Spanish-American warship spared, at least for now

The Olympia sits on the Delaware River at the Independence Seaport Museum. Repairs to the ship early next year will keep the ship from becoming an artificial reef, at least temporarily.
The Olympia sits on the Delaware River at the Independence Seaport Museum. Repairs to the ship early next year will keep the ship from becoming an artificial reef, at least temporarily.
Posted: November 18, 2010

The Olympia - last surviving warship of the Spanish-American War of 1898 - may still be scrapped or face a watery grave as an artificial reef off Cape May without money for restoration.

But the Penn's Landing attraction will not close as originally planned Monday after the Independence Seaport Museum's decision, announced late Wednesday, to fund interim repairs.

The Olympia will continue its daily visiting hours through Dec. 31, then move to a three-day schedule through March 31 while its fate is pondered.

The museum plans to hold a summit early next year with the Navy, Naval Sea Systems Command, National Park Service, and Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission to determine what steps can be taken to save the ship.

The summit will bring together leaders from historic-preservation agencies, maritime museums, government, economic development, and tourism as well as representatives from the Friends of the Cruiser Olympia and potential funders.

"I'm thrilled that we are able to keep the ship open to the public," said Capt. John J. Gazzola, the museum's president. "The museum, its board, and our partners are working together in exploring options for the Olympia."

The museum's statement said it had "reevaluated the decision to close the ship to the public after funds were made available to make interim repairs as needed."

"Although this maintenance will allow the ship to remain open to the public, these short-term measures do not resolve the ship's need for more extensive repairs."

The museum board authorized the funding for repairs as needed, said Hope Corse, a museum spokeswoman. The amount had not been determined, she said.

"It's a patch job - a hole here, a hole there," she said. "We're figuring out what will be needed.

"We don't have the capability to take on a whole repair job. We're doing the patch jobs to assure that the ship can remain open."

The National Historic Landmark ship is expected to return to its regular daily schedule of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. after March 31.

The decision to fund interim repairs "doesn't take reefing or scrapping off the table," Corse said. "This gives us more time while looking for a solution.

"This is a bigger problem than the museum. A lot of people are involved with this ship, and we can benefit from their expertise. That's why we put together a summit."

The Olympia is best known for its role at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War, when Navy Commodore George Dewey stood on the bridge and uttered the famous words, "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley."

The ship spent World War I in the Atlantic Ocean and later brought home the remains of the Unknown Soldier from France in 1921.

But the deteriorating Olympia has faced an uncertain future in more recent years because of the millions of dollars needed to restore it.

The vessel's time "can still run out," Corse said. "We're looking at very big repair numbers.

"Unless someone steps forward with that money, time will run out. The museum can't do this indefinitely."


Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|