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Olympia Will Remain in Philly

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An iconic attraction along the Philadelphia waterfront will remain moored on the Delaware River.

Admiral Dewey’s flagship, the USS Olympia, will remain docked at Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing, following a three year search to float the ship to another port. In desperate need of repairs, the Independence Seaport Museum sought a new owner for the oldest steel warship still on the water.

The museum announced four years ago it could no longer afford the routine maintenance for the ship and floated the idea of finding a new owner who could pay up to $30 million to tow, restore and endow the vessel.

As many as six organizations expressed interest in the warship and submitted applications for the Olympia but only two groups were asked to provide further details for the vessel’s preservation. The South Carolina Olympia Committee, based in Port Royal and the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation of California were the two groups seriously being considered to assume control of the ship. The two groups sought to make repairs to the vessel and preserve it and turn it into an educational resource. Following an extensive review, a panel charged with transferring ownership determined that neither group offered a viable plan for the future of Olympia.

One option that was taken off the gang-plank early was selling the ship for scrap-metal or sinking it in the ocean and making it an artificial reef.

According to Jesse Lebovics, the Independence Seaport Museum’s director of historic ships, the process also discovered that there was a lot of interest in the ship so much so that people wanted to help support revitalization efforts. A multi-million-dollar fundraising effort is expected to be launched to make needed repairs to the ship, especially to its deteriorating and leaking hull. Always a popular tourist attraction along the city’s waterfront, the museum will continue to promote new tours and activities for the Olympia.

Launched in 1892, the 344-foot-long Olympia is the only surviving ship from the Spanish-American War. The Olympia served as Admiral George Dewey’s flagship at the Battle of Manila. It is one of two historic ships docked along Penn’s Landing, the other being the Becuna, a World War II-era submarine retired in 1969.

Decommissioned in 1922, Olympia was mothballed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard until the 1950’s when it moved up the Delaware River to Penn’s Landing and opened as a museum. An independent organization that ran the ship as an attraction was unable to meet its obligations and the Seaport Museum assumed control of the ship and has been at helm of the Olympia ever since..

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