SS United States Could Move to Brooklyn in Months

The SS United States, docked in South Philadelphia since 1996, could be moving soon.

SS United States. Photo | Jeff Fusco

SS United States. Photo | Jeff Fusco

Lost your artsy friends to Brooklyn sometime recently? It could get worse: The SS United States may move to Brooklyn in a matter of months!

A bit of backstory: The United States was built in 1952 as a luxury ocean-liner that would break the transatlantic speed record. It was successful. The ship still holds Blue Riband for westbound transatlantic trips (as well as the eastbound record). Unfortunately for the United States, transatlantic air service for passengers began in 1958; the ship made its last run across the Atlantic in 1969.

Since 1996, it’s been sitting at a South Philly dock — near the South Philly IKEA, as many writers have noted — while everyone figures out what to do with this historic ship. The SS United States Conservancy — who has noted for years that the ship’s time is limited without a restoration — is attempting to save the ship from the scrap heap.

And now it might move to Brooklyn.

A report in the New York Times on the ship notes the Conservancy, which owns the ship, is in deep discussions about the future of the 990-foot-long ocean liner. The ship has 500,000 square feet of service. It would take more than $1 billion to convert the ship into a modern-day cruise liner; the Conservancy believes it would take $170 million to $300 million to convert it into spaces for businesses and retail uses.

And, well, it’s not going to stay in Philadelphia. The Conservancy looked at many sites, but New York seems to be the most sensible one. A person “optimistic” about the chances of a deal say the move to Brooklyn could be OKed “within four to six months.”

Meanwhile, a group led by Joe Henwood wants to move the ship to the Chester waterfront. Henwood says his group’s plan — which has 6 to 10 “very, very serious” investors — would cost $300 to $400 million and would provide an economic boost for the city. (To note: People also said this about the soccer stadium and the casino.) Henwood’s plan would make the ship a hotel for the casino, among other uses. The Times reports his group’s plan is to “wait until the conservancy’s redevelopment plans failed, then he would consider buying the ship from a scrap yard before it was cut up.”

Without a redevelopment deal, the Conservancy says the ship will be scrapped in months. It costs $60,000 a month to keep the ship docked in Philadelphia.

[New York Times]

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  • GT

    Glad to know I donated money for something that’s going to be on display in Brooklyn. Thanks for nothing conservancy…

    • Hector McPeek

      It’s a temporary move. But her true planned relocation is in Manhattan.

      • realposter

        depends on business… Manhattan is more expensive for a berth.

        • Hector McPeek

          Manhattan is where she’s going to end up. I know, because I’m heavily involved with this move and the Conservancy. I also have been working on a project regarding the liner since 2011.

    • Chris

      Did you donate to keep her rusting hulk sitting in the Delaware River, or did you donate to save and preserve a piece of American history. Its not Philly’s ship, it is America’s ship.

    • CNYC

      New York is the United States’ original homeport and far better positioned to support a project of this size. 50+ million tourists came to New York last year alone and the number keeps growing each year – this just can’t be matched in Chester or Philadelphia (no offense).

      The Chester location is not exactly a tourist draw either and unless you’re going to the casino, what other reason is there to go to Chester? How long can that casino even survive over the long term given the failures of many of Atlantic City’s big casino-hotel properties? The push to expand online gaming will only increase the amount of failures of other brick and mortar casinos.

      One also only need look to the battleship New Jersey at Camden – the location does nothing to help her attendance levels and outside of the battleship, why would anyone go to Camden? The New Jersey suffers greatly from the poor choice in location. It’s the same scenario in Chester, the only difference being the casino there instead of the battleship.

      • Drew

        “why would anyone go to Camden?”.. To buy drugs or be murdered I’m guessing…

    • saltcay

      I donated to save her as well. I am in St. Louis and knew there wasn’t a chance in hell that she would end up on the Mississippi Riverfront. What did you expect?

    • whatsup

      The point is to save it. Conservation is much more important then where it ends up. Even if it is renovated. What would really happen to it here in Philly? With the amount of people in and around Brooklyn. There is much better chance that it will find a good and useful second life.

      • GT

        I understand all of this, my issue is that it was marketed as an opportunity to save a great ship and keep it in the philly region. There’s plenty of money in Brooklyn/Manhattan, so why not let them foot the bill for something that they will see the most benefit for?

        • Hector McPeek

          No, offence to Rocky Balboa town.(I love Philly) but Philly has had chance after chance (Since 1996) and the city has failed every time. This move is what’s best for the ship.

  • Johnny Domino

    If moving it keeps it intact, things could be worse.

  • Richard Harrold

    Anything that keeps the old girl in one piece is fine by me. The last of the great ocean liners.

  • Thomas Maxim Guerin

    I don’t care if ends up a brothel in Bahrain as long as it’s preserved.

  • kimada

    For those not real familiar with this ship, it actually was very cool mid century modern inside – one of the dining rooms was this incredible blue and green, another had a wall panel with these jewel-like fixtures that were really unusual, and a lounge had abstract decorations similar to Navajo art – all these things have been taken out long ago, though I’m not sure where they all are. But for people who like mid-century modern, it’s worth looking into for inspiration (my own house in Elkins Park was built in ’54 and has a metal stair raiing like one I saw on this ship. And for the record, the interior design of the United States was done by a team of women, not common at the time).

    • Clipper965

      Navajo Lounge was a masterpiece of Mid-Century Modern design

    • dfpa

      Everything was sold for pennies on the dollar at a 1984 auction as another example of her many owners scavenging her. The worst was removal/sale of her lifeboats and cutting off of her davits for scrap value that permanently altered her exterior profile. There is literally nothing left of her inside. On the bridge all of her controls, instruments, etc. have been stripped clean. Even her whistles are gone! From a historical preservation perspective these items, along with her art, etc. represent significant and irreplaceable loss. Everything is in the hands of private collectors and various maritime museums. While some could potentially be donated back to an onboard museum or partial restoration, the most significant (and potentially most valuable) artifacts are lost forever. One of her propellers was recently saved at the 11th hour through a large donation to the Conservancy, but the fact scrapping a propeller was even considered exemplifies a mindset that’s been pervasive since the ship was removed from service. However altruistic the motive (to ostensibly generate funds to continue the fight) it still amounts to selling her off piece by piece to raise cash.

      • CNYC

        There are already 4 perfectly preserved propellers from the United States – 1 at Kings Point, NY, 1 at Fort Schulyer, The Bronx, 1 at the Mariners Museum at Newport News and finally, one prop sitting disused in a parking lot in Manhattan since it’s removal from Pier 86 and replaced with one of the Intrepid’s props.

        It was good that the last remaining 5-bladed prop left aboard the United States was saved at the last minute but that said, do you save the props and sacrifice the ship or vice versa?

        I think it would also depend on your definition of what the most “significant” artifacts being lost forever. True, a lot furnishings and some art has been completely lost over the years but much remains. The Mariners Museum alone has a massive SS United States collection including the most significant art and furnishings from her First Class Dining Room as well as the First Class bar from the Ball Room (in the classic kidney shape). They’ve even got a juke box that was once used aboard the ship.

        I wholeheartedly agree that the various owners have used the United States as a cash machine (Hadley having started the trend and allowing the ship to fall into such destruction and neglect during his watch) but personally, I would rather let go of a spare set of propellers than let go of the entire ship.

      • Hector McPeek

        you can actually find some of her bridge control panels up for sale on ebay. I’ve seen a few.

  • bob krzenski

    There ya go Philly’ had all these yrs to do something good, but’ in traditional philly screw going to the big apple..GOD’ I love New York!..keep up the bullshit’ next thing to move to the big apple..the Philly Art Museum, where people aren’t afraid of a change..what a beat ass city!

    • Stephen J. Marmon

      Yes but New York was her home for almost all of her sailing days. The Intrepid Museum on the Hudson in NYC draws big crowds, unlike the poor attendance in Philly for the Olympia or in Camden for the battleship New Jersey. Philly may have gotten used to seeing her, but I think this is, if it does happen, the best solution.

      • Chris

        It is terrible that the they sunk so much money into the aquarium and the Battleship’s new home. At the end of the day, a lot of people will never take their family to Camden because of its crime stats. I took my family to see both exhibits. As nice as they are, you still have to drive to them knowing the city you are driving through.
        If Big J was up north, closer to NY Harbor, she would see so much more traffic and attention. She deserves it.

    • jim bean

      WTF does philly or any city have to do with whats happening to the ship now or in the past??.If you followed the history of the ship ,which im sure you havnt. Youd know it was a person from philly who made the biggest donation to get the ship out ncl
      Hands an into the hands of the conservancy. Did any ny er give a dam about it. I doubt , you people are to busy paying 30 dollars for a hot dog an 100 to park your car for a few hours. Nyc is a big overcrowded dump ,where every person there thinks that city is the center of the universe. Typical douchetool mentality,your probably a Yankees fan…yeaaaa go Jeter…fail.

      • Hector McPeek

        NY is her homeport. From 1952-1969. and will be again.

    • realposter

      you do realize NYC was it’s home port and that was the plan all along…?

  • bobbytriumph

    If this ship is lost, it would be like forgetting about the Apollo Mission to the Moon, or throwing away a wing of the Smithsonian. In 1952 this achievement was American greatness and know how dominating the world in ocean transportation and it was celebrated and honored everywhere. It was also done with graciousness and reserve while reaching out to other nations and complimenting them on the challenge the Big U faced and achieved. Handled properly, it could still be in service today but as usual we botched up the subsidies and marketing and parked it in the back yard with some fancy air conditioners like somebody throwing a tarp over their old car and expecting it to be perfect again years later. It was in darn good shape when we botched up the sale of it to Richard Hadley who had good ideas for a while, but then gutted the historic ship and made a restoration and re use even more challenging. Whatever can be done to restore the ship as the amazing attraction it could be, as a Museum of American design and achievement, needs to be done and should have government help to do so. Nearly every state in the Union contributed technology, materials, artwork, fixtures or fittings to the great ship, and enough has been preserved to allow for a superb museum, a modern hotel and even some restored staterooms and public rooms to rekindle the luster and memories of that mid century modern era while also having massive amounts of space for useful and profitable commercial spaces. I pray we don’t botch the rescue of this incredible piece of history and whether it is in Philly, New York, Miami, or is parked in some needy port to be a draw for commerce and tourists I don’t care. What should happen is a Museum where the specialties of every state are utilized in the restoration and displayed for all to see that we still have talent and ability in this country. How many jobs could be created in the restoration with some well spent and managed stimulus money instead of what has been thrown away on worthless projects? The way the “U” was built is the way she should be restored. Lets get off our butts America and show that we don’t throw history away like it was yesterday’s newspaper. This can be a huge and exciting project now, today! Save Our National Flagship. Save the SS United States, and we may show the framework for saving the United States as well.

    • Stephen J. Marmon

      Very well said and so true.

    • Jennifer Pearce

      Someone like Steve Balmer can pee away 2 billion dollars on a basketball team. I can’t understand why the foundation can’t sell someone the idea of making their legacy preserving this singular icon of American engineering genius. We’ve got magnificent Gemini and Apollo scrap in museums all over the country. We’ve got the Wright brother’s plane in the Smithsonian and its replica on the Outer Banks. Wake up, America.

  • Ocean liner fan

    Why doesn’t the Federal government pitch in and help save this extremely valuable piece of history. They send multimillions of dollars overseas without batting an eye, but when it comes to our homefront they are not willing to donate one red cent. I think the Senators and Representatives should introduce a bill to have money set aside to help restore this precious, one of a kind , national treasure!

    • Jennifer Pearce

      The Federal Government would rather send your billions to Israel so that General Dynamics, Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, United Technologies, Honeywell and Northrop Grumman can maintain a reliable playground to test all their stuff. You can’t sell it if you can’t prove it works or not, you know?

  • Sani Fornus

    Obama should buy the ship, sail it up the Potomac, and convert it into a shelter for illegal aliens (undocumented Democrats).

  • whatsup

    This is good news for the ship. Even if there was money here to restore it. There is really no good use for it in Philly. NYC can find a more practical use for it.

  • Rigo Elemer

    Artificial reef it, restore it, scrap it, just get it out of here already. Giant eye sore.

    • Hector McPeek

      As much a I love Philly. Attitude like that is why Im happy she’s moving somewhere she will be appreciated. SS United States is too good for Philly.

  • David Di Gregorio

    Wouldn’t it be great if Michael Bloomberg or someone with his wealth could donate the billion dollars to bring it back to being a real ocean liner once again?? And when in port open it up for tours? A traveling reminder of past and present innovation. This might be “America’s Project” to help galvanize all around one fascinating down to Earth project. We were delighted to have the author of a book on this great vessel in our library – see his talk here: