As USS Iowa berths at the Port of LA, a look at how other floating museums stay afloat

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One of the most powerful battleships of all time docks at its permanent home Saturday at the Port of Los Angeles. The USS Iowa sailed down the coast from Northern California about two weeks ago.

Next month, the nearly 900-foot long World War II ship opens as an interactive floating museum. At least one similar and much smaller operation hopes Iowa’s grand opening doesn't sink its business.

“Sometimes you gotta twist a little arm or offer a little better meal than what they could get at IHOP or something like that," said Anthony Broude, who's beefing up his marketing plan for the SS Lane Victory.

Broude is president of the vintage ship, which carried cargo out to sea during WW II, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Preserved more than a decade ago, the Lane Victory is now a floating museum at the Port of L.A. A little less than two football fields in length, she’s not far from where the USS Iowa will be berthed.

In display rooms down in the bowels of the Lane Victory, there’s a lot to see — war memorabilia, flags, torpedoes, antiaircraft guns and scale models of the ship.

“It is a living memorial to those 7,000 men that gave up their lives, and so it shows a purpose," Broude said.

These days, several dozen people — mostly WW II vets — put in countless hours to maintain the ship.

“The men and the women on this ship work as if they were getting paid a thousand dollars an hour," said Broude, "and that’s what I would pay them.”

Broude, a retired army man who served in Vietnam, is about the same age as the Lane Victory — 66 years old. He says business has been up and down in recent years, and that this floating museum is barely getting by.

“Quite truthfully, I need about a million dollars, and I’m only about a third of the way there," Broude said. "The way I figure, that third is what we need for operating expenses after we finish.”

Thomas Cutler, who works with the U.S. Naval Institute in Maryland, says money’s a big challenge for many floating museums across the country.

“I’ve always had an interest in floating museums, being a Navy man at heart,” said Cutler. "Getting corrosion and barnacles and things like that, that are eating away at the underside of the ship... That’s just not feasible for volunteers to handle in most cases, so at some point they need to be dry-docked or some means of giving them more professional help.”

Money is certainly an issue for the Queen Mary, which sits across from the San Pedro harbor in Long Beach. It also is struggling to survive as a tourist attraction, after many years of up and down business and a succession of management companies.

The Queen Mary’s current management has promised renovations. Meanwhile, a group of fans is circulating a petition to get the city of Long Beach to help restore the historic vessel. One of them is Michael Davisson.

“In walking through there, you can see many tiles have fallen off the walls," said Davisson. "They kind of sit in stacks in a room. The pool basin is significantly cracked and almost looks like it's about to fall through the floor. Most of the damage is pretty apparent walking through the ship.”

The picture is much brighter for the USS Midway. Tourists and locals flock to tour the historic aircraft carrier, docked along the Broadway Pier in San Diego.

Back at the port of L.A., the Lane Victory’s president Broude said he’s gearing up to haul the craft out of the water and perform an expensive dry-dock overhaul. It takes $10,000 a month just to keep the electricity running.

Donations and grants have helped. Hollywood pays a chunk of the bills too, because studios often film aboard the ship. But now Broude will have to compete with his new neighbor.

“Of course, we got the new boy on the block who is the Iowa, and kind of feared that they would take some of our business away," Broude said. "It's gonna make it a little rougher. But that’s all right.”

Broude says he’s reaching out to the people operating the Iowa about cross promotion. His ship recently escorted the 45,000-ton vessel to the L.A. Port — and now he’s hoping the "new boy on the block" can help keep the SS Lane Victory from going belly up.

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