Ikea and the Fate of the S.S. United States

A few weeks ago I drove to the nearest Ikea, which was in Philadelphia, just east of I-95 between the Ben Franklin and the Walt Whitman bridges. I would not normally go that far for any store, but getting to Ikea was a straightforward drive from Delaware and in an area of Philadelphia I had never explored.

IMG_7062Following Ikea’s directions, I got off at Exit 20 of I-95 onto Columbus Boulevard and backtracked less than a mile.  The first thing I saw was the hulking, rusty old ship, the S.S. United States looming above the buildings. I could not even see the water, and did not realize how close to the Delaware River I was (although I should have). Ikea’s  driving instructions  could have simply said they were right across from the old ship that could be seen for miles. This photo above was taken from the Ikea entrance with a mild telephoto lens (you should click on the photo to enlarge it and see the extent of decay).

The United States was launched in 1952 with great fanfare that I remember well. It was America’s shinning answer to the British Cunard Line’s dominance of the Atlantic routes with their Queen ships.  It was claimed to be faster and just as luxurious. I never knew what had happened to it, although I was one of the few. Everyone I talked to from Philadelphia was familiar with its story.

You can see from the design of the ship that it was made to transport passengers as quickly as possible across the Atlantic, very different from today’s boxy cruise ships with water slides and zip lines. Many in those days were afraid of flying, but they needed to get to Europe and Britain. The ships were eventually doomed as people became used to flying and could no longer spare the extra time for a voyage. Now, the purpose of  a cruise is for the cruising experience.  The ships  just go around the storms, give the passengers free drinks, and no one much cares.

I am told the original idea behind docking the ship in Philadelphia was to convert it into a hotel and casino, but they ran into legal problems. (I suspect the Sugar House Casino owners had more political clout.)  According to the United States signs and website, they are trying to gather enough contributions to restore it to a condition suitable for paying visitors, but it appears they are far from accomplishing that. Another alternative I heard was to tow it to New York City for another try at becoming a floating casino. More casinos are closing than opening, so I expect they will eventually cut it up for scrap. If you want to see it, better go soon.

But the ship was not the only surprise. The area has many of the big box stores we suburbanites are used to. I have occasionally wondered where the city folks shop without the downtown department stores. They take a bus to Columbus Boulevard.

Ikea was a surprise, too. It is much bigger than I expected and carries more merch in the simple style I prefer. The downside is the stiff sales tax (that we in Delaware do not have) and the sales help are—how shall I say?—less motivated than I am used to at our local Costco.



About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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