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article imageOp-Ed: A bit of FDR resides in the San Francisco Bay, a living legacy Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Oct 17, 2014 in Lifestyle
Oakland - This past September Ken Burns dazzled audiences once again with his series on The Roosevelt family, featuring U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
The series debut on PBS had consecutive episodes that ran for that entire week of Sept. 14. It covered basically three centuries of American History, some of which still impacts us to this present day in the form of the programs and government agencies that the Roosevelt Administration established or reformed. While the series may have had contemporary audiences, (people under the age of 25 or so) wondering "who is Roosevelt?" "And, who cares?" At least this reporter knows of a dedicated group of people who care very much and were very pleased that the extensive documentary was made.
The staff and crew of the USS Potomac Association at Jack London Square in San Francisco Bay were very excited and enthralled by the Ken Burns documentary because each day they attend and care for the yacht that was once FDR's command center off shore.
Simple but stately  the USS Potomac looks much like it did when FDR and the Roosevelt family were on...
Simple but stately, the USS Potomac looks much like it did when FDR and the Roosevelt family were on board for family outings or during visits by heads of state and other officials.
Courtesy of USS Potomac Association
The fantail section of the USS Potomac was FDR s favorite spot to sit  especially when reading or go...
The fantail section of the USS Potomac was FDR's favorite spot to sit, especially when reading or going over important papers.
courtesy of USS Potomac Association
"I enjoyed the documentary special and I thought it was excellent. Ken Burns as usual, did an outstanding job," said Potomac Association's Executive Director and CEO, Marti Burchell. She took a few moments to chat with me about the recent documentary and her on-going work at the association in its work to preserve one of the last legacies of FDR.
"I liked the way Burns intertwined the three lives of FDR, Teddy and Eleanor," she said. "That I think, was smashingly well done," she said. "There were things in the documentary, little things that I did not know and that were fascinating," said Burchell.
She admitted that since the documentary series' initial broadcast last month, there has been no sudden flurry of calls or emails. "But that is not to say, people calling in or signing up for our tours are not entirely doing so because of the documentary or not. We do not ask people 'how did you hear about us?' I guess we will have to start doing that just to see if the Ken Burns documentary did lead them to us."
While Burchell praised the work of Ken Burns, she was a bit disappointed there was not a bit more about the USS Potomac. "It was mentioned for about a nano-second. Yet it would be wonderful if Burns could do a little documentary just about the USS Potomac. It alone all on its own has a fascinating history.
Elementary and Middle School kids from grades 5 through 8 get the chance to experience an up close l...
Elementary and Middle School kids from grades 5 through 8 get the chance to experience an up close look at US History. "We have eight educational cruises a year, said Marti Burchell of the USS Potomac Association. It is a great way for teachers and students to learn about history and it has been very successful."
Courtesy of USS Potomac Association
Formerly a merchant marine vessel, the boat was converted into a presidential yacht to meet the needs and tastes of FDR and his family. The USS Potomac was built in 1934 as the Coast Guard cutter, named Electra. The 165-foot vessel, displacing 416 tons with cruising speeds of 10 to 13 knots, was commissioned as a U.S. Navy vessel in 1936. It was then renamed the USS Potomac, and served as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Presidential Yacht until his death in 1945.
After FDR’s death in April 1945, the Potomac began a long and ignominious decline from her former role in world affairs. After many adventures and many owners – including Elvis Presley at one point, noted Burchell, the vessel was seized in 1980 in San Francisco as a front for drug smugglers. From there the USS Potomac was impounded at Treasure Island. Due to rust, decay from years of neglect, the ship sank. The ship was raised and unceremoniously dumped on the East Bay Estuary where she sat abandoned and rotting. "It was sort of a miracle, said Burchell," that less than a week away from being sold as scrap the ship was rescued by the Port of Oakland and the process of restoration was begun.
Over time, during a 12-year span, it took $5 million to restore the USS Potomac to its former glory. The USS Potomac opened to the public for tours in 1995. And since that time, more than a quarter of a million people have visited and sailed aboard.
Magnifient views of San Francisco Bay can be enjoyed by visitors and guests aboard the USS Potomac. ...
Magnifient views of San Francisco Bay can be enjoyed by visitors and guests aboard the USS Potomac. In addition to its educational programs, tours and exhibits, the USS Potomac is available for parties and special occasions.
Courtesy of USS Potomac Association
Known as  The Floating White House  the USS Potomac served as host to many meetings and gatherings f...
Known as "The Floating White House" the USS Potomac served as host to many meetings and gatherings for official heads of state and dignitaries from around the world. The USS Potomac Association offers use of the presidential yacht for private parties, special occasions and corporate events.
Courtesy of USS Potomac Association
"FDR loved being on his yacht, said Burchell. He loved entertaining and holding important meetings here. He was more at ease when aboard the Potomac." Known as "the floating White House" the USS Potomac served as an official meeting place for dignitaries and heads of state. Even though the vessel has touches of elegance here and there, it is very modest, as a yacht. It reflects the Roosevelt's down-to-earth manner, out of respect for the times, being the Great Depression. It's lack of ostentation and presidential splendor, speaks of Roosevelt's eagerness to 'get-right-to-business' and identify with the people he worked with and the nation he served.
Some time ago, I had the privilege of taking a tour of the Potomac. Burchell at that time pointed out the little accompaniments that were installed especially for FDR to aid him in his daily routine as he struggled with the effects of polio. The special bathroom built on board that allowed FDR to bathe and wash himself independently. FDR in some ways was ADA compliance minded even before the concept of accessibility was even thought of as we know it today. "He and Eleanor were in many ways, ahead of their times," said Burchell.
Students from the Oakland schools get the opportunity to learn about US History aboard the president...
Students from the Oakland schools get the opportunity to learn about US History aboard the presidential yacht. The USS Potomac provides eight educational excursions a year to students.
Courtesy of USS Potomac Association
That is not to say they were perfect or that everything they did had lasting and vital impact. But their contributions to the nation while in the political arena serving in the White House was substantial. When I asked Burchell if she agreed with historians like Aaron D. Miller that Roosevelt is among the three greatest US Presidents ever? "Definitely, and I think part of FDR's greatness was due in part to his cousin Teddy," she said. "Much of what FDR accomplished was set forth in part or at least inspired by what Theodore Roosevelt had done or started during his presidency," Burchell said.
"I am not an expert and certainly there are many more people who can speak definitively and with authority about FDR than I can. But I do know, said Burchell, that what we have here docked at Jack London Square is a treasure of US History and it is my hope more people will stop by and visit." For more information about the USS Potomac and its events and tours visit the web site, or call 510-627-1215.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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