Saving a Ship

H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest '53, '55L and the SS United States (Photo by Patrick Murphy)

At a news conference in Philadelphia later today, the results of a feasibility study to save one of the world’s fastest passenger ocean liners will be unveiled. The SS United States, built in 1952 and withdrawn from service in 1969, set a transatlantic speed record on its maiden voyage when it sailed from New York to Cornwall, U.K., in 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes. It also set a new westbound crossing record on its way back (3 days, 12 hours and 12 minutes), a mark that it still holds.

What does all this have to do with Washington and Lee? The ship has been docked at Philadelphia Pier 82 since 1996, but the new efforts to give it life were spurred by a gift from Gerry Lenfest, ’53, ’55L, who is credited with saving it from the scrap heap.

The current issue of Preservation magazine, a publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has a story about Gerry’s involvement in the project. His $5.8 million gift in July to the S.S. United States Conservancy allowed the organization to buy the ship from Norwegian Cruise Line and maintain it for up to 20 months.

Gerry is quoted in Preservation as saying “She was a beautiful vessel, the most iconic example of the greatness of the United States in shipbuilding, so I felt she was worth preserving.” He also noted that his decision to help was based, in part, on hearing his father, a naval architect, tell stories about working for the company that built the ship’s watertight doors.

According to a story in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, the proposal to be unveiled today will be to “[r]enovate and refit the 58-year-old vessel — an estimated $150 million to $200 million job — with gaming floors, restaurants, event space, a museum, and, possibly, a boutique hotel.”

UPDATE

For the latest on the project, see this story from the Philadelphia Inquirer following Monday’s news conference.



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