Wilmington’s floating World War II museum has a new attraction that both accurately portrays the past and comes complete with state-of-the-art technology.
The U.S.S. Battleship recently unveiled its newly renovated Officers Wardroom, a 2,400-square-foot space once reserved as a dining and gathering spot for high-ranking servicemen. The room was restored by 10 North Carolina contractors, who used black and white photographs of the space and descriptions from former crew members to recreate the original look.
That look was lost in the 1960s, when the wardroom was converted into a place to put up pictures and display artifacts related to the ship’s significance in the Cape Fear region and across the globe.
Commissioned in 1941, the Battleship was considered the “world’s greatest sea weapon,” according to U.S.S. North Carolina’s website. During World War II, the massive vessel played a role in every major naval offensive in the Pacific area of operations and earned 15 battle stars.
Work began last fall to return the wardroom to its former glory as an officers’ lounge of sorts – a swanky space where they could meet, relax and eat. Battleship spokeswoman Heather Loftin said now, the room will serve as an exhibit that, decorated with most of its original furnishings, will welcome “visitors back to the 1940s to experience life as a commissioned officer.”
But not entirely.
As part of the renovations, the room has been equipped with modern amenities like a high-tech air conditioning unit, an audio and visual system and WiFi. Those additions, Loftin noted, will provide a “historically accurate, yet very comfortable and functional rental space for corporate events, receptions or other social gatherings.”
The new Wardroom exhibit was completed as the Battleship is in the midst of another restoration – major improvements to its rapidly deteriorating hull. Last year, U.S.S. North Carolina launched its Generations Campaign, an ongoing fundraising effort for the $17 million repair project.
“While the North Carolina defeated all enemies in battle, 50 years of corrosion has taken its toll,” Loftin said in an earlier interview. “Her once thick steel hull is now wafer thin along the tideline. In some places, a finger can poke through the hull.”
Naval Sea Command decreed in 2009 that the U.S.S. North Carolina Battleship Commission—comprised of 18 members across the state—needed to either develop a plan to dry-dock the vessel in the future or begin preparing to eventually dispose of it entirely.
Since dry-docking would cost upwards of $35 million and require a challenging trip to the shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia, the commission decided instead to repair the Battleship right where it currently rests in the Cape Fear River. The $17 million price tag for the project includes construction of a cofferdam around the ship to allow crews to work below the waterline.
The call for help from the non-profit Battleship has since been answered by a variety of businesses and community groups. State Employees Credit Union has pledged $3 million, and Duke Energy Foundation and Wells Fargo Foundation gave $1 million and $250,000, respectively, towards the fundraising goal.
Some area McDonald’s stores came together in May 2015 to create Big Macs for the Battleship, a promotion in which, on designated dates, 50 cents of every Big Mac sold is given to the Generations Campaign.
The state department of the American Legion stepped in, as well, giving $150,000 last fall. Around the same time, UNC-Wilmington men’s and women’s basketball teams announced their Buckets for the Battleship fundraising drive, in which fans pledged $1 for each three-pointer made during regular season games.