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Historic battleship USS Iowa to become museum in Los Angeles

Volunteers work under the 16-inch guns at the stern of the USS Iowa in Richmond, California, on Thursday.

LOS ANGELES - The USS Iowa, which ferried the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt across the perilous Atlantic waters to a historic meeting with Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin in the dark days of World War Two, is to become a floating museum.

The battleship saw combat in the Pacific, survived a devastating explosion in a gun turret, and even a snub from the city of San Francisco. At the end of its final voyage, the storied warship will have a permanent mooring in San Pedro, Los Angeles.


The Los Angeles Harbor Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to create a permanent home for the ship at the city's port, where it will open as a floating museum.

AP, file

A cloud of gunfire smoke hangs over the USS Iowa during exercises on Oct. 17, 1952.

The vessel, which saw service with the U.S. Navy over six tumultuous decades, will become the only battleship museum on the U.S. West Coast when it opens on July 7.

"There's no more ships like this in existence in the active navies anywhere in the world," said Robert Kent, president of the Pacific Battleship Center.

"They've either been sunk, scrapped or turned into museums, and the Iowa is the last battleship to find a home," he added.

'Your ship is coming in'
It is expected to attract 400,000 visitors a year and could revitalize the city’s port area, jubilant local officials told the Los Angeles Daily News.

"This will help transform our waterfront in making it a world-class destination," Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino told commissioners, adding that the area will soon see interconnected network of promenades, open spaces and shops.

We're all so excited," Katherine Gray, vice president of the San Pedro Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Daily News. "You really feel the swell of support and excitement. ... San Pedro, your ship is coming in."

The 887-foot Iowa-class warship was commissioned in 1943.

That same year it took Roosevelt across the Atlantic on his way to a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran with British Prime Minister Churchill and Soviet strongman Stalin, the first conference of the "Big Three" Allied leaders of the war.

The hulking warship, which towers 175 feet above the water line, was equipped with a special bathtub for Roosevelt -- who was partially paralyzed following a bout with polio -- which remains on board to this day.

Later in the war, it pounded beachheads in the Pacific with its 16-inch guns ahead of Allied landings, and took part in the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay in 1945. During the Korean War in the 1950s, it conducted gun strikes and bombardments.

Robert Galbraith / Reuters

Curator David Way sits at the bow of the U.S. battleship USS Iowa in Richmond, California, on Thursday.

In 1989, off the coast of Puerto Rico, an explosion within a gun turret on board the ship killed 47 sailors.

The Iowa was decommissioned in 1990 and was later kept in a naval center in Rhode Island before it was towed through the Panama Canal to Northern California.

'Don't ask, don't tell'
Historic groups in Northern California had sought to find a permanent home there for the ship, but they faced a number of setbacks. Among them was a vote in 2005 by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to reject a resolution to move the Iowa to the city as a floating museum.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time that some city supervisors had voted against the resolution out of opposition to the U.S. military's then-policy of "don't ask, don't tell," which barred gays and lesbians from openly serving in the armed forces.

Several members of the board who took part in the 2005 vote could not be reached for comment.

The Iowa, which once powered through the waves at a top speed of 33 knots or 40 miles per hour, will have to be towed to Los Angeles from Richmond, in North California, where it has been undergoing a $7 million restoration.

The funds included $3 million from the state of Iowa, where residents have taken a keen interest in the ship, Kent said.

It is set to leave Richmond on Sunday, pass under the Golden Gate Bridge and arrive off the coast of Los Angeles on May 24.

While the Iowa will be the only battleship museum on the West Coast, San Diego, also in southern California, has the USS Midway Museum to showcase that historic aircraft carrier.

The Midway attracts about a million visitors a year, and the Pacific Battleship Center, the group responsible for bringing the USS Iowa to Los Angeles, hopes to one day approach those numbers. Initially, they expect up to 500,000 visitors a year.

Reuters contributed to this report.