A few months back, in one of my first posts for Boing Boing, I wrote about the plight of the SS United States, the fastest ocean liner ever built. It was docked in Philadelphia at the time, a beautiful ghost from a pre-jet era when sea travel was both glamorous and financially viable, and the scrappers were circling. Some things haven't changed since March: The great days of the ocean liner are still gone, and "The Big U" is still sitting forlornly in her mooring on the Delaware River. But against all odds, one very big thing has transpired: The SS United States Conservancy, a volunteer group of self-described ship geeks, has managed at the 11th hour to keep the ship from the scrapyard. The Conservancy announced yesterday a deal to purchase the SSUS from its owner, NCL Group. It's an astonishing victory. The Wall Street Journal reports the purchase price to be $3 million; NCL reportedly turned down a bid of almost twice as much from a scrapper. A Philadelphia philanthropist, Gerry Lenfest, has agreed to pay the $60,000-per-month upkeep on the ship for 20 months while the conservancy looks for a partner with whom to repurpose the vessel, most likely as a hotel or mixed-use development on the Philadelphia or New York waterfront.
My last post on the ship churned up a lot of comment, as this one will probably will, and a lot of readers said, in effect, "Let the thing rust away and die." I wonder how many of them would have said the same thing about New York's Pennsylvania Station, the grand Beaux Arts railroad terminal whose destruction in the early '60s helped to spark the modern preservation movement. The problem is, once these things are gone they're gone, and with them goes a piece of our shared history, even our national identity. The good guys won one today in Philadelphia. Here's hoping that 20 months from now some of us will be lucky enough to pop champagne corks on the deck of a refurbished Big U.