Have You Caught it Yet?
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
Update: This story gives attribution to Robert Kent, the president of Pacific Battleship, the line about the Gray Panthers donating a welder.
If you live or work in close proximity to San Pedro, there’s a good chance you have caught the fever… the fever for the USS Iowa that is. The fever has been slowly spreading since 2010, but with the arrival of the 60-year-old battleship and its official opening a month away, the fever is now approaching epidemic proportions.
The fever isn’t a necessarily a bad thing. Anti-war pacifist or not, one of it main side effects of the fever is a hopeful optimism that the USS Iowa’s arrival will mean good things for San Pedro as this town pursues its goal of becoming a tourist destination and place where jobs are plentiful.
“I’m very excited,” President of Jericho Development and San Pedro resident, Alan Johnson said. “It’s going to be a very good for the town… I know a ship like that will bring people from the larger Los Angeles area for years to come.”
Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council president, Diana Nave expressed the same degree of hopefulness and excitement.
“I’m hopeful and optimistic about what it can do for our town,” said Diana Nave, President of Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council. “Probably because of the all the different projects that are about to come online at the same time. We have the Watercut, Crafted, and now the Iowa…
“This is a good thing,” Nave said.
But this optimism doesn’t exactly explain the attraction of a floating war-making machine. Harbor residents are already accustomed to seeing container ships resembling a metal skyscraper floating up the Main Channel to unload their so many thousands of twenty foot cargo containers. But to see a battleship with huge guns of comparable destructive power is to marvel at an engineering feat that one doesn’t often see.
Bryan Moss served on the venerable ship 60 years ago, in February 1952. He was on the ship for less than a year, but the sounds, sights, and smells of the ship stuck with him.
“It was a big ship,” Moss said when asked what memory of the ship stuck with him most. He began rattling off the ship statistics the way a kid collected baseball cards rattles off the stats of players in the major leagues–except he was there when some of those stats were notched.
“It was three football fields in length, and it was 58,000 tons when it was fully loaded. It had nine 16 inch batteries and we had fired about 4,000 shells at the marine coast, 16 inch shells, which is 2,700 lbs and each one the size of a Volkswagen, and it made a lot of noise when it went off,” Moss said.
Six decades later, Moss still remembered the sounding system that warned when the big guns were going to fire, sounding something like a loud version of the sound a car makes when the key is in the ignition while the door is open. “Buzz… buzz… buzz… bang,” Moss mimicked.
Moss was about ten years old when the war ended. He recalls watching film reels at the movie theaters and deciding he’d rather be in the navy than a “ground-pounder” as army infantryman were pejoratively called.When he says this, one is reminded of just how huge a role film and television played in the elevating and conflating of America’s military with strength, democracy, and the “American Way.”
Moss fondly recalls his nine month tour of duty on the ship as radio man traversing the Pacific Ocean, starting at Korea and motoring up as far north as Russia’s coast.. He noted killing a lot of North Korean and Chinese soldiers in that ship, helping out the marines and ground-pounders. The only substantial casualties the Iowa class ship suffered was from a gun tourette explosion in 1989 which killed 49 that were onboard.
Moss believes people are more drawn to a battle ship than a carrier because they are more like floating cities compared to carriers, which he likened to a cramp box that discouraged a communal living experience. Then again, that may just be his bias talking.
The Iowa sat in Tuscan Bay, in Tampa Bay Florida for a long time in disuse. Moss heard from his buddies in Long Beach, veterans with an interest in the Iowa, that Kent was looking to bring the USS Ranger to Long Beach. Moss recounted approaching Kent in 2008 and inviting him to lunch in Pasadena about acquiring the Iowa and station it at Port of Los Angeles. Soon after this meeting, Moss said he and his group began lobbying Los Angeles elected officials to bring the Iowa to Los Angeles, and the rest, as they say, was history.
For his part, Kent said his group was pursuing both the Ranger and the Iowa and were initially looking to put one or the other in the slip in Long Beach. Kent noted that none of it would have happened if the communities of San Pedro, Wilmington, and Harbor City had not gotten behind the project and spread the word about it.
“If the community hadn’t came out with that one loud strong voice, I really don’t think we would be sailing into L.A.,” Kent said. “ It probably would have been a killed project. Remember the Port originally said no in March 2010. They said they had no room for it.”
Officially speaking, the Port rejected Kent’s application because his group hadn’t secured the USS Iowa yet and according to news reports at the time, there were still questions about his group’s ability to raise the funds necessary to get the Iowa to Los Angeles anyway. As communities and elected officials got behind the USS Iowa and monetary support increased, those initial concerns became less of an issue.
Kent explained that the Pacific Battleship Center’s business plan assumes that the Iowa will be self-sufficient right from the start, buoyed by ticket sales. He acknowledges, however, that the group will have to continue its fundraising activities through the life of the ship.
Kent indicated that group has raised enough money to get the ship open and from then on it should be able to support itself. He said the ship will be opened in phases and more parts of the ship will become available as funds become available.
“Just like the Midway when they first started their project down there, it didn’t go everywhere,” Kent said. “They only had the flight deck open and maybe the hangar open. And each year, more funding was raised and more money was available from the ticket sales and they opened the ship in phases. That’s exactly what we’re going to do too.”
“It would literally [cause us] to take the ship out of service for almost a year to implement every single plan that we would want implemented on the ship,” Kent said. “Our goal right now is to get the ship open on July 7. That was our commitment two years ago when we first brought the project forward and that is still our goal.”
Most of the exterior up to the fifth level [of ship that has 16 levels], which includes the flying bridge, the missile deck, and the weapons systems deck will be open to the public. Kent said the Pacific Battleship Center was working with various code agencies including the fire department to meet the requirements that would allow them to open the captain’s cabin, main bridge, officers wardrobe, exhibit area and ship’s store.
The Iowa has dozens of sponsors. Some are sponsors monetarily while others provide in-kind donations, taking care of work for which the Pacific Battleship Center itself doesn’t have to shell out money.
Kent noted that the Gray Panthers had recently donated “a brand new welder for the ship.”
“That was in kind donation, that’s money we didn’t have to put out,” Kent explained. Some of them (sponsors) are actual cash donations like Casey’s General store has given us something like over $50,000, just from that single entity. We take cash, in-kind donations, service donations. MPH Engineering has already donated over $45,000 worth of engineering services to the project. They received $3million in cash from the state of Iowa, $1.5 million from private sources in cash, $1.5 million worth of volunteer time. Port of Richmond has donated 3,000 hours and in kind donations are about $1.3 million.
When asked about the intense support the battleship has received from the state of Iowa, Kent noted that that connection has been there since the ship came off the assembly line in World War II, and explained that the capitol has a 25-foot model to which generations of school children come and are taught about the ship. He said he hopes Californians step up in a similar way in support of this battleship.
From an economic development standpoint, the USS Iowa is being modeled after the development efforts around the aircraft carrier, USS Midway, which was docked in San Diego in 2004. Kent says that San Pedro is where San Diego was before the Midway.
“Our Ports O’Call was very similar to what they had which they called Seaport Village which is their restaurant little area down there and shops,” Kent explained. “And that was also on the decline.”
Kent explained that the Midway arrived amidst the Port of San Diego’s revitalization efforts of its waterfront.
“It created all of these critical mass of people coming in down to the port area,” Kent explained. “And now Seaport village is almost 100 percent leased, it’s got plenty of restaurants there now, it’s brought a lot of people and it has created a lot of jobs and a lot of businesses,” Kent said.
“The hotel right across the street from the Midway there’s a Holiday Inn down the way that is like 90 percent occupied now. It just created a whole synergy.”
‘I believe the majority of their guests are from the LA region,” Kent said. “”We have two and half times the amount of tourist than San Diego does.” Kent is counting on the Iowa being able to attract half the numbers that the Midway does now in San Diego.
The Iowa is expected to have a $240 million boost to the local economy. This is why optimism is the main symptom of this fever overtaking Southern California as exemplified by Nave final reflection on the Iowa:
“Whether it will be a success in the long term, nobody can or would say for sure. But with the projects that are coming online this summer, it’s a start.”