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SS UNITED STATES Pilgrimage, Part One: A Peek Inside

Posted on Sunday, September 23, 2012 by

Peter Knego heads back east to visit America’s most celebrated and important passenger ship, the SS UNITED STATES, which is currently laid up in Philadelphia. Here is a brief recap of the fabled ship’s history and a look at some of her interior spaces, both then and now.

SS UNITED STATES Conservancy

Save The UNITED STATES.org

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2012 unless otherwise noted.

Problogue: Saturday, September 15, 2012

The burnt-out hulk of the SS MORRO CASTLE at Asbury Park, NJ, in 1934. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

78 years later:  facing north along the beach at Asbury Park, NJ. on a pristine September afternoon in 2012.

This particular trek began on a melancholy note in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where I attended a celebration of life for a close friend and former business partner. For ship lovers, Asbury Park has a special lore for being the spot where the liner MORRO CASTLE washed ashore in 1934 after catching fire and burning from stem to stern. The smoldering incident, which is aching to be made into a major Hollywood motion picture, resulted in the loss of 137 lives and and the implementation of new SOLAS fire safety laws.



Peter Knego collection.

While in the region, I felt it urgent to revisit the UNITED STATES, the ultimate American maritime achievement of the Post War, or, for that matter, any era. I was last aboard in late 1997 and while I had the opportunity to spend two days fully exploring and photographing her, I was long overdue for a return.

The Hales Trophy for fastest Atlantic crossing. Peter Knego collection.

The UNITED STATES’ history is ubiquitous to fans of the great liners but for the few who are not aware of her, she was built in 1952 as the largest (52,000 gross tons) and fastest (top verified speed of 38 knots, which, at 1.15 mph equals approximately 44 mph) passenger ship built in America. She won the Blue Riband for fastest crossing of the Atlantic in both directions and while her eastbound record was finally beaten by a hydrofoil, she remains the fastest large ocean liner ever built.

She measures 990 (the maximum Panamax length) by 101 feet and was built to carry 1,928 passengers in three classes (first, cabin and tourist) with a crew of 900. Considered sterile by many at the time, her interiors were composed of fireproof materials and heavily employed linoleum, brushed steel, glass and Marinite (panels made of an asbestos compound). Her decor may have been severe but with time, it grows increasingly attractive for its sleek MidCentury shapes and vibrant colors, courtesy of an all-female design team led by Dorothy Markwald.

Maiden New York arrival. Peter Knego collection.

Having grown up in the 1960’s with the World Book Encyclopedia and a reverence (at the time) for Disney films — the UNITED STATES was featured in the Fred MacMurray movie, “Bon Voyage” and even appeared as a backdrop in a variety of movies, from “West Side Story” to “Die, Die, My Darling” — the ship was, to me, the definition of “ocean liner” long before I became smitten with the topic. Those two over-sized, domed funnels in their bold red, white and blue colors, that sharply raked prow and her long, slender hull were to my young eyes about as powerful looking as any man-made object could be. I’m pretty certain every kid of my generation was aware of the UNITED STATES, the QUEEN MARY and the QUEEN ELIZABETH, just like later generations would embrace the 747 and the Space Shuttle.

She carried everyone from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, John Wayne, Bob Hope, James Stewart and a young Bill Clinton to the actual Mona Lisa. That she only sailed for 17 years before being mothballed in 1969 didn’t diminish her legend. Actually, it probably fueled it, since unlike many other liners, the UNITED STATES did not go through a gradual decline before fading out.

Plans unrealized: Hadley’s cruise ship UNITED STATES from a brochure detailing her 1980 return to service. Peter Knego collection.

High operating costs ended her career prematurely and she sat tucked away at Newport News and later Norfolk, before being sold to Seattle-based developer Richard Hadley, who intended to run her as a combination time-share and cruise ship in 1978.

Guernsey’s auction catalog. Peter Knego collection.

Hadley’s good intentions soon paved an unintended “road to hell” in which his soon-to-be-cash-strapped organization held an auction of the ship’s fittings to help pay for a conversion that was never to take place.

Guided tour of the wheelhouse. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1984.

That 1984 auction enabled me to make my first pilgrimage to the ship in Norfolk, where I spent several days volunteering as a tour guide just to have unfettered access while she was opened up for public inspection.

First Class Ballroom, just prior to the auction. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1984.

Stairs of steel and linoleum. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1984.

I recall wandering her passageways and public spaces in the after hours, marveling at countless details such as original soft fittings, signage and paperwork that were literally frozen in time.

Starboard promenade. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1984.

Her utilitarian, fireproof interiors had not aged to the point that I could fully appreciate them but I nonetheless marveled that everything I was looking at (and not doing a very good job of documenting) was entirely original.

The ensuing auction saw most of the ship’s innards literally torn to shreds as key items were pried out of her like so many decaying teeth. The formerly proud UNITED STATES was left a shambles, Hadley’s plans never materialized and she continued to sit. Homeless people allegedly found shelter in her abandoned accommodation, opportunistic watchmen sold off whatever remaining bits and pieces they could and vandals and the harsh weather took care of the rest.

In 1992, new owners headed by Fred Mayer of Commodore Cruise Lines, purchased the ship with yet more plans to refurbish the UNITED STATES for cruise service. With the growing awareness of the hazards of asbestos and other environmental toxins that were largely used in construction of ships of her era, they had her towed to Turkey and, eventually, the Ukraine, where all of these substances could be cheaply removed. What few bits of the UNITED STATES’ ravaged interior remained were scraped out in Sebastopol. She re-emerged a “blank canvas”, pruned of her aluminum lifeboats and all interior fittings.

SS UNITED STATES at Packer Marine Terminal. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1996.

In 1996, she was towed back across the Atlantic, finding a last-minute home in Philadelphia at the Packer Marine Terminal underneath the Walt Whitman Bridge. I was on the East Coast at the time and managed to convince a sympathetic tug boat captain to sneak me into the heavily guarded terminal for a few quick photos of her exterior. I then hired a helicopter to take some aerial views before returning home.

My next chance to visit her came in late 1997, courtesy of Mike Alexander, a Utah-based enthusiast who was actively campaigning to see the ship saved. By then, the UNITED STATES had been moved to her current berth, Pier 82, on the Philadelphia waterfront. Mike had earned the trust of the ship’s then-owner, Edward Cantor, and was allowed to bring a guest or two on board with him.

The morgue. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1997.

Top secret turbine. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1997.

Engine room control panel. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1997.

In a span of two cold, rainy days, I was able to wander freely through the ship and document every possible interior space and bit of architecture, including her once-top-secret engineering compartment. It was exciting but also very disheartening to find this great lady stripped to the bone but even her empty shell exuded a thoroughbred’s grace and dignity. Not long after our visit, tragically and suddenly, Mike Alexander passed away but his dream will live on so long as the ship remains with us.

In 1998, the SS United States Foundation was created to help raise awareness for the ship’s salvation. Through their efforts in 1999, the ship was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and through the work of the SS United States Trust, an offshoot of the Foundation, a letter of support from Bill Clinton was secured. Both organizations are no longer active but without their efforts, the ship might well have slipped away years ago.

In 2003, after Mr. Cantor’s death, the UNITED STATES was put up for auction by his estate. Outbidding a cabal of scrappers, Norwegian Cruise Line purchased the ship. Some claim NCL only bought the THE BIG U to stop others from using her as competition for their new NCL America product but the fact remains that whatever their intent was, if NCL did not buy her, the UNITED STATES would have gone for scrap in 2003. I attended the christening ceremony of their PRIDE OF HAWAI’I cruise ship and heard with my own ears when then-chairman Tam Sri Lim Kok Thay stated that if the project was successful, the UNITED STATES would be their fourth ship. Unfortunately, the venture began disastrously and NCLA would never need a fourth ship, let alone two of the three they started with.

In 2007, NCL conducted a number of surveys that determined the UNITED STATES was still in excellent structural condition but the economic downturn laid to rest any plans, however remote, they had for the ship. In 2010, NCL put the UNITED STATES up for sale but in lieu of taking almost $6 million from interested scrappers, they agreed to sell her for $3 million to the Conservancy. In turn, Philadelphia-based philanthropist Gerry Lenfest provided 20 months of docking fees to give the Conservancy time to find a permanent home and developer for the ship. Putting their money where their hearts and mouths are, the Conservancy completed purchase of the UNITED STATES in February of 2011. The well-organized group has been working closely with developers in several major cities, from Miami to New York and Philadelphia to draw up a viable plan to use the ship as a floating convention center and attraction.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Finned cupola.

For me, the UNITED STATES is hallowed ground. She is the crowning achievement of American maritime ingenuity and resolve. She has sat idle for over 40 years against all odds and it would be a crime on many levels to see her disposed of. Viewed from the dockside, her shocking exterior appearance is purely cosmetic, something that will hopefully soon be remedied with some sandblasting and fresh paint. In the meantime, she wears her rust and peeling paint like scars from an ongoing battle against the elements, one that she has thus far endured.

First Class Stairtower.

Stairway heyday. Peter Knego collection.

After signing various waivers, I was led up the forward stairtower through the shellwork of the ship’s accommodation spaces. The stairs, despite being stripped bare, still retained their imposingly elegant form.

SS UNITED STATES Upper Deck linoleum.

Polka dots and linoleum.

Under foot, a few nice original details awaited re-discovery.

SS UNITED STATES, Starboard Upper Deck, facing forward.

SS UNITED STATES Starboard Upper Deck Suite, facing starboard.

A First Class Suite. Peter Knego collection.

Only the structural support bulkheads remain in all of the accommodation areas, including where the ship’s most lavish suites were once located.

SS UNITED STATES, First Class Dining Room, facing aft from balcony.

First Class Dining Room. Peter Knego collection.

In the darkness, our flashlights scanned the once-domed First Class Dining Room from the musician’s balcony.

SS UNITED STATES forward/port Promenade Deck, facing forward: From the vantage of the former First Class Observation Lounge to the Tourist Class Writing Room and Lounge.

Tourist Class Lounge. Peter Knego collection.

Tourist Class Library. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1984.

The forward end of Promenade Deck began with the Tourist Class Lounge, Writing Room and Library, which were separated from the First Class Observation Lounge by a structural archway with now non-existent partitions. Another thing that was  missing on this visit was the odor of mildew and decaying birds, thanks to the ship’s team of dedicated watchmen who keep her tidier than she has been since her arrival in Philadelphia.

SS UNITED STATES Tourist Class Theater, facing aft.

Tourist Class Theater. Peter Knego collection.

Easy to distinguish in the inboard portion of forward Promenade Deck was the former, 199-seat Tourist Class Theater.

SS UNITED STATES, starboard promenade, facing aft.

Sign 99.

From either side of the main foyer on Promenade Deck, glass-enclosed promenades stretch aft along her former first class public rooms. For years caked in bird carcasses (apparently the ship had a few resident hawks that enjoyed devouring pigeons here) and mold, the promenades are now kept clean and dry.

SS UNITED STATES First Class Ballroom, facing aft.

First Class Ballroom in its heyday. Peter Knego collection.

The First Class Ballroom looked circular due to its layout and a quartet of etched glass panels (some of which are now aboard Celebrity Cruises CELEBRITY INFINITY) in its heyday. Today, within its framework is a bar that was actually built as a prop for the Colin Farrell film, “Dead Man Down”.  A day of shooting the upcoming action film on board the UNITED STATES occurred earlier this year.

SS UNITED STATES Navajo Room windows, facing starboard.

Navajo Room in its heyday. Peter Knego collection.

SS UNITED STATES Navajo Room, facing aft.

Continuing aft, oversized porthole-style windows on the starboard side are all that remain of the clubby first class cocktail bar once known as the Navajo Lounge. It originally boasted a series of sand art paintings depicting Navajo rituals by Peter Ostumi.

Promenade Restaurant, facing forward.

On the port side, some of the framework to the exclusive Promenade Restaurant remains. This was a favorite enclave of guests seeking an intimate dining venue.

SS UNITED STATES, First Class Smoking Room, facing aft/starboard.

First Class Smoking Room, facing port/forward.

From there, it was aft to the former First Class Smoking Room, still recognizable thanks to its curved inner framework.

SS UNITED STATES, First Class Theater, facing aft.

The combination first and cabin class Theater, facing starboard. Peter Knego collection.

Although missing its acoustic walls and hand-woven polka dot curtains, we had no trouble distinguishing the former 352-seat theater that used to cater to first and cabin class passengers at the aft end of Promenade Deck.  The spirit of “The BIG U” still felt very much alive.

We next headed outside to explore the ship’s upper deck areas…

End of SS UNITED STATES Pilgrimage, Part One: A Peek Inside
Very Special Thanks: Mike Alexander, Robert Brieschaft, Martin Cox, Rob Di Stefano, Susan Gibbs, Dan McSweeney, Dan Trachtenberg

SS UNITED STATES Conservancy

Save The UNITED STATES.org — Your Chance To Make A Difference!

40 Responses to SS UNITED STATES Pilgrimage, Part One: A Peek Inside

  1. Shawn Dake

    September 24, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Fantastic story, Peter. The comparison photography between yesterday and today really put into context what the ship’s vast empty spaces once were and what they still could become. It is also nice to see her interiors so spotlessly cleaned up. In all the years I’ve known you, I had no idea that you had been aboard the UNITED STATES in 1984 while she was still intact. This has to be among the best stories you’ve ever done, and there have been a lot of great ones!

  2. Dan Scott

    September 24, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Peter, Do you have any idea what might have happened to the stage curtain from the first class theatre? I always loved those stuffed comedy/tragedy masks that decorated the bottom section of it.
    Dan in Baltimore.

  3. Fred Hartley

    September 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Thanks Peter for a fabulous story about the BIG U! The most magnificent liner of all time!
    Do you have any recent info on the Concoordia……it certainly is not in the news anymore.

  4. Kalle Id

    September 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Utterly fantastic report, Peter. Alas, it also illustrates the difficulties faced by the conservancy group. The ship being essentially just an empty shell it will be costly to make something out of her that’s actually worthy of seeing (well, even the empty hull is worthy of seeing, but you know what I mean). It will be a huge effort to make something out of the ship again. The best of luck with that, of course!

  5. Peter Knego

    September 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Dear Shawn, Dan, Fred and Kalle, thanks for your very kind words. Hang in there for at least one more blog with pix of her deck areas and those glorious funnels. Dan, I don’t know for certain where the curtains went but recall something about them being in private hands. I think a collector got them after the auction. Fred, I hope to get close to the CONCORDIA next month and if I do, will do a full report. Kalle, I actually think the ship is much easier to redevelop now than if she were left intact. All the asbestos would have made it impossible to do anything with her in the U.S. If it were possible to recreate at least her First Class spaces, I think the rest could be left to a new interpretation. She just needs a place to exist, the right funding and an imaginative team — on the latter, I think she is already in good hands. My best, Peter

  6. Corey palm desert

    September 24, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    Peter you are my hero.its my fantasy to walk on board her. I first read the book by frank braynard when I was 12. I got my first brochure on her in 1970 when I was five. Iv always loved her never seen her. Was going to spend week in Philly to see her but a two week Hawaiian cruise round trip from Los Angeles on shaphire princess in December was a thousand a person compared to the over 2200 per person I’d spend on 1week land Philly trip with air hotel food etc. next year I hope to see her. I know the only way I could get close would be a harbor cruise. I still have to see her. Peter thanks for the great pictures. I hope she is saved. I did travel on the infinity and the ala carte dining room United States was great even though I think I was the only one on board who knew of her . Thanks for what you do

  7. Kenneth Eden

    September 25, 2012 at 4:34 am

    Peter

    I agree with Shaun Dake that this is probably one of – if not – the best storys you have done. The care and attention to detail are evident as you present the saga before our eyes.

    Several pictures are my favorites, the First Class Ballroom, with its etched glass partitions, the room looking all the world as though it was getting ready for afternoon tea, the red deck chairs, that once comforted passengers on the cold Atlantic, snuggled in their wool “rugs”, and the First Class Stair Tower, stripped of its dignity, as is the rest of the ship, awaiting a new career.

    I have flown over and along side the SS UNITED STATES many times upon entry or exiting Philadelphias airport, and that is as close to her as I have been. You hold the ace as being one of a few that have been allowed aboard to chronicle her state of sadness.

    Just the other day there was yet another small piece in our local stating that Miami was making a major push to have the ship. That was all, just a push, and a push is better than a whim in my book.

    We all await your next installment.

    Ken

  8. John Cant

    September 25, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Peter: great to see her again. I worked. as Canadian Manager, for US Lines from 1958 to 1969 and traveled aboard the UNITED STATES several times. Your before and after pictures bring back many pleasant memories and I am glad to see that she has been cleaned up. As has been said, it makes it a lot easier to renovate her, if at all possible, with the asbestos removed. As Managers, once a year several of us were taken aboard and we worked as cruise staff. Hard work and I know what today’s cruise staff have to go through. Late nights and early morning meetings to discuss the day’s programmes. I look forward to your next intallment. Thanks again for bringing back so many memories of a great ship.

  9. Hank

    September 25, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Peter,

    wasn’t the SS ROTTERDAM full up with asbestos? I heard that the port of Rotterdam went for an asbestos safe solution. I take it that the rules in the Netherlands dealing with asbestos are different? Because I agree, it’s better to start with a blank slate and asbestos free. It’s nice to see that even with the ship empty and stripped of everything it looks so clean. The Conservancy is doing a remarkable job. It looks cleaner in those photographs than the ones from years ago. Did you get to talk with anyone from the conservancy? I heard that the inital plan is to raise some funds and then use it to carry out restoration work at a shipyard and to put a museum on board. Is that still the plan or is something else being planned?

    Kenneth, that’s cool to hear Miami is making a push for the ship. I hear Miami and New York are giving the most economical offers. Miami sounds good because of all the cruise passengers embarking/disembarking there.

    Speaking of putting ocean liners by busy cruise terminals, has anyone heard any news on the QE2 since the announcement?

  10. Peter Knego

    September 25, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Hi Hank, Exactly! ROTTERDAM’s projected cost skyrocketed some ten times over due to her asbestos removal. It almost sank the restoration before it could be completed. This is why the UNITED STATES situation is actually a positive one for anyone wanting to make a viable use of her.

    All the best, Peter

  11. David L. NYC

    September 25, 2012 at 11:58 am

    I pleased to brag that I “own” 50 square inches of the forward funnel! Thanks, Peter, for a fabulous article.

  12. paul lafleur

    September 25, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    great story as usual peter, boy i had no idea it went that fast, that is screaming.

  13. Sven Bastiaen

    September 25, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Pictures remind me strongly of the Peoples Palace in Berlin after aspestos removal. But I wonder about this weird yellow paint. I´ve never seen this tone used anywhere else. Is it some kind of rust proofing? But the complete upper structure should be aluminium, or am I mistaken?

  14. Kenneth Eden

    September 25, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Hank

    Bingo! (all cruise games intended), Miami is really pushing for the ship – imagine, sailing on a cruise from Miami, even Port Everglades, and being able to saty in s “flotel”, the SS UNITED STATES, be she docked, moored or in permanent dockage.

    Kelp pleasure

    (only drawback, hurricane season, but, I am sure that has been addressed)

  15. Dan Trachtenberg

    September 26, 2012 at 2:56 am

    Peter,

    Great photos, but it’s a shame that you’ve completely neglected to mention the work of the SS United States Foundation, which existed from 1998-2010, of which Robert Westover and I were an intimate part. It was the FOUNDATION that placed the ship on the register of historic places back in 1999, and it was the foundation, working closely with Mike Alexander and other key people, that helped to put the ship back in the spotlight. I’m not trying to be petty, but give credit where credit it due. We accomplished much, right up to the very end (it was the SS United States Trust, an offshoot of the Foundation, that secured a letter of support from Bill Clinton in 2010), and it’s a shame that’s been left out of the history of this great ship.

    Dan

  16. Peter Knego

    September 26, 2012 at 3:04 am

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks so much for the update and you are not being petty at all. I left out a great deal of the ship’s history as it is too comprehensive to cover in one or even a series of blog posts. For instance, I had not even mentioned Gibbs, which I plan to do in part two, since I will be illustrating the ship’s architecture. But the sad fact is that were I to try and put every detail in each entry, they would never get posted. So I am grateful to you for mentioning those important details and salute you and Robert for all you have done to preserve the ship through the Foundation and the Trust.

    Thanks again,

    Peter

  17. Griff Carey

    September 26, 2012 at 4:52 am

    Peter, Thank you again for allowing us to feel like we have been on board her. I too, love the before and after pictures. Your dedication, time and hard work are very much appriciated by many. Keep up the great work and the fantastic reports!

  18. Hank

    September 26, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Peter,

    So they actually did end up removing the asbestos from the SS ROTTERDAM?

    -Hank

  19. Jeroen

    September 26, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Great article & pictures Peter!

    I am from the Netherlands and I really hope that there is a good and profitable future for the SS United States. It’s a shame that a lot of ships are not here with us anymore, very sad.

    I am really glad that the Rotterdam V was saved and that the future is looking very good for her. It was a painstaking long time seeing that happening and I am glad the SS United States is going in the same direction. She REALLY deserves it as being magnificent example, even maybe the best ocean liner ever build.

    @Hank
    Most asbestos from the Rotterdam was removed, only some spaces in the machine room could not be made asbestos-free so they decided to protect/incapsulize them so that there is no possible danger anymore for visitors.

    Although there were much people here in the Netherlands complaining about the very high costs rebuilding the ship, nowadays she is loved by many in Rotterdam and most people are really happy with the ship. Even not ship lovers as us, and that’s a really good thing. So will this also be the future for the SS United States, she deserves it….big time.

  20. Dan

    September 27, 2012 at 12:54 am

    @Jeroen: We should be very fortunate that the SS Rotterdam was saved. It’s too bad that the SS France, MV Augustus, SS Maxim Gorkiy, SS Oceanic, Regal Empress, and Widsor Castle were not saved. I believed that the reason why we have not seen more ships in the ranks of the Queen Mary and the SS Rotterdam was because of the huge cost with removing the Asbestos insulation. Who would have thought that a material that was meant to prevent a fire breakout would doom the ship from becoming a hotel vessel because of the huge cost factors of removing the asbestos onboard. If the asbestos wasn’t a cost factor, I believed that the SS France might have been saved along with the others I have mentioned. We should be fortune that the Big U had its asbestos removed when it did in Sebastopol because I doubt that they would allow any other vessels there for asbestos removal on the cheap.

    I am glad that the Rotterdam, QE2, Big U, and Kungsholm were saved. Although it would have been nice to have seen the SS Oceanic and the SS Maxim Gorkiy saved as well. I hope that the Saga Ruby gets the chance to become a hotel ship after it is retired from service.

  21. Hank

    September 28, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Thank you @Jeroen. That is very good to know that the asbestos was removed in most parts of the SS ROTTERDAM. It’s a great ocean liner and I want to visit it someday. I am planning a trip to Europe ASAP. But I’m really unsure when due to finances. Also I will only go if it is God’s will. You never know, he may have a different intention for a vacation in mind. Like maybe missionary work in Haiti. I think we are doing a transatlantic crossing on the QM2 though. :)

    I wonder if they will remove most of the asbestos on the QE2?

  22. bobwilson1977

    September 28, 2012 at 10:53 am

    I’ve been fascinated by the SS United States for years. I really enjoyed seeing the photos of her before she was stripped clean. Like others said, she is a blank slate ready to be developed.

    One thing I can’t understand is why cruise companies don’t see the value in what she could potentially mean. What I mean by this is that ships like the United States were built for cross-ocean voyages and hence well-constructed to begin with. So the structure should by default be excellent as a “canvas”. Secondly, the ship is an absolute classic iconic design that most people would associate with classic cruise ships. At this point most modern cruise ships look the same: Giant stacked floating condos. The United States could be a ship that would be something totally unique and different: a cruise ship for those who want to “be” on a cruise ship. With the growing interest in all things modern mid-century, this too could mean an opportunity.

    While any means of preservation seems better than scrapping, I don’t really like the idea of a ship being turned into nothing more than a floating building or hotel. I’d love to see her going across the ocean once more as she should.

  23. Hank

    September 28, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    @bobwilson1977 I like your thinking, but the problem with that is that putting her back into service would cost close to a billion dollars. That is about enough to build two larger cruise ships. Also, the ship is 50 years old. And the ship that you saw in photos wouldn’t be the same today if it were put back in service. Besides, there already is one ocean liner sailing regularly across the Atlantic. And that is the QUEEN MARY 2. I feel that transatlantic crossings are such a niche market that only one ocean liner can profit from it. QM2 has balconies, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and dining options galore. All the modern day luxuries on an ocean liner. SSUS is 60 years old. And to operate it would be expensive. It would also need to be converted from steam to diesel. And the ship would need balconies to stay profitable. The only way to install balconies would be to build new cabins on top, which would ruin the ship’s good lines. Just like it did to the NORWAY…although I still think the NORWAY looked nice even with those extra decks. The best bet for the UNITED STATES is as a permanently berthed tourist attraction. And no matter who says it is a building, it will always be a ship to me. The same with the QUEEN MARY in Long Beach. It is technically a building in the Long Beach officials eyes, but I always see a ship. And besides, how many buildings float anyway? Or sit submerged in water 365 days a year. It will also be more in my budget to visit SSUS if it is a tourist attraction instead of an ocean liner. It is a way everyone can apperciate her. For what she was, and what she still is. And what she will continue to be.

  24. Hank

    September 28, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    @Dan, yes asbestos is a problem. But was the QUEEN MARY full of asbestos? I thought QM was before that era. Also, I feel I would have heard about it. I know that there were coats of lead paint up to six inches thick on the hull that were sandblasted and sometimes turned into necklaces, which is a health hazard. Someone feel free to get back to me on whether the QM had asbestos.

  25. Dave in NJ

    September 29, 2012 at 6:58 am

    The use of asbestos in ships goes back to well before the Queen Mary, even before the Lusitania and Mauretania. For ships built in the UK much of it was supplied by Newall’s Insulation Co., later Turner & Newalls.

  26. Paul Goodwin

    September 29, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Excellent article as always, Peter, I’ve always loved “then and now” photos and have in fact been working on a project for several years attempting to take “now” photos from the exact places the “then” photos were taken of the Queen Mary, yours are more poignant however, given the vast differences between the two eras of the Big U. While I dearly love the old girl, her interiors were anything but “magnificent”, she was in fact rather spartan, not even in the same league as many if not most of the liners that came before her. An exact recreation of even her first class public spaces may well prove disappointing to many potential visitors. It’s those mighty *engines* (which I believe are intact?) that’ll capture the publics imagination.

  27. Kenneth Eden

    October 1, 2012 at 6:58 am

    The SS UNITED STATES reflected the interior decoration of her era, not unlike many ships of that same era, give or take a few years. Spartan, in some ways, maybe, in other ways, maybe not.

    One need only compare the interiors supplied by Peter here, to, say, the Italain liners, whose interiors were exteremly sparse, or, the SS FRANCE. It was quite popular in those days to use linoleum in the public spaces on ships, with carpeting a rare luxury on board. And, many a ships brochure had lovely photos of staged public rooms and cabins, pretty say cheese pix that may not have truly represented the actual room aboard the ship.

    The SS UNITED STATES enjoyed a lazy life, not sailing for intended purpose, a US Navy dynamo. Some viewed her as a white elephant, neither a worthy war ship, nor a needed passenger vessel. The QE2 debuted and was successful, why shouldn’t the SS UNITED STATES have been kept in service? The SS FRANCE sailed at the same time, and went on to become the highly popular SS NORWAY. Why then was the fate of the S UNITED STATES as it was? Italy followed United States lines in dumping their finest liners.

    Volumes have been written about the whys and the wherefores of the SS UNITED STATES her triumphs and tragedys, but one thing is certaibn, she is still here.

  28. Jeff Taylor

    October 1, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Why the United States wasn’t financially successful in its later days can be summed up in one word-unions. American flag ships were always operating at a disadvantage due to labor costs, and in the 1960’s as more and more American flag ships disappeared or were sold off to foreign flags the remaining ones, i.e. The big U, were squeezed tighter and tighter with more and more labor disturbances producing obvious results. Obviously the rise of the jetliner, along with the lack of a suitable running mate to facilitate a weekly schedule also contributed. Sad.

  29. Larry Ouellette

    October 1, 2012 at 10:51 am

    All these comments about asbestos … it isn’t nearly as bad as people think. Yes, if the asbestos is exposed and the fibers are allowed to circulate in the air, it is a health hazard. Painted over and left alone, asbestos is not a problem at all.

    Just about every building built before the 1970’s has asbestos insulation on its heating system. Every steam plant built aboard just about every ship had asbestos. Every museum ship you visit that has a steam plant has thousands of pounds of asbestos on board.

    When built, the turbines and pipes were covered in canvas-asbestos-plaster wrapping, then they were almost always painted. One coat of paint is enough for asbestos not to be a problem, but if is a US Navy museum ship, those coverings were probably painted multiple times per year!

    On board the USS Salem museum ship, none of the asbestos (or PCBs) were removed, BUT there were EPA inspections to ensure that these hazards were properly contained. We give tours of one of the engine rooms all the time and there is asbestos insulation by the ton in there. It is 100% OK to be there as none of it is exposed.

    On the SS US, if there is still any asbestos left (like in the engine rooms) it should not have to be removed to allow the space to be toured.

    Larry Ouellette
    Volunteer, USS Salem (CA 139)
    United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum
    Quincy, Massachusetts, USA
    http://www.uss-salem.org/
    Home of the Haunted Ship
    http://www.hauntedship.com

  30. Peter Knego

    October 1, 2012 at 10:57 am

    The asbestos debate rages on and while it may or may not be as bad as some people fear, it still presents a huge problem for people trying to renovate spaces that would involve drilling, cutting or removing it. It has literally sunk similar plans for other ships, which is why with the UNITED STATES having it already cleared from the spaces the public would inhabit is a plus. –Peter

  31. Jeff Taylor

    October 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    To echo Larry’s comment, the “problem” kind of asbestos is the loose, fluffy, sprayed on type which was typically used as a fire retardant on steel structural elements and the underside of decking. This is called “friable” because it can dissipate into the air in fibers when disturbed. The US had some of this, but it also had tons and tons of non-friable asbestos in the form of marinite panels which were used in the interior construction (i.e. room dividers, partitioning, etc). This stuff won’t pass muster today, but also isn’t a problem unless you start scratching the heck out of it to release fibers. The QE2 is also full of it, as was Norway/France, and nobody is saying a thing about Dubai turning her into a hotel in her current state. Yes, asbestos requires care and knowledgable supervision, but the hysteria about it is largely the work of Personal Injury attorneys hungry for work.

  32. Kenneth Eden

    October 2, 2012 at 6:38 am

    I for one have enjoyed the back and forths with regard to asbestos here.

    One thing however that is pointed out by Jeff Taylor, high costs. The US shipping unions held full sway over the SS UNITED STATES as they did with other US passenger lines and their ships. late ’60’s saw rising fuel costs, and yes, the jet plane culled many paassnger into the air, and their were other reasons, most inportantly they were US owned and subsidized ships.

    Incidently, similar turns happened in the 1970’s with Holland America Line – unions, Dutch, nearly ruined HAL, so, the Dutch crew was canned, and Indonesians were hired.

    So, take a look at Cunard, and their three wonderful ships, they are no longer unionized (Cunard lost the British unions years ago), and they are not registered in the UK, so, all you purists – just look at the reasons for NOT being British registered, and not having a fully British crew. The British unions nearly sank the QE2 back in the 1970’s, and the US unions did indeed destroy United States Line.

    Now for the asbestos. Here where I live we have law firms advertising on the TV constantly making people aware of the dangers of asbestos, from former workers in the Newport News ship yards, and for their families.

    Surely, it is for these law firms benefit, they do not work for free, but, they do enlighten and alert to the very real health issues that may afflict – cancers, asthmas, mesothelioma and other deadly diseases.

    It was the rage in the 1970’s in the States to have a ;eqansing, asbestos removal, from skyscrapers, hospitals, schools – and many other public builings. If asbestos is “safe” in some fashion, why then remove it at outrageous prices?

  33. Jeff Taylor

    October 2, 2012 at 10:48 am

    In commercial real estate one removes asbestos for competitive reasons period. If a tenant leases space he wants to know that he can have electricians, phone techs, etc up in the ceiling at will without having to worry about stirring up the stuff or scaring workers by clearing out the area. If landlord A won’t remove it, the tenant simply leases from landlord B. Also, with all the altruistic lawyers scurrying about, it’s simpler to take it out rather than defend lawsuits, no matter how frivolous. I remember one instance in one of the most prominent office complexes in LA where the owner found an unscrupulous contractor who hired undocumented workers and had them work at night naked to avoid the cost of disposable jumpsuits and with a paper painters mask for protection–I’ve always wondered what happened to those poor souls.

  34. John Cant

    October 2, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    The unions were a major factor in the cost of operating the UNITED STATES. They went on strike against the SS AMERICA and the ship was strikebound for quite a while. The Unions were told that the ship would be sold, but they disregarded this ultimatum and the ship was sold to Chandris who converted her from 1000 odd passengers to over 2000 passengers and she was very successful on the voyages from Europe to Australia. Many of the crew from the AMERICA transferred to the UNITED STATES, due to seniority, which cost the younger service crew to lose their jobs. Talking about strikes, I remember 3 different unions aboard the BIG U clashing with each other and one not allowing the other to settle the strike, which meant that the ship stayed docked in New York for weeks, while the Queens and other liners were able to sail. Another union, the longshoremen would strike and not let passengers cross the picket line set up around pier 86, while the other transatlantic liner were allowed to sail, as they were not registered in the US. So you could blame the unions for may things, such as high wages and strikes, for putting the UNITED STATES out of business

  35. Steve Cameron

    November 19, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    If I managed to pop the Powerball for 200+, I know what I would do with the money…

    I might even pilot her myself for 10 minutes.

    (I wanna drive everything once!)

  36. Orcinus

    June 13, 2013 at 3:58 am

    OMG Please let the money and effort going towards the of saving what is now worthy of scrap metal, end.
    If NWCL couldn’t get it done, what is the probability of any other entity getting it done? Philly is still a union town, and there are so many needs above restoring a ship. Ever see all the homeless in Philadelphia? Ever drive on the roads? The school system is million$ in the red, slashing arts and sports programs and cutting teachers wages. Tis city is a mess with taxes taxes taxes driving business OUT of the city. We really need to spend millions renovating what was obsolete the moment it was launched? Check out how bad off Philadelphia schools are, here http://thenotebook.org/blog/136058/listening-pleas-students-save-whats-important-src-prepares-pass-stripped-down-budget

    I wish Miami had taken this sentimental money pit off our hands

  37. Leslie conanan

    July 18, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Hi my name is Leslie conanan I have been researching about this ship it is so beautiful my grandfather was the head chef on this ship his name was Natalio conanan from 1952 to 1967 if you can please email me I would appreciate it thank you kindly !! Leslie conanan

  38. James Ballard

    December 28, 2013 at 9:19 am

    When my dad was in the Air Force, stationed in Germany, we sailed with this ship from Europe to New York in July 1968. I was only 12 years old, but remember this cruise. Swimming in the pool, you had to time your jump into the pool when the water was deepest at the end you were jumping from because of the ship moving with the waves. We even got in trouble for lighting fire works off the bow on July 4. Oh the memories. If you were on that cruise, email me at “zookeeper45@msn.com”

  39. Clive

    December 28, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    James, you were NOT on a cruise! That was a voyage, a proper liner voyage, a sea journey from point A to point B. That is what ships like the United States were designed and built to do. A cruise is usually a pleasure trip from point A to various places and back to point A.

  40. Bob

    December 31, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    I was a passenger on the SS United states in 1959 on U deck. Tourist Class aboard the United States was basic travel nothing more. Staterooms were for sleeping. I feel that the United States offered very minimal comforts to Tourist Class passengers. I hated the furniture. The United States did excel in food service, Tourist Class food was excellent well prepared food served in a very attractive dining room. The movie theater and the swimming pool were also very nice. The shuffleboard and ping pong tables were even inside up on the Sports deck.I came home from Europe on the Rotterdam, much nicer than the United States; Tourist Class had much more space and a more enjoyable trip. They also had toilets in the room, something Tourist Class on board the SS United States. The United States after 1960 was lucky it lasted as long as it did. be Rotterdam and France were much nicer.

    The 707’s and the DC-8’s ran the United States off the Atlantic not the Unions!

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