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USS Iowa to anchor San Pedro project

The historic World War II ship is coming to Los Angeles and could open for tours next year. The Navy's announcement caps a lobbying campaign that raised millions of dollars for renovations.

September 07, 2011|Steve Chawkins

The mothballed, mighty Iowa, one of the world's best-known and most powerful battleships, will be permanently berthed as a tourist attraction in Los Angeles on the San Pedro waterfront, Navy officials announced Tuesday.

The World War II-vintage "Big Stick" could open to visitors as soon as next summer, according to supporters of the years-long effort to bring the ship to a berth at the Port of Los Angeles.

"This is a huge win for Los Angeles and a huge boost for San Pedro," said Janice Hahn, the recently seated congressional Democrat whose district includes the port.

"We just had Navy Days here last month," Hahn said, "and there were tens of thousands of people who came down just to look at the ships. We see this as anchoring redevelopment of the entire waterfront."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, September 09, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
Battleship Iowa: An article in the Sept. 7 LATExtra section about the Navy's choice of Los Angeles as home for the retired battleship Iowa said that the vessel served as Adm. William F. Halsey's flagship at the 1945 surrender of Japan. Halsey's four-star flag was moved temporarily to the Iowa from his usual flagship, the Missouri, where the surrender was signed and where the five-star flags of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adm. Chester W. Nimitz flew.

Organizers of the Iowa effort say the ship will create 100 on-board jobs and boost the local economy by about $250 million over 10 years. Looking south to the commercial success of the retired aircraft carrier Midway in San Diego, they anticipate the historic battleship hosting 450,000 visitors a year.

Numbers like that gave rise to an intense competition for the Iowa. In 2005, history buffs and veterans groups in San Francisco urged officials there to welcome the Iowa and were shocked when county supervisors declined, citing the military's ban on gays. Supporters promised an annual peace seminar, but officials were unmoved.

Stockton stepped in where San Francisco feared to tread, but despite its bustling inland port, the agricultural town got nowhere with its bid.

In the end, it was between Los Angeles and Vallejo, a struggling shipyard city 30 miles northeast of San Francisco. Hahn, who championed the issue while on the Los Angeles City Council, said Monday that the Navy had concerns about Vallejo, including the possible difficulties of drawing tourists.

Nearly three football fields long and more than 14 stories high, the Iowa is one of the biggest warships ever built. On its last trip to San Francisco, sailors had to trim its mast by 13 feet to fit under the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Iowa's record is storied. During World War II, it carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt across the Atlantic to Casablanca en route to a crucial 1943 meeting in Tehran with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin. It is the only U.S. Navy battleship with a bathtub -- an amenity installed for Roosevelt, along with an elevator to shuttle him between decks.

Two years later, it served as the flagship for Adm. William F. Halsey at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.

The Iowa also was the setting for one of the Navy's biggest peacetime accidents -- a 1989 explosion that killed 47 crew members. The Navy blamed the blast on a sailor allegedly distraught over a failed relationship with another man, but later called it an accident and apologized to the sailor's family.

Battleship enthusiast Robert Kent of the Pacific Battleship Center in San Pedro persuaded the Navy to reopen competition for the ship two years ago -- and then found a bank willing to lend his nonprofit group $5 million. The state of Iowa pitched in $3 million for the ship's restoration, and Kent raised $1 million from other sources.

Kent said the ship, now languishing in Suisun Bay near San Francisco, will undergo some work, then will be towed to Los Angeles near the end of the year.

"A month and a half ago, I was at an Iowa vets' reunion in South Carolina and I can tell you they've been waiting a very long time for this," he said. "These battleships are passing into history."

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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