- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Best-selling author and illustrator David Macaulay made a case Thursday for saving the SS United States, a once-majestic ocean liner that has been deteriorating for years at a pier along the Delaware River.

It’s “a unique object, a symbol of time in American history that we’ve sort of long since passed,” Macaulay said in a telephone interview. “It’s important to keep it intact visually.”

Macaulay, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the SS United States with his family as British immigrants in 1957, said he is “trying to draw attention to it in any way I can.”

The nearly 1,000-foot, steam-powered vessel, with its giant twin chimneys painted red, white and blue, was launched in 1952. It still holds the record for the fastest trans-Atlantic voyage by a passenger ship and it is the largest ocean liner ever built in the United States.

Ten feet longer than the Titanic and nearly 10,000 tons heavier, it carried 1 million passengers across the ocean, including four U.S. presidents and a long list of other celebrities, before it was retired in 1969 partly because of the increasing popularity of air travel.

Macaulay, whose books include “The Way Things Work” and “Cathedral,” delivered a lecture about the ship at the Free Library of Philadelphia and planned to attend the opening of a related exhibition at the city’s Independence Seaport Museum.

Macaulay is working on a new book that he said will trace the evolution of passenger ships through the building of the SS United States and describe his experiences as a boy sailing on the ship to a new home on another continent.

The nonprofit SS United States Conservancy purchased the ship in 2010 with $5.8 million from Philadelphia philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest that also covered some maintenance and preservation costs.

The group hopes to raise enough money to restore the exterior of the ship and convert the interior, which covers roughly 500,000 square feet, into a multiuse space for restaurants, retail stores and a museum and educational center.

Susan Gibbs, the granddaughter of the ship’s designer and director of the conservancy, said the conservancy also is looking for a permanent berth for the ship on the east coast. New York is a leading candidate, she said.

The exterior refurbishment alone, which would involve moving the huge vessel to a drydock, would cost an estimated $40 million to $60 million, Gibbs said.

Said Macaulay: “It’s battered. It’s beaten, but it’s all paint so it’s superficial.”

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