Historic ship Olympia to remain at Penn's Landing

Standing amidships of the Olympia, right in the middle of the two large guns under the wheelhouse, Jesse Lebovics, manager of the historic ships for the Independence Seaport Museum, announced Wednesday that a preservation effort will be launched to help make the Olympia ship-shape. At the Independence Seaport Museum, at Penn's Landing. After three years of searching for a new home for the USS Olympia, the Independence Seaport Museum announces that the ship, the oldest steel warship afloat in the world will remain at Penn's Landing and that new preservation effort is being launched. Read the story, B1.
Standing amidships of the Olympia, right in the middle of the two large guns under the wheelhouse, Jesse Lebovics, manager of the historic ships for the Independence Seaport Museum, announced Wednesday that a preservation effort will be launched to help make the Olympia ship-shape. At the Independence Seaport Museum, at Penn's Landing. After three years of searching for a new home for the USS Olympia, the Independence Seaport Museum announces that the ship, the oldest steel warship afloat in the world will remain at Penn's Landing and that new preservation effort is being launched. Read the story, B1. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 04, 2014

PHILADELPHIA After three years of trying to find a new home outside of Penn's Landing for the historic warship Olympia, officials are reversing course.

Leaders of the Independence Seaport Museum announced Wednesday that they will keep the Olympia, described as the oldest steel warship afloat, at Penn's Landing. It was launched in 1892.

In 2010, officials announced that the museum could no longer afford the upkeep on the vessel, and would seek an owner who could pay up to $30 million to tow, restore, and endow the vessel, which had fallen into disrepair. The museum contacted the Navy, saying it would "relinquish its stewardship of this national treasure and its valuable artifact collection."

On Wednesday, officials said the museum would continue to make repairs to the ship and launch a fund-raising effort for the vessel's preservation.

Asked what prompted the change, museum spokeswoman Hope Koseff Corse said that under new leadership the institution has been looking for ideas for new interpretations and exhibits.

"The Olympia fits in extremely well with the stories we are telling and plan to tell with new exhibits," Corse said.

Jesse Lebovics, the museum's director of historic ships, said that while the search for a new home was being conducted, the Olympia was a significant contributor to revenue and visitors at the museum.

"The last few years have proved that it is absolutely vital that the Olympia becomes integral to the museum," Lebovics said.

He described the ship, 344 feet long, as "absolutely unique in the world. . . . It is the only surviving veteran of the Spanish-American War. It's a unique time capsule to the late 1800s."

The Olympia, which was Cmdr. George Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila and on which he famously said, "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley," is one of two historic ships at the museum. The other is the Becuna, a World War II-era submarine decommissioned in 1969.

Officials said six organizations around the country submitted transfer applications for the Olympia. They said only two, in California and in South Carolina, were asked to provide detailed plans for the ship's preservation.

A panel found neither organization had viable long-term plans for the vessel, officials said.

Lebovics said a $7 million fund-raising effort is being launched for repair work to the ship, especially its hull, which he said has become thin in some places and developed leaks.

Lebovics said the process of searching for a new home for the Olympia showed there is much interest in the vessel.

"The transfer process we've been working on has shown us there is national interest in the ship," Lebovics said. "People want to come here and see it, and people want to give money to help save it."


vclark@phillynews.com

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