The S.S. United States was a jewel of the 1950s. Traveling across the Atlantic at record speeds carrying celebrities, royalty, and immigrants, the ocean liner has for decades sat motionless and vacant in Philadelphia, her glory days behind her.
Until Thursday, it seemed as though the S.S. United States was destined to succumb to rust and barnacles, or else be scrapped. But it would be a shame to let history disintegrate into nothing and be forgotten.
Sometimes, cost doesn’t mean anything in light of such loss. At least, that’s how Crystal Cruises looks the S.S. United States. The company’s chief executive, Edie Rodriquez, calls the historic ship iconic and plans to invest millions to see her sail again, the New York Times reported.
The luxury travel company has just inked an agreement with the S.S. United States Conservancy, which owns the liner, to spend the next few months figuring out whether it can be restored and made seaworthy again. If they determine that it is possible, Crystal Cruises could spend $800 million on the restoration.
This is welcome news for a historic ship that seemed to have no place in the modern era. The conservancy has owned the vessel for a few years, thanks to some cash from a philanthropist, and has since struggled to raise money to keep the vessel preserved and possibly restore it.
“The prospect of (its) return to seagoing service was a dream we’d basically given up on because of the technological challenges,” said the conservancy’s executive director, Susan L. Gibbs.
They started thinking about scrapping it, something Crystal’s chairman, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, said would be a crime. The company didn’t see a problem — they saw potential. After all, they’ve already made some pretty hefty and unorthodox investments in the past, including in a personal submarine and luxury jumbo jet.
Bringing the S.S. United States could definitely be worth the money, especially if the ship could resume its old route as if decades hadn’t passed since its last journey.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the S.S. United States launched in 1952 and retired in 1969, when jet travel became the norm. It its time, the ship was a marvel: as long as the Chrysler Building, it still holds the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic (its speed a Cold War secret), was designed to be a fast troop carrier, and held three orchestras.
But it’ll take a lot to get the ship going again. Crystal will shell out $60,000 a month for maintenance while they conduct a feasibility study on the project. And since some of its engineering areas contain PCBs, the Environmental Protection Agency could stop the project in its tracks simply by making it too expensive to mitigate these dangers.
But if everything goes well and the S.S. United States can be restored to her former glory, she’ll need a serious overhaul. Since the ship was built for an another era and runs on steam, its old equipment will have to be upgraded. And to bring it up to modern luxury and safety standards, some of its historic architecture may have to be sacrificed.
A concept design has already been drawn up which Gibbs said are “harmonious” with its look in the 1950s. The ship may be turned into an 800-passenger luxury liner, with its signature twin red, white, and blue stacks and the same number of decks. However, the decks will be expanded and extended to make room for balconies, which the original didn’t have.
It’s possible that the vessel could occasionally continue its historic New York to Europe route, which was traveled by other great mid-20th century liners the R.M.S. Queen Mary (now a stationary hotel in California) and the S.S. France (now scrap).
If everything goes as planned, the S.S. United States could be sailing again in a couple years.
Here’s what the ocean liner looks like today.
[Photo By Hulton Archive/Getty Images]