Mid-Century style and fire safety on the SS United States. Crystal Cruises saves America’s last great ocean liner

Mid-Century style and fire safety on the SS United States. Crystal Cruises saves America’s last great ocean liner

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Crystal Cruises, knowing the values of maintaining mid-century design, are planning to bring back the SS United States 1950s and 1960s ocean liner into service.

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Jackie Gleason and John Wayne aboard the mid-century liner. 

Upon her delivery to the United States Lines, the SS United States was most graceful, modern, powerful and sleekest vessel in the world.

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  • With her two oversized red, white, and blue funnels, she projected a powerful and romantic image of maritime travel, one that recalled the first great record-breaking liners of the twentieth century.

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The First Class Ballroom

  • Inside, she was completely fireproof. Her designer William Francis Gibbs’ passion for secrecy, it turned out, was outdone by his utter determination to minimize the threat of fire on board.

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A First Class suite and Stateroom

  • Except for the grand pianos (at the insistence of the Steinway company) and the butcher’s blocks (at the insistence of the catering department), no wood was permitted in any of the ship’s public rooms, accommodations, or crew quarters.

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  • Even the fabric and textiles were specially treated to be non-flammable.

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The Cabin Class Lounge and Ballroom

  • Designing attractive interiors around these strict parameters fell to Dorothy Marckwald, of the New York firm Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald.
  • The firm, and Ms. Marckwald, in particular, had been working on Gibbs & Cox ships for decades. The ship’s 23 public rooms, 395 staterooms, and 14 first-class suites were as beautiful as they were fireproof.

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The Theatre

  • The emphasis was on color: Reds, blues, greens, and golds (“muddy colors” were avoided) contrasted pleasantly with oyster white walls and deep black linoleum flooring in the passageways.

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The Navaho Lounge

  • Artwork tended to be of glass or other spun fibers, all with patriotic themes: the first-class dining room contained sculptures representing the four freedoms, while the Observation Lounge contained murals of ocean currents and depictions of constellations.

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The First Class Dining Room

  • To guarantee fire safety, Gibbs had an entire mock-up cabin put together at the National Bureau of Standards’ test facility, replete with Ms. Marckwald’s un-flammable furniture, and set it alight.
  • All the “passenger effects” such as clothes, paper, perfume, and luggage were incinerated, but the cabin fittings, though scorched, were untouched right down to the curtains.

Stars and Celebrities aboard the SS United States…

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Mid-Century design aboard the SS United States and SS America

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About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…