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Designed to Sell?


Viewing the recent renovations on Long Beach's Queen Mary is like watching the unveiling segment of the HGTV television program  "Designed to Sell".  In that program the design team has a budget of $2,000 to use in the upgrade a property, prior to it being put up for sale. 
 
In this instance, Long Beach's über City Hall insider, John Thomas, had the opportunity to play "Lisa LaPorta" on our venerable, (and vulnerable), RMS Queen Mary.  Instead of a measly budget of $2,000, RDA Commissioner Thomas and a design team of the changing operator(s), had a $5.3 million budget from a trust fund established by "Save The Queen" as a term of purchase of the lease of bankrupt operator and another long-time City Hall insider, Joe Prevratil.  
 

                                 
Symbol of change or of civic continuity?  Today's RDA Commissioner John Thomas with former Queen Mary lessee and City Hall insider extraordinaire, Joe Prevratil, seen together here in the Observation Bar.
 

The objectives of this effort appear to have been to make the facility more presentable to the public and potential investors and to stabilize short-term operational revenues.  We are not talking here about any rethinking of the operation or serious preservation and restoration of Cunard's Queen Mary, but rather a fix-up and patch job on the mess that came out of the Long Beach conversion.  Much of the money was spent on long deferred maintenance work that the former lessee and operator simply ignored.  But is that any excuse for the City and operator(s) to totally ignore the public process as they go about planning and doing the work? 
   

This work has included: 

Cleaning up and repainting the entrances and reconditioning the exterior elevators.

            
                              The forward entrance tower as repainted.



The elevator vestibule was spruced up.


                           
                               Both exterior elevator cabins were totally refurbished and the lift equipment was replaced.

                         
                                                  The boarding ramps were painted and refreshed.


The redecoration of the upscale Sir Winston's restaurant and lounge, established in old engineering quarters at the back of Sports Deck in the early day of operation in Long Beach.  While the design work was reasonably well done, the serious handicapped access problem was not addressed for Sir Winston's nor anywhere else on the ship.


Sir Winston's established in 1972, not 1980, as its sign mistakenly heralds, seen here as recently renovated.

The renovation of the Promenade Cafe and what is now called the Chelsea Chowder House, (recalled by some as the 1970's "Lord Nelson's and Lady Hamilton's" that was inserted into the starboard enclosed promenade during the conversion), with the upgrading the adjacent kitchens.

            
A rendering of the starboard enclosed promenade as originally designed.  (Rendering by Steve Covington.)

 
Diner's Club's original design for a walk through cafe intended to capitalize on the view while preserving the functionality of the enclosed promenade.  This concept was not realized when Diner's Club left the ship.


The 1970's Lord Nelson's and Lady Hamilton's as built by Specialty Restaurants, Inc.


... became the Promenade Cafe in the 1980's and....


... and the Chelsea Restaurant, seen here before its recent redecoration.



                  
                                        The Promenade Cafe as recently redecorated.



... and the Chelsea as recently redecorated as the "Chelsea Chowder House."  Some pundits have said it now has the warmth of a public subway station.

  
The warmer treatment recently given to the adjacent King's View Room, which is also located in the starboard enclosed promenade, just aft of the Chelsea Chowder House.
 
A renovation of the surviving former public rooms of the ship, the so-called catering "ballrooms"  known here in Long Beach as the Queen's Salon, the Royal Salon, the Britannia Room, and the Grand Salon.  

       
                         The Queens Salon as seen here after its recent refurbishment.

In the Queens Salon, formerly the Main Lounge on the in-service ship, the work included destroying what remained of the original parquet floor that had been so carefully restored when the ship first came to Long Beach.   The floor had became unstable from careless water damage under carpeting.  The newly laid subfloor is reportly having the same problem.


The parquet floor of the Main Lounge, known in Long Beach as the Queens Salon, as it looked when restored in Long Beach when the ship first arrived here in the late 1960's.  Specialty Restaurants, Inc. was allowed to carpet over much of the floor in the early 1970's.  Below are recent images of the damaged parquet while in the process of being scrappd away as rubble.

              
The original inlaid parquet floor just after it was scrapped up and before it was "swept under the rug".


     
A recent photograph of the recarpeted "Grand Salon", one of the three original Queen Mary dining rooms on R deck. 


The other dining rooms on R deck.

The other two principal dining rooms on R deck are derelict due to the decisions of managers to look the other way when an operator decided to use then storage spaces without taking even the rudimentary steps necessary to preserve them.  Simply adding padding to cover the paneling as is commonly done in passenger elevators sometimes used to move freight might have made this decision readily reversible.  

City officials have since agreed with the operator to list these important areas as mere storage spaces on the leasehold in perpetuity.  The loss of these room to the interpretive history of the Queen Mary as a great ocean liner is incalculable.
  


The second class dining while the Queen Mary was in service.   Prime Minister Winston Churchill ate in this room when sailing aboard the Queen Mary during World War 2 as it was reserved as the officer's dining room of the troopship.  In Long Beach the ship's operators decided to use it as a cold storage space for the kitchens. 



          
            Above (left)  the second class dining room when in service and (right) today. Photo by Sean Hankins.


    
The central portion of the third class dining room as it was when the Queen Mary was in service.  In Long Beach the operator was allowed to use it as a table and chair storage space for banqueting services without taking even rudimentary steps to preserve the paneling.
             

         
The starboard portion of the third class dining room when in service and as its looks today.  Photo by Sean Hankins


A
renovation of the wedding chapel which is the former second class smoking room.


The second class smoking room as it was when the Queen Mary was in service.

                   
The "royal" wedding chapel created in the smoking room, seen here as recently redecorated.

Refurbishment of primarily the soft furnishings of the hotel rooms, aproximately 300 of 375. 


The bedroom of a original suite, as recently redecorated.  This is one of the best rooms in the hotel.   But what was done to the 75 hotel rooms that the previous lessee was allowed to leave derelict since the year 2000?

In addition the enclosed deck on the port side of the promenade deck that serves in Long Beach as a vestibule to many of the "ballrooms" was sanded and shellacked almost beyond recognition.

 


Meanwhile the original passenger corridors linking the once grand public rooms on Promenade Deck are left to be trashed almost beyond recognition as "back of the house" service corridors.


And 
the remaining 22 of the 24 lifeboats on the Queen Mary are now in the process of being stabilized, if not really restored.

     
                                        The lifeboats of the Queen Mary as originally fitted out.


             
                              The full compliment of bellboys beneath a lifeboat in the 1950's. 



 
Current lifeboat photos by Tom Seikichi Roesser


The shells of the lifeboats are being stabilized.  Will one Queen Mary original lifeboat be truly restored?





 
 
Some observations:
 
There was no attempt to reach out to the community as to how these now public funds should be spent. 

No effort was expended on a much needed master plan for the ship and property.  Nor was there any serious rethinking of the marginal operational plan for the ship and property that was put in place with the initial conversion between 1968 and 1972.
 
 
The Long Beach Cultural Heritage Commission, which should have jurisdiction over the Queen Mary as it is a National Register Property of the highest level of national significance, (as acknowledged in the recently approved historic preservation element of our state mandated general plan), was not even appraised of the changes, let alone was it asked to consider their appropriateness.
 
The Secretary of Interiors Standards for the Preservation of Historic Vessels were given lip service at best and ignored in substantive instances, such as the removal of the parquet floor in the former Main Lounge.  See these standards at:  http://www.hnsa.org/standa.htm
  
As was the case with the original Long Beach conversion of the Queen Mary, this effort was orchestrated by a closed group of City Hall insiders with the cooperation of the lessee and operator(s). Both the public and the Cultural Heritage Commission were excluded from any meaningful participation in the deliberations. 

And it continues...



Above is a photo taken in early March 2011 that shows the barrier built below the docking bridge to hide work in progress on the Capstan Deck. No public discussions of the options for preservation and/or reuse have been held.
 
I can understand why many people in Long Beach say that "the more things change the more they remain the same."                                 March 20, 2011


Postscript - Saturday, April 2, 2011

Walking aft I noticed the "Berlin Wall" has been removed and the work done on the Capstan Deck is now visible.   

       

Walking down there I notice a sign explaining what has been going on.

              


It is good to note that the City and the operator are aware of the Secretary of Interiors Standards for the Preservation of Historic Vessels and, of course, the public will be interested in how they are interpreted and followed.  

One minor point of correction, the room that is currently called The Capstan Club was not the second class lounge.  The room now called the Britannia Room was the primary second class lounge.  It is now also stripped and devoted to meetings and banqueting services.  The much smaller room currently called the Capstan Club was the second class overflow lounge. 

            

The technique used for resurfacing appears to be very similar to what was used to resurface the back of Promenade Deck two years ago, that is plywood panels that were scored and stained to resemble teak planks. (See also the last photo to see how this has held up.)




The docking bridge was repainted as well.  Note that the isolation ward is now re-opened.



Essentially cleared of all of its docking equipment, (by Wrather Port Properties in the late 1980's  when owned by Disney), the space is intended for use as an open deck in conjunction with the conversion gutted former second class overflow lounge, called the Capstan Club,  another catering venue.  


The same treatment applied to the aft end of Promenade Deck two years ago.

While this approach may make sense in terms of a short-term emergency fix based on the current usage of this area of the Queen Mary, it raises questions about the treatment planned for the still unspoiled, but definitely in need of refurbishment, forecastle and bow areas at the front of the ship.   Here closer attention to valid historic preservation is both possible and arguably called for.


 

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