launched to bring USS New Jersey to Waterfront
By RICHARD G. PEARSALL
USS New Jersey rolled down the ways of the Philadelphia Naval
Shipyard and into the Delaware on Dec. 7, 1942, the nation's
newest battleship didn't stop until it reached the opposite shore.
The date of the launch was well planned -
a none-too-subtle reminder to the Japanese that Pearl Harbor
had not been forgotten.
'Kissing' the shore of New Jersey was not,
but it was a nice touch - the battleship greeting its namesake
just after being Christened. No serious damage was done to either
ship or shore.
Now there is a move afoot to bring the New
Jersey home for good - to the Camden waterfront, if possible.
It is a long shot. But if it could be brought here as a tourist
attraction, some say, the 888-foot, 44,000-ton battleship could
give the Camden waterfront a major boost.
'Modern aircraft carriers are a good deal
larger than the old battleships,' notes Joe Azzolina, the state
assemblyman who heads the state commission dedicated to bringing
the mothballed New Jersey home, 'but they don't create goosebumps
the way a battleship does.'
Indeed, the unique shape, armor and armament
of battleships have made them major tourist attractions in other
states: Texas, Alabama, North Carolina and Massachusetts.
The first three draw in the vicinity of 250,000
to 300,000 visitors a year, the last about 150,000.
'Sure, we'd like to have the New Jersey to
draw more tourists to the Camden waterfront,' Tom Corcoran, executive
director of the Cooper Ferry Development Association, says. 'But
there are a number of problems. If you parked it parallel along
the waterfront, just for starters, you'd block the view of Philadelphia.
And there are some big costs involved.'
Joe Balzano, the executive director of the
South Jersey Port Corporation, is more enthusiastic about the
'They could do it. They should do it,' Balzano
said, referring to Cooper's Ferry, the lead organization in the
development of the downtown waterfront.
'They did it in New York (the Intrepid, a
World War II carrier, draws about 500,000 people a year.) They
do it right across the river, in Philadelphia (where the Olympia
draws about 180,000 visitors per year). There's no reason we
couldn't do it on the Camden waterfront - and link it to New
York ship and the city's history as well.'
A slip at the Port Corporation's Beckett Street
Terminal, just south of the proposed Sony/PACE amphitheater,
is one possibility for the New Jersey, Balzano said. Dredging
a slip next to the Ben Franklin Bridge is another, according
Finding a berth for the historic ship, however,
is only the last of a series of battles the city of Camden would
have to win to add the New Jersey to the state Aquarium as a
waterfront tourist attraction.
The most formidable opponent is the Navy itself,
which is not yet ready to relinquish the New Jersey.
'The New Jersey is what we call a 'mobilization
asset,'' said a Navy spokesman in Washington. That means we consider
it still of value - a candidate for reactivation. They are sealed
up, dehumidified and their machinery specially protected so they
can be ready to go in relatively short order.'
'When these battleships are considered in
excess,' the spokesman continued, 'the Navy will certainly entertain
requests from groups that want to obtain them and turn them into
memorials or museums. But there is no telling when that might
happen. The decision is made by the Chief of Naval Ooperations
on the basis of strategic need.'
Second on the list of Camden's opponents is
the state's own battleship commission and its ally, a private
non-profit group dedicated to the same cause. Both have been
working since 1975 to bring the New Jersey home. But both think
that Liberty State Park in Jersey City is the most logical resting
'The population needed to support an attraction
like this is in the north,' Azzolina says bluntly, 'and so are
the people with money.'
The Navy will donate the ship when its ready
(while retaining ownership and the right to reclaim its asset).
The recipients are on their own from there. Just towing the New
Jersey from its current home, Bremerton, Washington, could cost
$5 million or more, Azzolina and others figure. Then there is
the cost of preparing a slip (another $3 million or so if a slip
were dredged next to the Ben Franklin Bridge in Camden) and making
the ship ready for tourists (replacing ladders with stairs and
otherwise making a warship both safe and accessible for visitors.).
We're looking at a cost of at least $20 million,' Azzolina says.
So far the non-profit group, the Battleship
New Jersey Historical Museum Society, has raised about $170,000.
'The economic climate is hardly favorable
to fundraising,' Leon Morrison, executive vice president of the
society explained. 'Even charitable groups are having a difficult
time. And with acquisition of the ship still so uncertain, we've
been advised to hold off with any fundraising drive.'
Morrison is not optimisitic about state help
either, given the current emphasis in Trenton on cutting rather
Rita Manno, a spokeswoman for Christie Whitman,
lends support to Morrison's view.
'Of course the governor would like to see
the New Jersey brought home, Manno says, 'and she will be willing
to consider all the sites that are proposed, including Camden.
It's a little premature, however, with no definite proposal on
the table, to talk about state funding. She would be hoping for
some creative financing for a project, financing that could include
state support but would most likely also rely on private fund
Still, there are reasons for Camden to keep
its hopes of getting the New Jersey alive. The Navy is constantly
evaluating and re-evaluating its needs and could decide, if not
that it no longer needs any battleships in ready reserve, that
it does not need four of them.
The New Jersey, as the only ship from a coastal
state (the others are the Iowa, the Missouri and the Wisconsin)
could be the first to be released.
Gov. Whitman began her term by rejecting a
sports arena proposed for Camden and may feel inclined to do
something else for waterfront development in the state's poorest
city. When he was governor, Jim Florio strongly supported Camden
as a site, despite the state commission's preference for Libertry
State POark. A case can certainly be made that Camden, with its
proximity to the New Jersey's birthplkace, its location in a
major metropolitan area and its need for a compliment to the
Aquarium, is a better choce than Liberty State Park, which ,
in the Statue of Liberty, already has a pretty impressive drawing
A Camden site could also be made part of a
bi-state deal, sympotm,ative of new coooperation supposedly characterizing
port activities in the Philadelphia-South Jersey region.
Cliff Jeffries, the executive director of
the USS Olympia, the cruiser on which Commodore Dewey made history
in the Spanish American War.
The chances of scrapping - what Leon Morrison
calls the 'unspeakable' - are remote. The New Jersey's history
is too rich. Commissioned in 1943, it saw extensive action in
World War II - more than the Missouri, which was chosen for the
Japanese surrender cermonies only because Harry Turman was president
- in the Korean War, in the Vietnam War and finally in Lebvanon,
shelling the hills above Beirut in Aerica's ill-fated and biref
atemtp at peace-keeping there.
The big question is whether the Navy will
release it in time to be of use to Camden's renaiisance. Whether
state officials can be convinced that Camden is the place for
the ship to go. And whether funds can be raised early enough
and in sufficient quantity to mee thr we Navy's insistence that
whomever it turns one of iots ships over to will be maintained
and operated in a dignified fashion.
New Jersey Home Page