Preservation Row: Olympia suitors are narrowed to four

Four of the six organizations that submitted applications to assume stewardship of the Cruiser Olympia have been approved to move on to the second phase of the transfer process, the Independence Seaport Museum has announced.

The four organizations include the Philadelphia-based Friends of the Cruiser Olympia, a nonprofit seeking to raise $17.5 million to keep the ship on the city’s Delaware waterfront.

The other three organizations are the South Carolina Olympia Committee, located in Beaufort, S.C.; Heritage U.S., located in Washington D.C.; and Mare Island Historic Park, located in Vallejo, Calif. 

Deferred maintenance of the historic warship has reached a critical stage, and the ship requires immediate stabilization in the range of $2 million to $5 million, according to the Independence Seaport Museum. The costs of towing the ship to dry dock and complete restoration are estimated at $10 million to $20 million.

Over the summer, preservation efforts included patching the deteriorating hull along the wind and waterline. In September, a forward stack cap was repaired and reinstalled to prevent further deterioration.

The Olympia is the oldest steel warship afloat. Launched in San Francisco in 1892, the Olympia was Commodore George Dewey’s flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay, where he gave his famous order on the ship’s bridge: “You may fire when you are ready, Gridely.”

The 344-foot Olympia, which carried 34 officers and nearly 400 sailors, features two-ton piston heads, exquisitely crafted gears, rods, tubes and levers, and hand-oiled walnut casings of two notable 3-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines. Under full speed of 22 knots, about 25 miles per hour, the Olympia devoured 20 tons of coal every hour, and carried enough onboard to last three months.

The Olympia lifted the U.S. up as a world power. The ship has been designated a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. She is on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Save America’s Treasures program.

The Seaport Museum, which is the ship’s current caretaker, hosted a summit conference last spring to find preservation alternatives for the Olympia to develop fundraising, business and educational plans for organizations interested in taking stewardship. Potential transfer candidates were required to submit applications by Sept. 1. The second-phase applications are due May 1, 2012.

The Olympia Transfer Review Panel is comprised of the Seaport Museum and historic preservation professionals from the Council of American Maritime Museums, Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission and National Trust for Historic Preservation, with advisory input from the Naval Sea Systems Command Inactive Ships Program.

Previous Preservation Row stories:

East Park Canoe House

Girard Warehouses

PLICO Building

Garrett-Dunn House

Elstowe Manor

Germantown Town Hall

The Lazaretto

The Bouvier Building

Church of the Assumption

Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church

Bouvier Building reborn

St. Peter’s in Germantown

Keystone Bank Building

West Johnson Street

USS Olympia

Royal Theater

Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

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