Two Stories of Passenger Ship Preservation

Certainly one of the “biggest” recent stories in preservation was the announcement that the S.S. United States would receive a reprieve from the scrappers who have been circling its rusting hull for years.

The “Big U” as the ship was known, is widely regarded as the finest American passenger ship ever built.  Launched in 1952, it is a survivor of America’s golden age of travel.  In the early 1950s, American technology, industry and and design were harnessed by commerce to create faster, more comfortable ways to travel in style.

The ship, which still holds the record for the fastest transatlantic crossing, had been for sale for months.  This last minute reprieve is only the beginning for a great deal of hard work; from fundraising to restoration, to coming up with an adaptive reuse which will keep the ship going for the foreseeable future.

With a great deal of work and luck, this ship will not wind up as a giant metaphor for the rise and fall of America’s industrial abilities.

To get a better sense of the ship’s significance, here is the trailer for the 2008 documentary S.S United States:Lady In Waiting.

Closer to home (and a bit smaller in scope), a potential project inspired me to learn more about the fittings and design that made up the interiors of ships like the United States.

After coming across a pair of rough chairs alleged to have come from the Queen Mary, I set out to research what I could about why these chairs might no longer be aboard ship.

Below is a photo of some of the chairs in their original location, the area today referred to as “Picadilly Circus”.

Like most people, I had assumed that the Queen Mary one visits today is pretty much as it was received by the City of Long Beach from Cunard.  It was eye opening to learn just how much has changed, how much was lost (after the ship had arrived in Long Beach) and how frequently the attraction has come to shutting down.

The chairs may lack the grace of the previous ones, but cruise director Zora still gives service with a smile.

In the end, I did not end up restoring the chairs.  Instead, they were acquired by a relative of a former Queen Mary engine room crew member.  Amazingly enough, the new owner had found a bolt of unused Queen Mary lounge chair material on Ebay which still featured a promotional label from its original vendor, Liberty & Co. of London.  While it was originally manufactured for chairs in the first class lounge, it was very similar to the the white patterned upholstery used on these two chairs.

For more on the restoration and proposed future of this area of the ship, see the extensive web site of a Queen Mary enthusiast: http://www.sterling.rmplc.co.uk/visions/retain2.html

For a related story of Peter Knego and his efforts to bring back classic ship fittings from the scrappers’ beaches of Alang, India: midshipcentury

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