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Deadline Looms for Historic Ocean Liner's Move to Brooklyn

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The SS United States sits docked in Philadelphia. Credit: SS United States Conservancy

What might be the greatest ocean liner in American history has only weeks left before it will likely have to be sold for scrap. The SS United States sailed back and forth from New York to Europe from 1952 to 1969, during which time she set the record for fastest Atlantic Ocean crossing (a title she still holds). There are grand visions of saving the ship—one proposal could turn the historic vessel into a stationary real estate development in Brooklyn's Gowanus Bay Terminal—but it costs too much to keep it docked in Philadelphia and, unless a plan is put in place by the end of the month, her owner will have to begin negotiations for recycling the ship, the New York Times reported.

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The comings and goings of the 990-foot-long United States were a big deal during her 17 years of service. She carried celebrities galore, at least one President of the United States, and even the Mona Lisa. The design of her speedy propellers were kept secret during the Cold War. The ship also made appearances in popular culture, including the opening of the film West Side Story. As advanced as she was, she could not compete with the airliners of the jet age and was retired.

She currently sits rusting in the Delaware River (across from an Ikea), stripped of her interior (and asbestos). She has been owned by the SS United States Conservancy since 2011. The conservancy is run by Susan Gibbs, granddaughter of the ship's late designer, William Francis Gibbs. It costs $60,000 a month to keep the ship docked and the conservancy won't be able to keep paying that beyond October 31.

There have been several proposals over the years for repurposing the ship, including returning it to service in Hawaii or sinking it to become a reef, but none of those came to fruition. One current proposal is to turn it into a tech incubator, which server farms on the lower decks (where it is cooler) and tech companies on the higher decks. John Quadrozzi, Jr.'s Gowanus Bay Terminal in Brooklyn has a pier long enough for the ship, but, again, funding is an issue. According to the Times, Quadrozzi "believes the S.S. United States has a bright future with creative types — the coders and designers, start-ups and technology firms that are looking for offbeat work spaces and are fond of words such as 'disruption.'"

An architect and developer, who the Times does not name, is also optimistic about the ship being used as real estate. He has had "substantive discussions with the shipowners," but he doesn't have the money to fund the project himself.

Of course, time is running out. The conservancy said in a statement that "the organization will be forced to sell the historic vessel to a responsible metals recycler by the end of October unless new donors or investors come forward." The statement went on to say that "The Conservancy has never been closer to saving the SS United States, nor so close to losing her."
· SS United States Conservancy [Official]
· Friends of the S.S. United States Send Out a Last S.O.S. [NYT]
· Famed SS United States possibly doomed to the scrapyard [CBS News]
· Hudson River's Coolest, Oldest Floating Home [Curbed]
· Explore 300 Years of Sunken Ships in NYC's Wreck Valley [Curbed]