The former SS Independence, in profile
During the last year or so a prominent new landmark has appeared on the San Francisco waterfront — and no, this time we're not talking about that wretched skyscraper at One Rincon Hill. This point of interest is located a little farther south, in a Pier 70 berth at the historic Union Iron Works shipyard (now operated by BAE Systems). It's a 1950s-vintage cruise ship, actually, and it's unlikely that anyone passing through the city's Dogpatch neighborhood in recent months would have missed the sight of the vessel's distinctive smokestacks, which are painted in festive tropical colors.
The ship is the former SS Independence, and she's now in retirement. Jonathan Haeber (aka Tunnelbug on Flickr) recently managed to get aboard the Independence, and he brought back an entire gallery's worth of images for the rest of us to oogle.
Apart from his duties as the Telstar Logistics Director of Photographic Infiltration, Haeber also runs a wonderful Internet weblog called Bearings, where he combines his talents for urban exploration and photographic documentation with his deep interest in the history of the places he explores. But in the case of the SS Independence, he hasn't yet gotten around to writing a post about the ship... so we'll do it for him:
The SS Independence (along with her sister ship the SS Constitution) was built by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in Quincy, Massachusetts and launched in 1951. She spent almost two decades carrying passengers between the United States and Europe — including a 1958 voyage with President Truman and his wife. Here's how the Independence looked while sailing into New York during the 1950s:
The arrival of the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 jetliners in the late 1950s gradually siphoned off demand for trans-oceanic sea travel, and by the late 1960s she was pulled from service. Later, the Independence was repurposed for leisure cruise duty during the 1980s and 1990s, mostly between islands in Hawaii.
The global travel slump that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 forced the Independence (then renamed the Oceanic) into permanent retirement, and the ship was moved to the Bay Area. For a time she was moored with the US Navy's mothball fleet at Suisun Bay, but in 2006 she moved to Pier 70 in San Francisco, where she remains to this day. There are murmurs that the Independence may be restored for a return to service -- by law, only ships built in the United States can carry passengers domestically between US ports, so that gives her a unique advantage in the growing North American cruise marketplace. (Overnight cruise to Los Angeles, anyone? Two-day voyages to Seattle, perhaps? Where do we buy our tickets???)
But it's also possible — and indeed likely — that she'll be broken up for scrap. And that would be *most* unfortunate.
Somehow (we don't ask how), Tunnelbug managed to get aboard the Independence recently, and in an email to us, he described his experience aboard the ghost ship:
The Independence is eerily intact. Many of the original furnishings and tools still sit in the different levels of the boat. Once inside, the 400-odd cabins seem to blend into each other and all resemble each other. However, the crew rooms each feature their own unique quirks. For example, each crew restrooms has its own individual tile design and style, some of the showers feature soap holders with the SS Independence insignia on them (probably original). The brass parts have been taken, as has the original wheel to the helm (which nearly left me in tears). The presidential suites are interesting, and have a green decor (and not a very attractive green at that). In one conference room was a folder for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, presumably for crew members, as it was in the crew's conference room.
The toiletries, bedding, and room keys are boxed by the thousands in the service closets. The kitchen is humongous, and it's made entirely of stainless steel. The persistent scent of mold permeates the air. The engine rooms are incredibly clean. The turbine room (the Indy is one of few remaining steam-powered cruise ships still floating) -- the turbine room has its own privy, with a haphazardly constructed curtain that surrounds a lonely toilet. There are three bars, one theater, two propeller shafts, at least three lounges, two pools, a beauty salon, gift shop, and much more.
Oh, and did we mention that we're just a liiiiiiiiiiiiiittle bit jealous of our friend Jonathan Haeber? Well, there -- we said it. And it's true: We're very jealous. But if we couldn't go ourselves, we can at least be grateful that he came back with so many fab photos. There's a link to the full gallery of his pictures below, and be sure to check out his blog while you're at it.
UPDATE: 8 FEBRUARY, 2008
The SS Independence has departed San Francisco, most likely en route to the shipbreaking yards of India. Complete details and photos in our updated post: Farewell, SS Independence.
SS Oceanic Independence (Flickr photoset by Tunnelbug/Jonathan Haeber. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!)
Bearings: A Geographer's Blog (Jonathan Haeber's excellent weblog)
Tour of the SS Independence (Photos of the SS Independence, as she looked prior to retirement)
SS Independence at Maritime Matters (Excellent ship's history by Peter Knego)
SS Independence and Constitution (Ship history and excellent photos, by Reuben Goosens)
(PHOTOS: All shipboard photos courtesy of Tunnelbug.)