cinemafan2 (cinemafan2) wrote,

A Behind the Scenes Tour of the Queen Mary - Part 1

This BBC newsreel made in 1956 shows much of what the Queen Mary looked like and how it operated when she arrived here in 1967.  Contrast it with what you see discussed below.

In the past few years the City of Long Beach and the Queen Mary lessee, Save The Queen/now Garrison, have made a concerted effort to upgrade the existing operations on Long Beach's Queen Mary.  As documented in my earlier blog articles this began with critical sanitation needs in the kitchens,  refurbishment of the "ballrooms" used for banqueting and meetings, hotel room upgrades and now public bathroom improvements. This work was done to enhance the revenue generating ability of the Queen Mary.

Unfortunately, no attempt was made to reconsider the operational approach that many have long  considered low rent for the legendary Queen Mary.  That operational plan was imposed by peculiarities of the original Long Beach conversion, the happenstance decisions of a series of commercial lesses and the neglect of the owner, the City of Long Beach. Is this operational approach -- running a mass food and beverage or banqueting facility, mixed in with a mass tourist attraction that features spurious ghost stories and tattoo and motor cycle events atop a floating motel the only rational choice?  It isn't. There are better alternatives. Surprisingly, they would be fairly easy to implement if someone with a long term commitment to the ship and property were in charge and actually studied the ship as built.

If you stay on the official "shipwalk" you will never see the on-going damage.  Yet it is hidden just behind a door or a decorative panel. My intent is to show in as much of this damage as possible deck by deck and area by area.  I am starting with what is known in Long Beach as the "Queens Salon" and its adjacencies.  This includes the former Long Gallery, the Smoking Room, the Ballroom and the Starboard Gallery.  As an ensemble these rooms were one of the decorative crowning glories of the Queen Mary.  Today, only two of these rooms survive in recognizable fashion.  And the once elegant passageways between them still exist but are in a shattered condition.

The "Queen's Salon" is the former first class Main Lounge of the RMS Queen Mary.

                    A view of the stage on the aft end of this room as recently refurbished.


This is one of the two aft entrances to this room located to the left and right of the stage.  Behind these doors on the port side was once a passenger hallway to the Long Gallery.  It is now a kitchen service corridor.  The contrast with the view on the Queen Mary as built is seen in the opening video at the point: 18.10 minutes.  This damage is the result of the operational approach used in Long Beach.  

The view through these doors as seen in the 1956 BBC newsreel and also when the Queen Mary came to Long Beach. 

The enfilade of public rooms was one of the great architectural features of the Queen Mary. Sadly is was severely compromised in the Long Beach conversion and is being continually underminded by the day to day decisions of commercial operators and like-minded City Hall administrators.  This vista was open as late as 1993 when the prime lessee allowed a sublessee to install a pantry blocking the entrance to the entry, then unused, to the former Long Gallery. 


                             The portside aft entrance now leads to this.

Looking forward on the passageway towards the Queens Salon.

                            The starboard side aft entrance as seen today.

The aft entrance on the starboard side of the room now leads directly into the upper deck kitchens installed during the Long Beach conversion.  This was once a corridor like that on the portside that led prior to World War 2 into the elegant Starboard Gallery and into a movie theater postwar.      

The Starboard Gallery as seen in 1936.

Why was this architecturally important enfilade so casually disgarded in Long Beach and the entire system of passenger entrances and corridors treated so badly on Promenade Deck?  Because the operation uses the port-side enclosed promenade for public access and egress to the remaining public rooms through huge doors blasted into the side of these rooms in the conversion.  They feel that this gives them greater flexibility.  The original passenger corridors and entrances are viewed as quaint holdovers and serve as storage spaces and service entrances. Unfortunately this approach has all of the finese of direct entry into the living room from a outside porch of an old farm house.  The shabbiness of the original entrances and passageways is covered up by labeling them "Crew Members Only".  The evocative possibilities of using these rooms separately or in tandem via well modulated entrances and lobbies between the rooms was apparently never seriously considered.   

Note the wide direct entrance into the former Smoking Room, now called "The Royal Salon" at the right of this photograph.  It was added in the Long Beach conversion as was the one to the former Main Lounge.                                       


"Crew Members Only" signs generally designate an original area of the ship that is not maintained but is used as a service and storage area by the current operation.  Unfortunately on Promenade Deck they were once magnificent passageways.

At the opposite end of the Queens Salon is the carved gesso panel of Unicorns in Battle by Gilbert Bayes.  Pierced panels in the upper portion allowed for motion pictures to be projected onto a screen on stage.  The projection room is reached via a cast iron staircase still located behind the panel and fireplace.

This is a recent photo of the condition of the projection room today.

                  ...and as scrapped away as debris in 2010.

This arbitrary action can hardly lead Queen Mary fans to believe that the City and the operator's conform to best practices for historic preservation as noted by the Secretary of Interior's Standards.

Aft of the existing  remnants of the Long Galley, called today the Board Room and the Regent Room,  is another once elegant passageway that provided passengers with a staircase and elevator (sorely needed today) up to the Verandah Grill, as well as a large original mens room.  The passageway is in very much the same condition as the one we showed earlier.   The original mens room with its mosaic tile is now a "storage room" which in Long Beach parlance means it is not maintained.

The mens room as seen today.

Th elevator to the Verandah Grill as seen today.

The stairwell to the Verandah Grill today - strewn with banqueting equipment.


Perhaps the best description for Long Beach' s preservation program on the Queen Mary is that "we've saved the best of the best and we've junked the rest". The public is apparently expected to be impressed and grateful.  But the severe operational damage to the Queen Mary continues on a day to day basis.  

The protection the ship should receive from National Register status is neutralized by not being a registered local landmark. Local preservation groups such as Long Beach Heritage and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects have never taken a serious interest in the Queen Mary.  Great civic effort goes into maintaining a fine program at the Aquarium of the Pacific whereas the Queen Mary is a treated as an ugly step child in Long Beach. This is particularly ironic as the principal architect of the interiors was an American born on the West Coast. Benjamin Wistar Morris, born in Portland, was also the head of the New York Chapter of the AIA and the first architect of Rockefeller Center.  What he would make of our use of his signature piece of work is anyone's guess.


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