by Michael R. Allen
Soon the S.S. Admiral’s streamline, art moderne superstructure may be converted into cold hard cash at the going rates as high as $300 a ton. As soon as next week the old boat may be towed away to be picked apart by the skilled hands at the appropriately-named Cash’s Metal Recycling. So goes the 71-year run of the city’s finest floating pleasure palace.
Yet preservation circles are mostly silent on the death of one of the city’s most beloved mid-century icons. Perhaps the end of the boat has seemed like a foregone conclusion ever since its engines were removed in 1979. That act tore away the best reason to set foot upon the Admiral: being able to glide up, down and around the Mississippi River while dining, dancing, courting and sparking. The Admiral’s short life as a moored entertainment center was a bust, and its subsequent use as a casino was extended not through any great affection but by Missouri’s now-defunct loss limit law that sent Lumiere Place patrons over to keep their fix flowing. The Admiral’s once-dazzling interior had long been denuded of any of the swanky swagger of yesteryear. What was left was an artifact — a riverboat left without engines, dining room, band stand or dance floor.
Of course, the S.S. Admiral was not a hopeless cause, and wild imaginations conjured future worlds in which the Admiral was pulled onshore and reclaimed with artistic license. Yet no one imagined bidding fairly on the Admiral at auction in November — not a single party. There were no last-ditch “Save the Admiral” campaigns, a fact counterbalanced by the persistent and now well-organized effort to save the earlier Goldenrod Showboat.
The swell of nostalgia that saves Historic Things did not flood over the Admiral, which may have been too young and too much a part of the unpleasant present-day reality of gambling to be a fitting subject. The S.S. Admiral’s demise points to the need for continued advocacy for parts of our built past that are within our grasp. A building (or boat) young enough to be part of the lives of many people still living should be revered because it touches so many lives still being led.
(For a personal look back at the S.S. Admiral, I recommend Marilyn Kinsella’s “S.S. Admiral, I Salute You!”.)