The Maritime Museum of San Diego
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Restoration Efforts - The San Diego maritime museum
has restored three ships now at its docks, including the 1904 steam yacht Medea, which served in both world wars.
- Dr. Raymond Ashley, left, took over the Maritime Museum of San Diego in
The maritime expert and historian has since added educational programs to
the museum's offerings.
Photo by: Jim Kelly
In 1995, when Dr. Raymond Ashley took the helm at the
Maritime Museum of San Diego, the waterfront was in crisis.
The death of the tuna industry in the late 1980s had driven the Portuguese community out of decades-old
jobs in Seaport Village and back to its La Playa and Roseville refuges in
Vestiges of the 1990s recession continued to scar the
Stingeree (today's Gaslamp Quarter) with empty buildings and angry
vagrants. Metropolitan San Diego had little to offer the stray tourist
beyond the elegance of Balboa Park.
Ashley inherited an institution echoing the despair surrounding it.
While fewer than 80,000 visitors passed through its doors,
maritime craftsmen toiled to restore and preserve three historic ships,
the ferryboat, Berkeley, the steam yacht, Medea, and their crown jewel,
Star of India.
As a maritime expert, Ashley, who received his master of arts in maritime
history from East Carolina University and his Ph.D in the history of
science from Duke, kept the museum on the course of restoration while
giving it an additional charter. He turned it into a nautical university.
The museum began weekday and overnight educational programs that continue
today (see events section below).
Marketing exhibits ranging from pirate lore to Chinese
maritime art, the museum produced 35 separate shows over the past 10
years, swelling annual attendance to almost 200,000.
In an interview after a "Tall Ships" event in September of 2005, Ashley
was asked about a number of perceived problems.
First he was queried about the gaggle
of tent merchants who overflowed the embarcadero at the festival.
"We tried to have as high a concentration as we could of arts and crafts,"
he said. "Particularly vendors whose wares reflected a maritime theme. We
also tried to have a variety of food vendors because we anticipated
visitors would spend a good part of the day here."
When asked if the food vendors took business away from surrounding
restaurants, Ashley said they actually brought business to Anthony's and
other nearby establishments.
He wasn't sure how they did this year, but Ashley said
Anthony's has told him in the past that they do almost a month's worth of
business during the five days of the festival.
Ashley was also asked to address concerns over merchant tents obstructing the view of the ships
and unsightly fences. He said it was a good thing.
"With so many people attending the festival, you don't want people in cars
focusing on anything other than driving when they're going along that
stretch of road," he said.
The fence was also a simple matter to explain: "We put it up because the city
required it and it was a safety barrier.
When the ships sailed into San Diego Harbor, they did so during the day
when most people were at work. Again, Ashley was asked why they couldn't
come in later in the day.
Ashley said this was really a matter of logistics. Because they are coming
from Los Angeles, the ships have to rendezvous in the morning outside the
harbor. Their entrance has to be orchestrated because there are a number
of ships with different capabilities.
"The Coast Guard defines it as a marine event and they control it," Ashley
said. "The ships have to maintain a fairly consistent speed as well as
keep a certain distance fore and aft."
According to Ashley, the ships have to enter the harbor during the morning
hours because it takes so long to dock an armada of that size. Also, they
have to build customized boarding ramps for all the ships after they dock
because the port wasn't set up for that many ships.
"It takes up to three hours to finish building the gangways because we
actually have to create a tall ship harbor," he said. "If the ships came
in after normal business hours as suggested, the staff would have to be
doing this in the dark."
In spite of all the work the staff puts into creating public awareness of
the museum, the institution still maintains a certain amount of
underexposure. This problem was exposed by an inquiry that came to the
museum in the recent past.
"We received a phone call from an individual who wanted to visit the
museum but didn't know how to find us," Ashley said. "When we asked him
where he was, he said he was walking around on Star of India."