Here’s a closer look at the S.S. United States than we usually get from the Ikea parking lot:
The SS United States — the luxury liner long docked across from the IKEA in South Philadelphia — has, finally, some good news. According to a release from the SS United States Conservancy, the group has entered into a preliminary agreement for redeveloping the ship. The conservancy did not name the partner, or what its role is, but has received additional funding for three months.
The United States was built in 1952 as a luxury liner intended to break the trans-Atlantic speed record, and it still holds the eastbound and westbound records. Unfortunately for the ship’s builders, transatlantic air service for passengers began in 1958, and the United States made its last run in 1969.
This ship has been docked in South Philly since 1996 — it actually predates the IKEA — and its supporters have waved a long battle to save the ship from the scrap heap. It costs $60,000 a month to keep the ship docked in Philadelphia, and money has been running out for a while. But this week, progress:
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.
David Macaulay, best-selling author/illustrator behind The Way Things Work, staple of coffee tables and active minds for years, will host a sneak-preview of his upcoming, yet-to-be-published book on the SS United States at the Central Branch of the Free Library (3/6, 10:30 a.m.-11 a.m.). Later that night he’ll be a special guest at the Independence Seaport Museum for the opening of its latest exhibit, “SS United States: Charting a Course for America’s Flagship” (3/16, 6 p.m.-8 p.m.)
The SS United States was a luxury mid-century passenger ship engineered by Philadelphian William Francis Gibbs. The Independence Seaport Museum’s exhibition “spotlights the ship’s Philadelphia connection, its heyday during the 1950s and 1960s, and the SS United States Conservancy’s efforts to save her from destruction.” You can catch that through September 14. More details here.
The long struggle to preserve the SS United States, the once-grand ocean liner now in limbo on the Delaware, seems, on the surface, to have taken a new turn. The Associated Press reported last week that the ship’s owner, the SS United States Conservancy, has begun a project to clear out the belly of the ship and sell the materials. That space will then be fitted with modern utilities “to make it more appealing for developers interested in turning what was once the world’s fastest ocean liner into a massive dockside attraction.”
It’s great to see the ship get national attention, and the AP report does a nice job of providing the history of the ship and a strong rationale for its survival. But after so many years of panicked declarations, it’s depressing to read, once again, sentences like, “its future is still uncertain” and the Conservancy “warns that if its grand plans do not come together quickly, there might be no choice but to sell the historic liner as scrap.”
Photographer and workshop leader Matthew Christopher, who runs Abandoned America, has a two-part code of ethics when it comes to photography. In fact, it may extend to an all-out life philosophy. First, do no harm. Next, “If you care about something, you have some obligation to do something about it.” This goes a long way toward explaining what he and 15 photographers were doing onboard the SS United States a couple weekends ago.