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The ADMIRAL nearing final journey to scrapyard

Posted on Monday, April 4, 2011 by

The ADMIRAL when newly reconstructed in 1940.

An Art Deco masterpiece that created decades of memories and became a landmark on the St. Louis waterfront is about to be scrapped.  Depending on water conditions in the Mississippi River, the ADMIRAL riverboat may depart any day now for her final voyage, a 10 hour tow to the Azcon Corporation scrap yard in Alton, Illinois.  The ADMIRAL was once the largest passenger vessel on the inland waterways of the United States.  It is a tricky process to move a boat of this size when the water level in the river is too high, and water at the destination too low.  In early March, work began on cutting off the pilothouse and top deck structure to enable it to pass under bridges, notably the Merchants Bridge.  The boat will require 53 feet of vertical clearance which should be sufficient depending at what stage the river is.  The secondary problem is having enough water in the Alton Pool where the dismantling will take place.  At that point, the level is down five feet  due to the Army Corps of Engineers releasing water in anticipation of spring flooding from the nearby Melvin Price Locks and Dam.  If the window of opportunity presents itself, the ADMIRAL could leave at any time, or if conditions turn unfavorable it could remain in St. Louis until September.

The ADMIRAL made her maiden excursion from St. Louis in June, 1940.  While nearly all other Mississippi River boats before and since have stuck with the traditional expectations of decorative “gingerbread” flourishes and “highfalutin” tall stacks or flutes, this stainless steel mass of five rounded decks disguised even her giant sidewheels.  It could not have looked more different, the silver and glass superstructure being relieved only by the  name in giant red letters reading ADMIRAL.  Riverboats have frequently been rebuilt on the hulls of older vessels and this one was no exception.  In 1907, the ALBATROSS was built as a large, 308 foot long, railroad transfer ferry with a steel hull, four boilers and a sidewheel.  In 1937, Streckfus Steamers bought the boat as a replacement for their aging but magnificent excursion steamer J S DELUXE.

The predecessor to the ADMIRAL, the more traditional J S DELUXE. Postcard from the collection of Shawn J. Dake.

Original appearance of the boat as the ALBATROSS.

Completely transformed in 1940 to the ADMIRAL

It took two years between 1938 and 1940 to complete the transformation.  Captain Joseph Streckfus floated the concept of building a new boat of radical design, following the introduction of his previous large excursion, all-steel, vessel the PRESIDENT (ex CINCINATTI) in 1934.  Highly unusual in marine architecture at the time, both boats were designed by a female, Miss Maizie Krebs.  To quote from a company magazine, “Riding the river daily on excursions from St. Louis is a new giant, the $1,000,000 S.S. Admiral, the largest inland steamer ever built in America, as modern as a streamlined airplane and as modernistic as a cocktail lounge.  The massive boat, longer than an average city block, was planned from bow to stern, inside and out, by dainty Maizie Krebs.  It was a man’s job for a girl.”  The designer no doubt received inspiration from Washington State where the KALAKALA had debuted as the first streamlined ferry in 1935.

The ADMIRAL at St. Louis against the Gateway Arch.

The ADMIRAL was an amazing vessel.  Five decks sat atop her lengthened 374 foot long by 92 foot wide hull.  Up to 4,400 passengers could be carried on excursions up and down the Mississippi.  Without a doubt, part of her popular appeal was found in the two air conditioned decks which were a real treat during hot Missouri summers.  The Blue Salon, done in art deco style supported by huge columns with pink and blue lighting accents was billed as the world’s largest floating ballroom.  On the top deck umbrellas, wooden deck chairs and patio-style furniture made for a pleasant place to watch the passing scene.  An arcade filled with diversions for  the kids could be found on the Main Deck.  An advertisement by the company titled “Flashes from the Flagship S.S. Admiral” summed up these amenities with a flourish.  “Dancing and romancing in the Blue Salon.  Cocktails in the swank Club Admiral.  Cool as Maytime in the mountains… Gay ‘brellera’ on the Lido Deck… Ahoy?  You’re in for a circus on the Main Deck.”  And so it was, over the course of nearly four decades, in times when entertainment was much simpler.  By the 1960′s, teen dance cruises had become a staple on weekend nights in addition to the adult only midnight cruises that were popular.  During a major refit in 1973-1974 the old steam engines and paddlewheels gave way to new diesel propulsion and propeller drive.  But the crowds were dwindling and in 1979 the once popular cruises were a thing of the past.  The ADMIRAL’s engines were removed and from then on the old boat would serve in a stationary role.  Much of the splendid art deco fittings were stripped.  For several years the huge vessel wandered around without power or direction, being sold several times.  Finally in 1994, with gambling freshly legalized, she reopened as a casino, most recently under the name “President Casino on the Admiral.”  The final owners, Pinnacle Entertainment took over the vessel in 2006.

The ADMIRAL as seen at St. Louis in October, 2005. Photograph by Larry Hosken.

The casino operation lasted until June, 2010.   Revenues had fallen by two-thirds and plans were made to close the casino.  The mighty Mississippi River hastened the end by a week as it rose four feet above flood stage, inundating the entrance area.  There would be no grand finale for the ADMIRAL.   The state stripped the gambling license while workers removed the slot machines and furnishings.  In November, the boat was offered on eBay, with a “buy it now” price of $1.5 million.  With no qualified buyers and no hope for the future without major refurbishment to the hull, the impressive riverboat was consigned to scrap.  As the last chapter of this story progresses, updates and photographs would be most welcome.  Another unique element of history and Americana will soon be only memories.

Thanks to Larry Hoskens, Martin Cox

See also: Streamlined art deco ferry KALAKALA listing in Tacoma

24 Responses to The ADMIRAL nearing final journey to scrapyard

  1. hank

    April 4, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    I will pray for this ship

  2. Peter Knego

    April 4, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    How sad. I tried to get on board a few years ago while doing a trip on DELTA QUEEN but couldn’t get cameras past the entry. Great report, Shawn!

  3. Kenneth Eden

    April 5, 2011 at 6:49 am

    Not many vessels seem to make it as casinos, the case in point as noted above is another example of this faliure.

    It is also amazing that the SS ADMIRAL was not at all well known at least to me, outside of her cruising area. 2005, from Larry Hoskens nice photo, the vessel looked to be in good shape on the outside

    The so grand MISSISSIPPPI QUEEN is rotting in a backwater in Louisiana, on her side, probably filled with gators and snakes, such grand passengers, and to think, a new GRAND replacement for her is being studied. What is wrong with that picture?

  4. Bruce Mitchell

    April 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Thanks for the story. I didn’t think anyone would respond to my comments so fast. I loved the Admiral. I also really enjoyed sailing from St. Louis to Cincinnatti on now-out-of-operation River Barge. A wonderful way to go. Thought at first it would boring but it was a great experience. Made a video of the 8 day trip and called it “Barges and Bridges – Locks and Dams. A great
    concept for people who liked an all-inclusive cruise with a max passenger list
    of 198. Thanks again for the Admiral

  5. Alex Rodmell

    April 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Went onboard about 2000. Strange way to run a casino. They charged an admission fee. You could only buy a small amount of chips. If you lost that amount, you could not buy more for set time period. Bet they’re scatching their heads why folks didn’t keep packing the place. If the government let them alone they might of had a chance. And this fine historic boat would be still viable.

  6. R. Tayloe

    April 6, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Rest in peace you beautiful lady. Shame that the locals didn’t find her to be as attractive, to keep the revenue and life in this ship. Nice article, love the history and postcards… would be great to see a follow-up piece, if possible. Thanks.

  7. Tim Dacey

    April 8, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Great story Shawn! I sailed on her in the 1970′s when my family visited St. Louis. I’m glad she survived as long as she did. The era of great excursion boats which included Admiral and President saw some beaytiful boats built, few which remain with us today.

  8. Rob Gannon

    April 12, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    A truly sad, sad, sad day. As someone born and raised in St. Louis, summer excursions on the ADMIRAL were a staple of my childhood and teen years. I remember holding my ears as a child as the calliope played. I spent hours watching the side levers (nicknamed “Popeye” and “Wimpy”} spin the paddle wheels.My dates and I were there on many weekend evening cruises during high school and I first learned to “dance” (i.e., hold her close and sway rhythmically) in the big boat’s ballroom. Another piece of my, and many others’ childhood is disappearing.

  9. Jim Czerniak

    April 18, 2011 at 6:49 am

    Wow, so sad to see her go!! I only had the chance to ride her once in the mid ’70′s but to this day I remember it well and I was a young kid. I always made it a point to drive or walk by everytime I passed through St Louis. It’s a shame that someone in St Louis can’t drag it on shore and make it into some sort of maritime museum. But I guess the boat being over 100 years old now is ready for a rest. SS Admiral…I will think of you every time I shave or see something made of recycled steel!!!

  10. Rob Gannon

    July 8, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    A story in the July 8. 2011 edition of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH reported that crews have begun removing the highest remaining deck of the “ADMIRAL”. Apparently the boat’s owners, St. Louis Marine, have decided not to wait for the Mississippi to fall below flood stage, where it has been since April 23rd, and have decided to have the necessary work done to enable her to pass under the relevant bridges at the current water level. Once the work is complete the boat can be towed to scrapyards either north or south of her present berth.. A lot of people had a lot of good times on that boat. She will always live in our memories.

  11. Jacqueline

    July 21, 2011 at 6:45 am

    She was a beautiful boat! I would ride every year for my birthday in the 1970s. I have since grown up and moved far away but to me that is one of the iconic symbols of the riverfront in St. Louis. First Busch Stadium and now now this, so much has changed over the years. It is sad I won’t ever be able to take my own children on her.

  12. hank

    July 25, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    Any news?

  13. Richard Hunt

    July 27, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    She is gone. They towed her away from the St. Louis riverfront in mid-July. She has been taken to a scrapyard in nearby Columbia Illinois. I remember many good times onboard The Admiral, and even did construction work on her when they were renovating her as an entertainment complex. The entertainment complex didn’t last long and she was converted to the casino.

    With (at that time) the Missouri gaming laws, the President Casino on the Admiral never could hold its own against the Casino Queen across the river in Illinois, and when Pinnacle opened the Lumiere Place hotel and casino within 1000 feet of the President casino, which were both owned by Pinnacle, that rang the death knell for the Admiral. As was stated in the article, a sutible buyer couldn’t even be found on Ebay and she was slated for the scrapyard.

    Such a sad ending for a beautiful, and relatively one of a kind boat.
    Richard Hunt,
    St. Louis Missouri

  14. Peter Knego

    July 27, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Thank you for the update, Richard. Sad but not unexpected.

  15. Kathleen

    July 29, 2011 at 6:14 am

    So sad, I loved the Admiral. Does anyone know where the calliope ended up?

  16. Liz Krinsky

    August 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    I grew up in the St. Louis area and moved back in 2008. Although I came back once or twice a year to visit family, it has only been since I live in the city and really get to drive, and walk around that I get the full view of the destruction that this city has stupidly thrust on itself. The tore down the Ambassador, and the Century Building, but hey, across the street from me they are going to great pains and money to save a one story warehouse. I’m fine that someone wants to save the warehouse, but where were the cries when they demolished the Ambassador? As far as I can tell, this city has always had an identity problem, and has never appreciated what it had going for it until it was long gone. The Admiral is no exception. With all the millions spent “renovating” it, why did they not spend the money to keep it river worthy? If it ever looked like the same fate would befall the Delta Queen, there would be enough people who cared to keep it from happening. Here in St. Louis, when the writing was on the wall regarding The Admiral, most people just shrugged it off as a foregone conclusion. Oh well. The Admiral was not just a riverboat, it was a completely unique riverboat and something the like of which were not seen elsewhere. NYC has The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Tower, Chicago has The Wrigley Building…. those places are synonymous with the cities they are attached to. And St. Louis…… what an ode to modernity…. the gleaming streamlined steel of the Gateway Arch, mirrored by the gleaming streamlined Admiral…. the two together made such an incredible statement. It breaks my heart. St. Louis, I love you, and I hate you.

  17. Cindy Taylor

    November 7, 2011 at 12:53 am

    I am heartbroken! I have just learned that the S S Admiral was designed and built by my ancestors. I have just started doing genealogy, and was informed that this is part of my families history going down. I dont know if it is possible, but does anyone know how I can contact the people in charge of destroying this vessel? I would love to know if I could get a piece for my family history?

  18. Karen Denney Condon

    February 22, 2012 at 9:57 am

    While helping my 30 yo daughter pack to move cross country this morning, I discovered she still had my little wall plate with a picture of the SS Admiral my grandmother bought for me 55 years ago! My daughter was too young to appreciate the stories of the childhood vacations I spent on it when she decided to claim it as her own property years ago, but I just had the wonderful pleasure of telling her now, all these years later!

    My mother and grandmother and I would travel every summer from St. Louis to La Salle, Illinois on the SS Admiral, and then spend a week at the lodge in Starved Rock State Park. It was our version of a chick-trip back then, and I remember so many sights and sounds aboard the ship and how excited everyone was. And if my memory is correct, there was a merry-go-round at the back of the ship I would run to first thing every year….. and yes, the calliope was always playing!

    I’m so glad I Googled it this morning and happy I got to read the other memories above. And I’m really blessed that my daughter still cherishes that little plate and now knows just how special the memory is!

  19. Sara Wible

    October 29, 2012 at 7:59 am

    I am so saddened to read about the demise of the S.S. admiral. I first came into contact when I traveled to St. Louis from Indiana with my future husband and his family in the mid-sixties. We took a night cruise which was magical for me! She became a part of our summer vacations as we traveled to see St. Louis with our children. We are now coming to St. Louis with our grandchildren, and it saddens us that the Admiral is not there for them to experience!
    The Amiral belongs to be at Lacledes Landing right below the Gateway Arch! They belong together!
    Thank you for the special memories!!

  20. Hilton Jones

    January 14, 2013 at 7:10 am

    Thanks for this wonderful, but sad, post. I shared a link to it on Facebook. I used to love going on the Admiral. Went at least once or twice a year as a child. Remember my big sister teaching me how to play solitaire in the art deco cocktail lounge while we listend to the big band play swing music. As a little jerk 7 yo, I’d get out on the dance floor and dance whenever they played La Cucaracha! And oh how I loved the pinball deck (this was obviously pre-video games).

  21. kenny

    March 12, 2013 at 5:20 am

    This is what happens when a big casino takes over and after making there billions just throw something like this landmark away to the scrap yard. They should of made the casino restore it back the way it was before they gutted it for gambling. Or someone in st louis could of saved it. I am sure if they got a dollar from everyone in st louis and surronding areas it would of been enough to buy it. Look what they want to do to the rams stadium billions in upgraded but nothing for a historic landmark what a shame

  22. Cheryl

    June 20, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    I was watching a Cardinal ball game and thought of the Admiral and looked it up. I had no idea that it was gone to scrap. I had so much fun on the Admiral as a child. The whole bottom deck was an arcade that my brother and I loved. My dance school would preform in the ballroom on Sunday afternoons and it such fun. My parents when they were dating would go on dinner/dance cruises. It was so beautiful and a great example of art deco. I’ve never seen anything else like it. I hope someone somewhere saved something from this great boat.

  23. Fiora (Theresa Wolf)

    March 2, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    I was just teaching my daughter one of the many tap dances I learned as a child, choreographed by her grandma…and then told her about performing on the Admiral every summer with my mom’s dance school. When I went to look it up, fully expecting it would still be a part of St.Louis, I found out it had been destroyed in 2011. How sad!
    Now, I’m finding pictures that remind me of things I had long forgotten. Thank you for this site. We loved you, Admiral!

  24. ronald douglas

    May 15, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    I stumbled on this website. I remember going on the Admiral, on class trips, from Kennard School. This was in 1943 @1944. Altough we returned to New Jersey after the war, I always had fond memories of St Louis, and the Admiral.

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