The Pike, the Port and the Queen Mary

The lively, ocean-side Pike circa 1928 – photo courtesy of the Long Beach Heritage Museum

In 1967, Long Beach’s famed Pike amusement zone, once a world famous, family orientated playground on the shore of the Pacific Ocean with ocean spray, a rolling surf, and adjoining swimming beaches was on its last legs. Local folklore ascribes its demise to changing social tastes in the 1950s and to the advent of Disneyland. But the environmental changes in the area of the Pike after World War II are far more compelling reasons for its decline than changes in social mores or the construction of Disneyland.

One societal change that did contribute to the Pike’s decline was the increased presence of the Navy in Long Beach after 1941. The un-gated amusement park became a place for sailors to wile away their leave time. Related small businesses – tattoo parlors, tough bars and prostitution, soon developed in the adjacent area.

For the past 58 years Long Beach has been endeavoring to replace the downtown beaches that were its first claim to fame with a recreational urban inner harbor. (1) The purchase of the Queen Mary in 1967 was the first decisive step taken by civic leaders towards creating a new tourist destination in the new inner harbor that was created by the Army Corp. of Engineers and the Port of Long Beach.

The Queen Mary steams into Long Beach Harbor in full working order on December 9, 1967.

In 1967, the Queen Mary, while world famous and already recognized as the greatest ocean liner of the twentieth century, was not as unique then as she is today. Her slightly larger sister ship, the first Queen Elizabeth, remained in service on the North Atlantic for another year, as did some of her major competitors such as the SS United States, (until 1969), and the SS France (into the early 1970s).

Civic leaders were looking to adapt the ship for shore-side novelty attraction use rather than to preserve the Queen Mary as the great historic artifact that it was. This focus led to exploiting the ship’s icon value to attract visitors to totally new amusement park style features installed aboard the ship rather then to preserving as many as possible of the original features of the great ocean liner.

The $3.5 million in Tidelands Funds used at the last minute for the purchase the ship had been set aside to build a maritime museum in the proposed new downtown harbor of Long Beach. Proponents of the purchase argued that this museum could be placed aboard the Queen Mary and the city would get two attractions for the price of one. This decision resulted in the removal of the five lower decks including most of the power train and the critical service alley aboard the ship. It apparently never occurred to the purchasers that the Queen Mary already was a maritime museum when she steamed into their harbor in full working order.

The four year long conversion process was fraught with problems, and since opening as a commercial attraction in 1971 the Queen Mary has experienced mixed financial results. The attempt to create a commercial attraction out of the ship had the opposite effect.

The range of general attractions and leisure facilities available to the public has increased many times over since 1967. Thus using the greatest ocean liner of the twentieth century as an amusement park novelty is worth rethinking. The Queen Mary is unique and valuable for what she once was, not for what Long Beach has done to her or the novelty “attractions” they’ve put into her.

The Queen Mary, an icon and an important visual buffer between the city and its industrial port. (Photo courtesy of Press-Telegram. Photograph by Stephen Carr.)

Approaches to historic preservation have also evolved in the past thirty years. Authenticity is now recognised as the true attraction for people in an era of mass manufactured amusement parks. Maritime examples such as the Royal Yacht Britannia, HMS Belfast, and the USS Missouri are preserved as close as possible to their original form, recognising that it is their historical integrity that attracts visitors. Land based attractions from the venerable Tower of London to Hearst’s Castle are using a presentation that emphasizes the uniqueness of their historic attributes.

Recently the Rotterdam Drydock Company, or “RDM”, purchased the SS Rotterdam V for use as a historic monument, hotel, entertainment and conference centre in the heart of Rotterdam. Built in the late 1950s, the Rotterdam is the largest passenger liner ever built in the Netherlands and one of the most significant ships of the post war era. The Rotterdam Drydock Company and the Holland America Line pioneered new approaches to passenger accommodations with its introduction. The ship has long been a symbol of pride for the city for which it is named. RDM’s goal is to preserve and reuse the historic ship in as close as possible to its original condition.

Rotterdam can learn a few lessons from Long Beach’s handling of the Queen Mary. Long Beach actually did a number of very important things right with the Queen Mary Project.

The areas of the Queen Mary that have in fact retained lasting appeal are those that were changed the least from the ship’s seagoing days.

The numbers tell the story

A look at the recent annual reports of the RMS Foundation that operates the ship and Queens Seaport Development Inc., (QSDI), the development company that holds the lease to the Queen Mary reveal that:

What is to be done?

Side view of proposals. Click on this image to expand to full size

The size of the Queen Mary and the cost of her operation require that the ship be run as more than a walk-through exhibit space. While the ship does not need to be “put under glass”, running her as a floating novelty attraction is also not the answer. We need to recapture the essential spirit that caught the imagination of the multitudes that toured the Queen Mary during her maiden voyage visit to New York City in 1936. We need to relate this facility to our community needs and the needs of visitors from the Southern California region and around the world. To do this means rethinking our use of the Queen Mary and her adjoining property.

To assist this process we have authored a web site that includes both a detailed deck-by-deck analysis of the Queen Mary and a series of business recommendations for recapturing the essence of the ship. The web site can be found at:

The essays in the “Alternative Vision” series include the following recommendations:

Club Queen Mary – The elegant public rooms that were once the heart of second class on the Queen Mary were remarkable for their innovative design and luxury. More intimate than the baronial lounges in the first class area they would make a perfect setting for a social and athletic club that might be used in conjunction with the hotel. The club would give the people of Long Beach the first personal reason to take a close look at and interest in the Queen Mary they’ve ever had.

Hotel Queen Mary – the cabins that are now part of the hotel need to be refurbished and in some cases upgraded to their pre-war luxury. When integrated with the amenities of the Club Queen Mary you have just recreated a venue for life afloat in the grandest ocean liner of the twentieth century.

Hospitality Center – the magnificent pre-war first-class ensemble of lounges on promenade deck were the showstopper on the Queen Mary. They might be again and be very profitably used as a venue for corporate entertainment on a scale unseen in this region. With appropriate replanning, restoration and use the rooms would be breathtaking.

Banqueting Business – the original three dining rooms were all located on current R deck. Restored for sit-down banqueting purposes the banqueting center on the Queen Mary would be unsurpassed in the region. Additionally, keeping banqueting on R deck allows full restoration of the suite of Promenade Deck lounges.

Conference Meeting Center- The creation of a major conference hotel on the southern edge of property with the state of the art conference rooms and 1000 hotel rooms would go far towards solving the Monday through Friday business problem of the Queen Mary. Properly linked to the downtown convention center by an aerial tram, it would allow a restored Queen Mary to shine as the social and hospitality center for conferences while enhancing the major convention business in downtown Long Beach.

Historic Attraction – there should be a multiple tour program similar to the one in place at Hearst Castle with a self-guided portion as well. In fact, it is an almost entirely new attraction as conceived here. We submit that Long Beach has never been allowed to see the real Queen Mary. And what they’ve been shown has been a shadow of itself.

Retail and Merchandising – the Queen Mary needs to move beyond hosting a series of leased gift shops towards being a showcase for a specially designed line of nautical and art deco merchandise. Art Deco, currently in its fourth wave of trendiness, is a staple of the interior design industry and has been for decades. Many of the manufacturers and suppliers who provided the fittings for the Queen Mary are still in business. Why not use them and others to create a wide range of merchandise that can be sold on this ship and elsewhere like Colonial Williamsburg has done so effectively with their collection over the past 70 years?

Queen Mary Life Experience University and Public Service Center – the third class public rooms, most of which survive in some shape in the forward part of the ship, are perfectly suited for use in a seminar series similar to that Cunard has envisioned for the Queen Mary 2 called Cunard ConneXions. In addition they would serve beautifully as boardrooms for both private foundations and social groups who support the community and the Queen Mary’s presence in Long Beach.

Restaurants and Bars - We see these restaurants moved and/or upgraded to better serve both tourists and hotel guests while enhancing their appreciation for the great ship.

Logistical Logic – the Queen Mary was designed to support many of the functions just discussed when she sailed into our harbor in 1967. The logistical requirements have been complicated by our conversion of the ship and her subsequent use here. Yet the changes required are straightforward and logical. They include:

1.) Creating a service alley on the ship to support the storage and support requirements of the hotel and hospitality services on the upper decks with additional service elevators inside the ship. D deck is now the logical place to put this,

2.) Creating a less obtrusive service entrance and replating the awkward amidships service entrance on R deck. D deck at the very rear of the ship is a strong candidate for this. Other requirements are identified in the essay.

3.) Building a visitor’s information center off the ship.

4.) Building an administrative and sales center for the ship and property as well as a delivery, service and storage area off the ship.

Interestingly some of these needs were identified 35 years ago in consultants’ reports to the city at the time of the purchase of the ship.

Revenue Analysis

The changes discussed above will require a significant capital investment. This raises the question of the ship and property’s ability to generate the revenue and the returns necessary to justify the capital cost of such a restoration.

We can start by analysing the current revenue stream of the ship and adjacent property. For calendar year 2002, the last year for which the RMS Foundation and QSDI officially reported audited revenue to the City of Long Beach, the revenue figures were as follows:

RMS Foundation $27,347,021
QSDI $  5,874,284
Total Revenue $33,221,305

The Queen Mary maintains a respectable level of profit margin on the key services offered on board. Yet the profits generated by this revenue are not sufficient to cover the fixed costs of operating the ship. A conservative estimate of the revenue potential for the ship, restored and rehabilitated as discussed above is three times the level of the current revenue or more than $100 million per year for shipboard activities alone. Appropriate property development would push the figures much higher.

How can this vast increase in revenue be possible? It is possible because the recommended restoration and upgrades put the ship in full use on a day-to-day basis. The range of facilities is expanded, they are returned to their original usage, and even with very conservative revenue growth the ship can not only earn a healthy profit but also justify the level of investment required to perform the required retoration.


The current operational approach to the Queen Mary is the direct result of the early Long Beach conversion of the ship. Recent negotiations for developing the property offer a new opportunity to demonstrate that we have learned from our experiences and can do the job right. The 55 acres of land and adjacent water that are part of the Queen Mary property are probably the largest parcel of commercially zoned land on the entire West Coast available for development. How that property is developed vis a vis the Queen Mary and what the ship is used for as a result will determine its future in Long Beach.

The Queen Mary has the possibility of being both a unique local social center and a world-class cultural landmark and historic attraction. The ship can support a far broader range of revenue generating activities than it now does. Depending upon how the property is developed it can attract a more affluent level of clientele as well.

In the past 35 years we’ve all learned a great deal about the great ship that floats in our midst. We’ve also grown as a city and as a community. Let’s put this hard gained knowledge to good use both for ourselves and for the benefit of visitors from the entire region, our nation, and from around the world.

Bill Cwiklo, Long Beach, California

Julian Hill, Oxford, England

Michael Wood, Auckland, New Zealand


Bill Cwiklo is a past historian of the Queen Mary. He is the current Vice President for Preservation and Advocacy for Long Beach Heritage. He is also the author of the web site referenced in this article. In the business world he is a nationally known consultant and author in the area of automated litigation support systems. The views expressed here are his own.

Julian Hill lives and works in England. He became involved with the efforts to save her from sale or destruction when the Port of Long Beach decided they no longer wanted to operate her in late 1991. He is the publisher of the web site referenced in this article.

Michael Wood is a chartered accountant and business consultant based in Auckland, New Zealand. He has a strong interest in ocean liners and in the preservation of all aspects of transportation history. He first visited the Queen Mary in 1996 and has returned on a number of occasions since then.

Footnote 1

The voters of Long Beach were never consulted on the issue of expanding the port in front of their downtown. The last bond issue for port expansion was in 1928 when Pier A was built that still allowed the Los Angeles River a straight southward egress flow. The eastward expansion of the port began during World War II and was funded by port tideland oil funds; hence no bond issues or widespread public debate was involved. The Army Corp. of Engineers and the Port Commission orchestrated the development with a compliant city council asking few if any questions. (Click here to return to where you were in the text above.)

Return to Alternative Visions Index