VALLEJO, CALIF. - A band of former workers at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in the San Francisco Bay Area has launched a campaign to bring to San Pablo Bay the USS Olympia, the only surviving steel warship of its era and Commodore George Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay.
The USS Olympia, a veteran of the 1898 Spanish-American War, has caught the attention of the Navy Yard Association of Mare Island.
The Olympia is one of the most significant naval vessels, said Navy Yard Association member Dennis Kelly, project manager for the campaign.
A National Historic Landmark, the Olympia’s last official naval mission was to carry the body of the unknown soldier from France to the United States in 1921.
Built at San Francisco’s Union Iron Works and launched in 1892, the ship could be scrapped or sunk unless a way is found to save it.
The 244-foot-long ship is moored on the Delaware River in Philadelphia and part of the Independence Seaport Museum, which is searching for a new ship’s steward.
“It’s a beautiful ship, and it’s been let go,” said Yard Association board President Ralph McComb.
After its launching, the ship came to Mare Island for final outfitting and later returned for repairs several times, said Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum Director Jim Kern.
The Olympia left the former naval base on Aug. 25, 1895, en route to East Asia, where it soon became embroiled in the war with Spain.
“It’s a fascinating ship,” Kern said, adding that the museum displays a photo of the famous vessel under repair at Mare Island.
On the East Coast, Seaport Museum Chief Executive Officer John Gazzola said the museum is unable to raise the at least $10 million needed to dredge a marina, dry dock the ship and repair its hull and deck.
A bid request for other organizations to acquire the boat will be issued in early February, Gazzola said in a written message.
The Navy Yard Association aims to be among those responding, Kelly said.
First, the group has to raise enough money to study the feasibility of the costs, location and logistics, Kelly said.
Mare Island’s dry docks could be a place to get the ship out of the water for repairs, he said.
The Yard Association is seeking endorsements from groups that might consider worthwhile the effort to bring the ship to the Bay Area as a floating museum. The association is not a nonprofit organization and needs to align itself with one to be successful in raising money.
Established in 1921, the association represented Mare Island employees while the base was still in operation and is still active today in organizing reunions and supporting historical preservation and economic development projects.