New move to redevelop, reuse SS United States

New York City-based firm RXR Realty will analyze the potential for converting the 1950s luxury liner SS United States into a mixed-use development and maritime museum, according to the nonprofit group that owns the ship.

For more than 20 years the liner has been tied up at Pier 82 in Philadelphia, changing owners until the SS United States Conservancy acquired it in 2011. In 2016 Crystal Cruises, a high-end cruise operator based in Century City, Calif., considered buying the ship to return it to passenger service, but concluded that was not feasible after a $1 million study.

“Over the next several months, RXR Realty will be working to determine the viability of the SS United States’ redevelopment and will explore a range of potential locations for the historic vessel,” wrote Susan Gibbs, the conservancy’s executive director, in a Dec. 10 message to the group’s supporters.

“In connection with its work, RXR will be paying a substantial portion of the ship’s carrying costs and making other investments during this option period,” Gibbs wrote. “The company will soon be assembling a team to assess the vessel’s interior spaces and explore concepts for the ship’s revitalization. The Conservancy will work closely with RXR throughout this process and will continue to advance and refine our museum and curatorial plans.”

Restoring the ship for use as a stationary mixed-use development and museum in its old homeport of New York or another coastal city has long been a goal of the conservancy. While the Crystal Cruises proposal did not work out, the company donated to the conservancy all of its technical feasibility study findings, showing how the SS United States remains “remarkably intact and structurally sound.”

Once the epitome of American maritime engineering prowess, the 992’x101’ liner was the world’s fastest passenger ship when it entered service in 1952, clocking a trans-Atlantic crossing at a sustained 35 knots, powered by Babcock & Wilcox boilers and Westinghouse geared steam turbines. The liner was subsidized by the U.S. government, and capable of rapid conversion to a troopship.  With World War II and the battle of the Atlantic a fresh memory for U.S. defense planners, it was thought the SS United States could sealift reinforcements to a new confrontation in Europe while outrunning the danger of Soviet submarines.

Capable of crossing the Atlantic in three and a half days, the ship was a popular ride with celebrities of the day. But in time the SS United States like other trans-Atlantic liners faced mounting competition from the growing airline industry, and it went out of service in 1969.

The ship wound up in Philadelphia in 1996, and proposals for reuse followed over the years. The conservancy has envisioned the ship restored for an educational mission, combined with creative commercial use such as hotel or tech businesses. In 2014 the group said it was close to such a deal in New York, and it has been seeking real estate partners again since Crystal Cruises backed out of its plan.

RXR Realty has experience in repurposing historic structures, and Gibbs called it “a respected, highly qualified commercial real estate developer.” The company currently manages 69 commercial real estate properties and investments with an aggregate gross asset value of approximately $18.1 billion, comprising approximately 24.6 million square feet of commercial properties, including a residential portfolio of approximately 2,600 units under operation or development.


About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.


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  2. Avatar
    Thomas Herrick on

    Capt Bradford T. Herrick was my father who was the executive officer who sailed over 36 year’s for United States Lines. I still have a number of navigational records and other memoribiala. What a fantastic ship in it’s day. Would love to see this ship saved.

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    I came on board on the SS United States as my class Elementary Class field trip the day it first dock in New York City Harbor. Glad to hear about her restoration 🙂

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    Elbert L.J. Bosma, MA, MM. on

    There is a great example of revitalizing the ss United Stated. The example is conserved and revitalized former Holland America Line flagship ss Rotterdam, now having her own berth on the southbank of the river Maas in Rotterdam with a large parking and reused as a hotel (Westcords Hotels), restaurant, wellness and conference center, theatre, museum, educational and training center etc. She has electric power and other connections from ashore. The ss Rotterdam is a great success in the city of Rotterdam. Another example is the ss Queen Mary. She has her own berth in Long Beach.

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    I bought a print of this ship at an Estate sale in Michigan, I am just wondering now that I know about the ship, wondering how old the print is. The Artist is Anton Otto Fischer but it is not numbered. Thanks for the story to put with the picture.

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      Paul Landelle on

      I have worked for this company at their French office downtown Paris, 10 rue Auber, right behind the Opera House. The company offered our honeymoon trip in first class, outside cabin on main deck starboard side. Just a dream. I do hope it will be somehow refurbished.That was a superb ship, faster than the SS France. Still has the blue ribbon for crossing the Atlantic at 43 mph. It’s a pity to see her present condition in Philadelphia.
      Paul Landelle (81)
      Tourist class passenger service, in the 60’s

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    Frank Siftar, Capt USN ret on

    As Officer Of the Deck on a US Navy ship I saw her chugging across the horizon at 30 knots. She was all lighted up as a cruise ship..quite a sight.
    Would love to see her as a hotel/tourist attraction in Philadelphia.

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    Suzanne Veronica on

    I think we have our share of enough new Technology to wallow in for a while.
    I hope the restoration of this phenomenal piece of history, which represents so many souls, is deeply considered, and one day comes together again in it’s fine glory and is admired by many generations to come.

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