QUEEN MARY GETS ITS BEST NEWS SINCE IT GOT HERE–A PRESERVATION PLAN!By Bill Cwiklo
It was perhaps the best moment for the Queen Mary since the grand vessel arrived in Long Beach on Dec. 9, 1967—and it happened this week, about 20 minutes into the April 11 meeting of the Long Beach Cultural Heritage Commission. Of course, hardly anybody noticed; the long-unfolding mess that local leaders have made of the ship over the years has become a yawn.
But although the Cultural Heritage commissioners weren’t very animated, either—their questions were few and tentative—they unanimously voted to place the Queen Mary under a Conservation Management Plan that will set the terms for restoration, preservation and rehabilitation of the historic ship. That’s big.
Until now, the City of Long Beach has side-stepped its obligation to provide this protection for a major National Register Property, citing the fact that it isn’t a local landmark. Surprisingly, that’s true—officially, the Queen Mary isn’t not classified among Long Beach’s landmarks.
But that’s because in 1998 the Cultural Heritage Commission rejected the nomination of the Queen Mary—submitted by Karen Clements and me–to the local landmark list. The decision was made on the advice of former Mayor Beverly O’Neill, former City Manager Jim Hankla and the ship’s former lessee/operator, Joe Prevratil of the RMS Foundation/QSDI. Bottom line, the Long Beach leaders and the lessee/operator didn’t want the bothersome obligation of explaining their actions to the public.
But times, mayors, city managers and lessees have changed. And perhaps the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), helped clarify this matter during its review of the Preservation Element in Long Beach’s state-required General Plan update.
There’s also no doubt about the importance of triple-agent John Thomas, who is a member of the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency Board, serves as an advisor to current Queen Mary lessee Garrison and its operator Delaware North and works as a design consultant, who just happens to have a fervid interest in the art deco style. It was Thomas who brought together representatives from the City of Long Beach (Victor Grgas) and Garrison/Delaware North (Uwe Roggenthien) in support of the Cultural Management Plan.
In brief remarks before the Cultural Heritage Commission on Monday, Thomas was critical of the way the Queen Mary has been operated and adamant that the best way forward was under addressed the Cultural Management Plan.
“I’ve seen the operation of the ship, the city’s relationship and the continuity of the community much like driving a car while building it,” Thomas said. “The new approach is as a team, with experts in areas from funding to vessel management. It’s been done elsewhere and we’ll do it here.”
Considering that next month will mark 75 years since the Queen Mary’s maiden voyage, Cultural Heritage Commissioner Laura Brasser wondered which part of the ship’s history was most appropriate for restoration and interpretation. According to the consultant who prepared the report, the period of greatest historic significance is the pre-World War II period (1936-1939), followed by the periods during that war and immediately afterward.
This may seem obvious to anyone familiar with the history of the Queen Mary and the norms of professional preservation. But it was crucial to clarify this point because a past operator expanded interpretation of the ship’s history to give equal weight to the Long Beach attraction period. He used this argument to justify his laissez faire operating philosophy.
Establishing the period of greatest historical significance and the jurisdiction of the Cultural Heritage Commission augurs well for recovering what was once the greatest ocean liner of the 20th century — once we move beyond physical and operational stabilization.
The CMP calls for forming a Preservation Management Team. This is essential to create some sort of institutional oversight group that goes beyond relying on the word of the current (and frequently changing) lessee/operator and the services of a dedicated but nevertheless part-time administrator for the property in City Hall. Within the last four years the Queen Mary has had three lessees (QSDI, Save The Queen and Garrison) and three operators (RMS Foundation, Hostmark and Delaware North). In the long run, restoring the ship, developing the adjacent property and tying it into downtown may require a Queen Mary Commission.
Before this can happen, however, the people of Long Beach need a chance to get to know the Cunard White Star Liner they bought in 1967. Creating a knowledgeable Preservation Management Team is a good place to start. But the issues relating to the ship cannot be resolved satisfactorily without considering the use of the property.
As a stand-alone hotel/attraction, the Queen Mary will never be much more than it is now—and that is selling this great ship short. Restoring the ship and developing the full property could easily cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Past failures should tell us that this scope of work is not going to happen without full and active participation of the City of Long Beach, possibly of the Port of Long Beach, and the ultimate Queen Mary Lessee.