For over 20 years, the SS United States passenger liner has sat in the Delaware River, as an historic—and too often overlooked—Philly landmark.
But a new future and location may soon be in store for the 1950s-built vessel, which sits near Pennsport, thanks to a partnership between the ship’s conservation society and New York-based real estate giant, RXR Realty.
Over the next few months, RXR will bring in a team to explore the 5,000-square-foot interior of the ship and determine, “the viability of the SS United States’ redevelopment,” as well as potential new locations for the vessel, according to a statement released Monday from the SS United States Conservancy. It’s unclear if the ship will remain in the Philly area and how RXR plans to reuse the space, although they will stay in close contact with the conservancy through the planning process, according to the statement.
For the conservancy, the partnership is indicative of their long-term goals for the 68-year-old vessel.
“It’s a nice development for us and for the ship,” conservancy spokesperson Tom Basile said Tuesday. He added that the conservancy has long envisioned some sort of mixed-use development for the ship. According to the statement Monday, that vision has centered specifically on, “the ship’s conversion into a dynamic mixed-use development and shipboard museum.”
It’s been a long road for an old boat. When it debuted in 1952 and crossed the Atlantic, the SS United States was the fastest ocean liner in the world, designed by naval architect and engineer William Francis Gibbs. It also clocked in at 992 feet long; 10 feet longer than the Titanic. In addition to its size and speed, the ship has made some important trips in its time. It carried celebrities like Marlon Brando, John Wayne, Salvador Dali, and Marilyn Monroe; it brought the Mona Lisa to New York in 1963; and our own Philly girl (and Princess of Monaco) Grace Kelly even stepped aboard.
But behind all that glitz, the ship served a valuable purpose, too.
“She was a national security asset, capable of being transformed into a state-of-the-art, top secret military vessel,” the conservancy says on their website.
The ship changed hands over the years and eventually fell into disarray 20 years ago, when it was moved to Pier 82 in the Delaware, just steps from the Ikea and the Best Buy. For the past decade, the conservancy has been involved in the preservation of the massive piece of history, finally purchasing the SS United States in 2011. But unfortunately for the group and the vessel, that was far from the end of its journey.
But they continued fighting to save the ship from destruction, and were finally given a kernel of hope in 2015, when Crystal Cruises considered a partnership that would bring the SS United States back to life and to open waters, turning it into a cruise ship. Shortly thereafter, that plan fell through in early 2016, due to “technical and commercial challenges.”
Now, the new partnership with RXR Realty may mean a new life for the SS United States. But what that life could be, and where the ship may end up, is still a mystery.
- Vintage photos capture SS United States as a midcentury modern marvel [Curbed Philly]
- Is Pennsport’s Looming Historic Luxury Ship Impossible to Preserve? [Curbed Philly]
- Last Hurrah for the SS United States on the Delaware River? [Curbed Philly]
- Study: SS United States ship technical challenges too big to set sail [Curbed Philly]