Perhaps the final mayday call is sounding in the effort to save “America’s Flagship”, a 1950’s era ocean liner precariously clinging to life, incongruously docked across the street from an Ikea in Philadelphia.
After Crystal Cruises nixed an idea to put the ship back into passenger service last year, there is renewed hope that it will survive as a $300 million mixed-use development, possibly towed back to New York, her historic homeport. Another idea being floated, is sinking her as a man-made reef.
The S.S. United States was a luxury passenger liner built in 1952 and subsidized by the U.S. Government for possible service in the Navy. The ship is the biggest ocean liner ever built in the US and the fastest to cross the Atlantic in either direction.
Celebrities like Grace Kelly and Marlon Brando traveled in her luxurious accommodations (since gutted, sold and archived in various collections) and you can even spot her in the opening scenes of West Side Story in her former glory.
Norwegian Cruise Line at one point considered refitting and restoring her but then scrapped the plans as undo-able or too expensive. The ship eats up $60,000 a month docked on the Delaware River.
The S.S. United States Conservancy is managing the vessel’s future and fate and has been fundraising in an attempt to create a variety of options for the ship’s future, but it seems as if many extended stays of execution are coming to an end.
The Conservancy is planning a two month “extensive outreach” to possible supporters and will then make “a determination as to the vessel’s long-term future.” Bottom line: if money doesn’t come pouring in to keep the old girl afloat, she may face a future as scrap or as a sunken man-made reef somewhere in the ocean waters she once proudly plied.
Although the Conservancy pleads for the ship’s survival by stating that “America’s Flagship remains a soaring and unifying national symbol at a time of wrenching partisan division,” not everyone is as enthusiastic in the prospect of saving the ship.
Josh Kruger, writing in the Opinion section of Philadelphia Magazine called the ship “an oxidized fossil”, “a money pit…that’s used “as a background prop for people eating at Chick-fil-A.”
The Conservancy, however, says that the ship’s final chapter has yet to be written and its “endurance, strength, and beauty have beaten the odds and defied the skeptics.”
Perhaps, the S.S. United States, like Rocky, another Philly icon, can pull out a last minute save from the ropes with her heritage and history — if not her luxurious interiors — intact.