PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Caretakers of a deteriorating piece of maritime military history hope to have its future secured by next summer and continue working to ensure it stays afloat in the meantime.
The USS Olympia, a one-of-a-kind steel cruiser from the Spanish-American War, ideally would have been dry-docked every 20 years for maintenance but has not been out of the water since 1945. Since taking stewardship of the National Historic Landmark from a cash-strapped nonprofit in 1996, the Independence Seaport Museum has spent about $5 million on short-term repairs, inspections and maintenance but cannot afford to keep the ship.
A field of six organizations initially vying for the Olympia has been narrowed to two preservation groups — one in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the 5,500-ton warship was launched in 1892, and one in Port Royal, S.C., a strategic support post for the Atlantic fleet during the Spanish-American War.
Both groups will continue refining their proposals until the finalist is chosen next summer by an advisory team including officials from the museum, National Park Service and Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission. The Navy will make the ultimate call on whether to accept the advisory team's recommendation.
Officials have said without extensive repairs, the rusting Olympia will sink at its moorings, be sold for scrap or scuttled for an artificial reef. They put out a call in 2011 seeking nonprofits and foundations to take stewardship of the weathered old cruiser, said to be the only steel warship in the world still afloat.
"We're on a path to preservation ... but we have a long way to go," said Independence Seaport Museum historic ships manager Jesse Lebovics.
The finalist must demonstrate it has the expertise, location and money to dredge the marina, tow the 344-foot-long ship to dry-dock, restore it and establish an endowment for future upkeep. Estimates have put that total price tag at $10 million to $20 million.
The deal also includes several thousand Olympia artifacts and documents that also will require museum-level care and maintenance, Independence Seaport Museum chief curator Craig Bruns said.
Continue reading this story on the...