as the former FRANCE/NORWAY or HAMBURG/MAXIM GORKIY were recently sold for scrap, there was a hue and cry for certain architectural features, such as their funnels, to be preserved.
Although it could be argued such an undertaking is easier said than done, one rare example of preserving a substantial portion of an old ocean liner deserves special mention.
It looms within the nondescript brick and glass structure of Milan’s Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology. Towering over exhibits of sailing ships and canoes, the entire five deck forward portion of the 1925-built CONTE BIANCAMANO’s superstructure has been enshrined here since its careful removal, transport to Milan and painstaking rebuilding some forty six years ago.
Please click on image to view a larger version. All vintage images are copyrighted to the Maurizio Eliseo collection and all current images are by and copyright Peter Knego 2010, unless otherwise noted.
In 1925, the Scottish shipyard of William Beardmore and Company completed the 23,562 gross ton SS CONTE BIANCAMANO for Italy’s Lloyd Sabaudo to carry passengers from Genoa to New York.
Named for the Humberto Ui, who founded the Savoy, the BIANCAMANO was neither the largest nor fastest vessel of her type but she was nonetheless a handsome, well-proportioned ship with a vertical bow, gentle sheer, tall twin funnels and a counter stern. Initially, the vessel carried 280 first, 420 second, 390 third and 660 fourth class passengers. The twin screw liner, capable of 21 knots, was followed in 1928 by the similar, Trieste-built CONTE GRANDE. Internally, both ships were fitted in ornate, almost Baroque style by renowned interior architect Adolfo Coppedé.
In 1932, the major Italian transatlantic passenger shipping companies merged to form Italian Line, and the CONTE BIANCAMANO was painted in their red, green and white funnel markings. She was switched to River Plate service until 1935, when she was commandeered for trooping duties to Massawa.
In 1936, the CONTE B was chartered to Lloyd Triestino for voyages to the Far East but returned to Italia in 1939 for their South American run.
In 1941, she was seized at Cristobal and requisitioned for service as the World War Two troop transport USS HERMITAGE (AP-54). In 1947, upon completion of her trooping and repatriation duties, the USS HERMITAGE was returned to Italy and given her original name.
The well-worn vessel was given a major overhaul along with the CONTE GRANDE. Were there not such an immediate demand for tonnage on the emigrant service, it is entirely possible both ships would have been disposed of in favor of building completely from scratch. Instead, the Italian government sponsored a contest among the nation’s interior and marine designers. For the BIANCAMANO, the work was ultimately awarded to Gustavo Pulitzer-Finale, Umberto Nordio, Alesandro Psarcaropulo and the legendary team of Gio Ponti and Nino Zoncada. Contributions by the finest and most influential Italian artists of the Midcentury era included Emanuele Luzzati (his first sea-going work), Marcello Mascherini, Marco Sirini and others.
Externally, the BIANCAMANO received a new, raked bow, smaller, more modern funnels and sleek bulwarks that gave her a much more streamlined appearance. Her tonnage increased slightly to 23,562.
Many of the artists who contributed to the CONTE BIANCAMANO would also do work for the Italia, Lloyd Triestino, Costa, Home Lines, Incres and Adriatica newbuilds that followed through the mid 1960s. Two of them, Genoa-based Emanuele Luzzatti and Roncole-based Enrico Paulucci, contributed as late as 1971 to Sun Line’s STELLA SOLARIS (ex CAMBODGE).
With a revised capacity of 215 first class, 333 cabin class, and 1030 tourist class, the BIANCAMANO returned to winter River Plate and summer New York service. Carrying wealthy Italian businessmen, clergy and tourists as well as emigrants seeking a better life, the CONTE BIANCAMANO and her equally stylish running mate, CONTE GRANDE remained successfully in service until 1960. By then, a new generation of Italian liners was on the horizon and both of these ladies were nearing the end of their useful lives.
The BIANCAMANO went to La Spezia for scrapping, where her superstructure was carefully removed and shipped in sections via train to Milan where it was rebuilt and opened to the public in 1964. The equally splendid GRANDE was broken up in 1961.
CONTE BIANCAMANO Top to Bottom Tour: Today
Top Of The House
Although just the First Class Veranda portion of the ship is accessible to the public (it is also used for private meetings and gatherings), there are plans to open up the rest of the CONTE BIANCAMANO to small groups of visitors on guided tours. In the meantime, it is well worth visiting the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology to see this amazing, unique feat of ocean liner preservation in person.
What a feat of engineering it took to salvage and rebuild the CONTE BIANCAMANO’s remains! Imagine if such a project were undertaken to save a portion of the first MAURETANIA, the second NIEUW AMSTERDAM or even the third FRANCE. One has to salute the directors of the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology and the City of Milan for having the vision and fortitude to make such a thing happen.
END: Posted on 7 April, 2010. Updated April 24, 2010.
Very special thanks: Martin Cox, Maurizio Eliseo, Marco Lezzi
References: “Amare Un Cantiere: Egone Missio E Lo Stabilimento Di Monfalcone” by Maurizio Eliseo, “Crociere Nell’Arte: Cruising Into Art” by Matteo Fochessati and Paolo Piccione, “The Lido Fleet” by Peter C. Kohler, “Nino Zoncada” by Paolo Piccione, “Six Wonderful Days” by Paolo Piccione, etc., “Transatlantici, The History of the Great Italian Liners on the Atlantic” by Maurizio Eliseo and Paolo Piccione, “Trieste E Le Navi: Una Storia Per Immagini I Transatlantici” by Maurizio Eliseo and Claudio Erné
Dedicated to the late Jan Loeff, foremost fan of the CONTE BIANCAMANO.