Historic battleship draws crowd

The USS Iowa before it was retired and brought to Los Angeles harbor this weekend. Photo courtesy Pacific Battleship Center.

Talk of the town this week centered around the historic USS Iowa battleship that slowly made its way around the Palos Verdes peninsula on Wednesday toward its new home in San Pedro where it will become a museum.

People stopped along Palos Verdes Drive throughout the day Wednesday to catch a glimpse of the 45,000-ton ship, which represented the crown jewel of the Navy during World War II. On Saturday, as tug boats pulled the ship to its temporary berth in Los Angeles harbor, police turned away an estimated 2,400 cars whose occupants came down to take a look.

“That was without any advertising or anything, and those cars are not just carrying one person,” said Bob Rogers, spokesperson for the Pacific Battleship Center, the non-profit organization that earned the right to buy the ship from the Navy and operate it as a tourist attraction.

The widespread interest is a good sign the battleship museum will be a significant revenue generator for the local economy, Rogers said.

Brian Campbell, Rancho Palos Verdes mayor pro tem, said he can’t wait to take his sons, ages 10 and 7, to see it. Tours open to the public July 7.

“I think it’s just a grand-slam home run,” Campbell said. “It’s going to be a huge tourist attraction that San Pedro and the east side of RPV will benefit from. It’s going to be the focal point of the harbor.”

As the battleship arrived in San Pedro this weekend it culminated a 15-year effort to convert the ship into a museum. Organizations in San Francisco, Stockton and Vallejo previously vied for the ship, which was eventually restored in Richmond over the past five months. Restoration has so far cost about $4 million with the help of 250 volunteers that contributed some 25,000 hours of labor.

The ship’s exterior, upper deck and bridge have largely been restored with another $4 million budgeted for the next 5-to-10 years in fully restoring the more than 3,000 compartments. The ship is 887 feet long and 14 stories high.

Sue Schmidt, volunteer coordinator, said the turnout of people with a willingness to help has been amazing. The group has received more than 1,200 volunteer applications.

“It’s off the charts. It’s fantastic,” Schmidt said. “People are so excited and so passionate. Each day it’s picking up more speed.”

Volunteers included young children as well as former crewmembers. One veteran drove out from New York, another from Pittsburgh, Rogers recalled.

The USS Iowa surveyed the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans for 19 months during WWII, engaging for nine months in some of the biggest battles of the war. The ship carried President Franklin Roosevelt to Europe before the start of the war to plan with other allied leaders. It was also used to broadcast the Japanese surrender on the nearby USS Missouri.

To volunteer or for more information visit www.PacificBattleshipCenter.com.


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