Monday, May 27, 2019

The Queen Mary in Long Beach - Special Guest Post!

A few months ago, I was contacted by Gorillas Don't Blog and Meet The World follower, commenter, and special guest blogger, "JG." He had seen my post from June 2018, which included some vintage pics of the Queen Mary, and was wondering if I would be interested in seeing some of his personal (and more recent) Queen Mary photos. He thought they might make a good addition to my post. However, I thought the photos and information that he provided, were worthy of their very own post. So here is "JG," in his own words, accompanied by his own personal photos:

My wife and I visited the Queen Mary in 1983 for a conference, but we couldn’t afford to stay on board then. When we had a chance to return to Long Beach for another conference, we decided to stay one night on the Queen Mary before moving to the Convention Center hotel, since 34 years later, we could afford a nice room.

Since we were only staying one night, we chose one of the fancier suites, which was comparable in price to our room at the Convention hotel.

We got the Queen Elizabeth Suite, which was quite a large suite of rooms. There were two bedrooms, one large and elegant, the other small and humble, for one’s valet or maid. There was a foyer off the main corridor, which opened into the trunk room (!) to store one’s empty luggage, the bath, a large elegant sitting room, the big bedroom and the servant’s room. (I took a picture of the servant’s room, but only after I unpacked my suitcase and had clothes scattered all over it, so I didn’t include that photo.)

The large bedroom:

(JG has informed me, that the round items on the wall on either side of the bed and also the dressing table, are the original ventilation outlets. However, they have now been disconnected.)

The sitting room had a built-in dresser/make up table and a built-in writing desk. It was updated with a large screen TV. The original furniture was changed out to modern pieces, somewhat the worse for wear, but compatible with the original style.

The sitting room:

The large bedroom had similar built-in dressers, desks, and closets as the sitting room. Many old original light fixtures. The information guide said that these rooms were set up so that several could be connected together to make very large connecting suites of up to 10 bedrooms if desired. Hard to imagine that kind of entourage.

The bath was modern for 1930’s standards, but far from today’s norms. The old tub still had the original valves for hot and cold, fresh and salt water, but had been refitted with a modern shower valve. It was all set up in separate rooms so multiple people could use at once.

Our suite was on the west-facing or port side of the ship and was quite warm, even in October. The rooms were re-fitted with air conditioning as part of the Long Beach remodeling, but the AC didn’t work. We asked for a fan, but none were to be had. We decided that the heat was part of the experience that Clark Gable or Myrna Loy might have had, and so we sweated while pretending we were film stars of the 1930’s silver screen. Fortunately, the amusement park setup was not yet running, this would be a reason to avoid staying during mid to late October as the suite would be quite noisy with the rides running right outside.

We ordered a bottle of wine and read quietly, did not turn on the television at all, as this would spoil the cinematic mood.

The next day, we took the Steam and Steel tour, which was interesting and somewhat disappointing. I had remembered so much of the old engine room and equipment remaining, but a lot has been removed. I’m not sure when or how this was done, but I think the stories of the ship no longer being seaworthy are probably accurate since a lot of structure seems to be taken out.

The interior public rooms on the upper decks are still in good repair, but the exterior areas are suffering.

I remember being able to walk out on the side bridge walkways (not sure what these are called), but now they are boarded off, probably because the wood decks are rotten.

We had a drink in the Observation Bar, (the old First Class Lounge) which I vividly remembered for the beautiful Art Deco design and red enameled lighting. Most of this was unchanged, but again, run down and shabby feeling. There are a lot of TV’s now, like a sports bar, and a lot of loud people. No longer the quiet elegant experience I remembered. The drinks were not exceptional either.

Staying in the Queen Mary now is like staying in an 80 year hotel, it’s genteel but shabby. If you want a first class lodging experience, go elsewhere. But, if you can overlook the broken AC and the loud people in the bar, you can still hear the echo of the old days.

(I hope everyone enjoyed this tour of the Queen Mary! And a great big "THANK YOU," to JG, for sharing your photos and memories of your experience aboard the ship!)


***Editor's Notes & Additions:***

I thought I would include some interesting "odds and ends" bits of information about the Queen Mary, here:

The Queen Mary has had a long and fascinating history, since her maiden voyage in 1936. In 1967, she was retired from service and sold to the City of Long Beach (for $3.45 million!). Unfortunately, after she arrived in Long Beach, many areas of the ship were severely altered or completely gutted and removed (as JG mentioned above, about the engine room.)

One of the areas that was altered was the Observation Bar, seen in that last photo taken by JG. This vintage image shows the Observation Bar, before an expansion that took place in 1967. Here, the seating area ends with that drapery, which was covering up a long curved wall and a row of windows.

The other side of that wall and it's row of windows can be seen here, in this photo of Walt Disney, standing on a covered walkway just outside of the bar. When the Observation Bar was expanded, that wall and those windows were removed and the interior space of the bar was bumped out, towards the row of windows seen on the far right.

If we go back and take another look at JG's photo of the bar, we can see a wooden support column on the far right. That was originally part of the back wall of the bar (behind Walt Disney). When JG took his pic, he was actually standing in what used to be the covered walkway seen above!

We'll end today with this photo from 1945, showing the Queen Mary arriving in New York Harbor. During World War II, the Queen Mary and her sister ship, the Queen Elizabeth, were both converted into troop transport ships and their exteriors were painted battleship grey. According to Wikipedia, the two ships were the largest and fastest troopships involved in the war. Because of her new color and her speed, the Queen Mary was given the nickname, "The Grey Ghost."

And with that, I would like to wish everyone, a Happy Memorial Day!


K. Martinez said...

Wow! What a great post! These images are wonderful. I love the Art Deco Observation Bar. I can imagine back then it was really quite an experience to travel aboard the Queen Mary. I'm kind of blown away by the size of the rooms. Many motel/hotel rooms I've stayed ate are smaller than that. It definitely looks old, but there's something special about old places that a new hotel can not duplicate. I think if I stayed there, I'd imagine the ghosts of Queen Mary's glory days roaming the hallways.

The Steam and Steel Tour is something that would be right up my alley. I can imagine it was somewhat disappointing with the removal of the equipment, but still it looks pretty fantastic. It's something to consider adding to my to-do list when coming down to SoCal in the future. I'm imagining Ernest Borgine, Carol Lynley and Red Buttons roaming through the "Steam and Steel Tour" area as it reminds me so much of the second half of "The Poseidon Adventure".

I had no idea that the Queen Mary was converted into a troop transport ship for WWII. Something learned every day. Again, really great post.

Thank you, J.G. for sharing your story and trip. I totally enjoyed it. And thank you, TokyoMagic! for hosting and doing the additional historical research.

TokyoMagic! said...

Ken, I can't ever go aboard the Queen Mary without thinking of The Poseidon Adventure at least at some point. After all, they did film some scenes from the movie, aboard the ship. And supposedly, The Poseidon Adventure novel, which was written by Paul Gallico, was inspired by a real incident involving the Queen Mary. Apparently during the time that she was transporting troops, the ship was hit by a "rogue wave" and almost capsized.

And I believe there is one room/suite on board the ship, which management actually promotes as being "haunted." I'm not sure I would want to spend the night in that room, or anywhere on the ship, for that matter. Although JG survived his night aboard the ship, and apparently without incident.

The Queen Mary really is quite fascinating. When you look at all of the famous people that sailed aboard her (Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth, John F. Kennedy, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Walt Disney, Elizabeth Taylor, Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn and so many more), plus the part that she played during World War II, there is a lot of history there!

K. Martinez said...

I think that would be kind of cool to stay in the "haunted suite".

I remember reading that Paul Gallico was inspired by a ship being hit by a "rogue wave" when he wrote The Poseidon Adventure, but I had no idea it was the Queen Mary that was hit and during wartime. Thanks for that extra bit if info.

Chuck said...

JG and TM!, thanks so much for this post. I visited the Queen Mary once in January of 1976. I remember there being a lot more to the engine room and being able to walk out on the bridge wings. Lots of other memories that I won't bore you with, other than the family getting lost in the hotel area on the way out and wandering around and around for what seemed like an hour (but was probably only 15-20 minutes; I was seven).

Drove near the QM again in '95 when I had to go out to Long Beach to have 100 VHS copies made of a video production I'd worked on. Got a long look, but not taking my wife to visit during our two years out there is one of my lasting regrets (tucked in amongst many, many more happy memories) of our two years in La La Land.

This looks like it was a real treat, minor discomforts aside. Thanks again, guys, for a great read!

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, maybe you will get a chance to go back to the Queen Mary at some point and time. And I wouldn't mind hearing about some of your other memories of the ship, from when you were seven years old!

Major Pepperidge said...

It sounds like spending the night in the Queen Mary would be quite the experience. JG’s photos are a lot of fun! I assume that there are large areas of the ship that are locked off after hours. I like the old fashioned fixtures and lamps, but it’s a bit of a bummer that the place is starting to look so run down and shabby. And if you have seen some of the same stories that I have, the QM is in dire need of major work. But where will the money come from?

I really hope that this landmark doesn’t wind up crumbling to the point where they will just have to bring in the wrecking ball.

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, Even if there are large areas that are locked off after hours, I still think it would be fun to leave your room/cabin late at night and wander through the hallways......maybe with a sheet over your head!

I have read some of those stories that you are talking about and I have the same worries as you, about the condition of the ship. I hope she doesn't just sink one day, right there in the harbor! :-(

JG said...

Hello Tokyo and readers, thanks for making this post, and for adding in the information and pictures at the end. Much appreciated!

Especially that bit about Walt Disney, of which I was not aware. And the explanation of the expansion of the bar. That really makes sense. When I was outside walking around, I realized the roof above our bar table was an exterior walkway, which seemed kind of "risky" since it was on the leading edge of the ship and subject to all kinds of storms and waves. Now that makes sense, the original wall was where it should have been.

@Ken, you're right, the suite rooms are huge. I stayed on the ship once with Mom and Dad back in the '70's and the regular staterooms are much smaller.

The Steam and Steel tour was interesting, but not as much as I had hoped, since so much stuff was removed. Much of the tour was just walking through gutted and deserted bilges. You can see the modern fire alarms and emergency lighting installed for the tour. the walk way was a modern steel deck with concrete fill, wheelchair accessible.

Re: the troop ship conversion. There was another exhibition going on in the after part of the ship, where the Cousteau Living Sea exhibit used to be, focused on the recent movie about Churchill. This had some reconstructions of the Imperial War Rooms, made up from sets from the film. Part of this included a small area showing how the troop ship conversion looked for the troops. Very uncomfortable. My uncle rode on the QM as a soldier during the war, which could not have been much fun. The ship was literally the fastest thing at sea, and so was able to outrun even the submarines.

continued next post...

JG said...

...continued from previous post...

We did not take the haunted tour or go into the haunted suite. The QM touts this ghostly element by having Halloween tours and events, and a Halloween carnival similar to the county fair in the parking lot outside. We were fortunate to miss this, since it would have been right outside our windows (ports).

There was also a very fine exhibit, if your tastes run to such things, of gowns and clothes formerly belonging to Lady Diana Windsor. It was fascinating and a bit creepy that someone would spend so much money buying up a dead woman's clothes for a private museum. Pictures were forbidden here, so I can't offer a follow-up post.

@Chuck, it is fun to visit, even if you don't stay on board. Many of the public rooms are open. Some rooms I wanted to see were the Grand Salon where the last conference we attended in 1983 was held. Ironically, we couldn't get in there this trip due to another conference. We peeked in the door during lunch break.

I don't know if there is a separate admission to go on board if not a guest. There didn't seem to be a cordon, but I can't imagine it is just "free access"? Please do chime in with your memories. I find that reading things others have done will spur recall in my mind as well. I hope this post does this for you and others.

@Major, you are right, large areas are inaccessible, some of it permanently Back of House (BOH). The hotel portion is overall straightforward since the ship was basically a hotel to start with, yet can be pretty confusing in places, due to the convoluted hallways caused by shutting off the BOH parts. I think the hotel is just the first class rooms, and there may be whole decks of second and third class behind locked doors.

There is a general air of disrepair and penury which is very sad. The staff is very pleasant and enthusiastic and make up for a lot of the down-at-the-heels feel. We had a little trouble with the door lock coming in and that was resolved cheerfully, but the AC is really an issue. I think that room would be beastly in July, even in Long Beach. It's possible that the AC plant was shut down ship-wide for the fall season and that it works ok when turned on, but we were quite hot and would have been very miserable if the ports couldn't be opened. It is a great memory though. If you want 21st century first class accommodations, don't stay here. But if you want a real experience in a historic spot (with wi-fi), definitely put this on the list.

I have a lot more QM pictures from this visit and I am happy to share them if Tokyo is willing to post them, and if anyone would like to see them.

Thanks everyone for the comments and especially to Tokyo for doing all the work. I hope this was enjoyable and that some old memories were brought to mind.


K. Martinez said...

JG, I'd love to see more of your QM pics and read your stories if Tokyo is willing to share them. Also thanks for sharing more detailed information about the ship/hotel. The more you share about it the more I become fascinated with the place. Thanks gain!

TokyoMagic! said...

JG, I was wondering the same thing about admission to the ship, if one is not staying overnight. I know there are various restaurants on board, including a buffet brunch (on Sundays?), so I can't imagine that you have to pay to go aboard for those, but perhaps you need reservations? I remember going in the nineties and wandering around the ship and not having to pay an admission fee. The last time I went was just a few years ago, but I had tickets which I had won, and they included all of the various "pay" tours, as well as the Princess Diana exhibit.

Thank you again for sharing your pics and your experience aboard the ship! I would love to see more pics from you trip and I can also share those with readers, if you like.

JG said...

Hello Tokyo, you are welcome. I thought these would be a nice follow-up to your post on the QM some time back. I'm glad you posted them and that others have enjoyed them also. We had fun on our visit, so it's good to share that. The QM is still a great destination.

I would be happy to share some more photos from this same trip. We spent a whole day exploring the ship and exhibits. There are some great photos of the Churchill exhibit, which was very well done and interesting.

I will work on sorting those out for a future post and will be in touch with you.

Cheers all!