Were Normandie alive today


Apr 27, 2005
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Were "Normandie" alive today, much like "France", would we endeavor to preserve her? I think she was arguably the most beautiful ocean liner ever constructed. "France" reflects her in small degrees, yet nobody wants "France", nor is there a movement to preserve her. What of our beloved "Normandie"?
 
Aug 23, 2003
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Hey, I want France/(Norway)! ;-)

I'm not sure how big of a movement there is to preserve it, but I did see a website dedicated to this.

I dunno. If Normandie were around today, I'm sure there'd be a number interested in its preservation. Hard to say how many...
 

Jim Kalafus

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> "France" reflects her in small degrees, yet nobody wants "France", nor is there a movement to preserve her.

That is because 'good taste' contains a grandfather clause, which states that as soon as a cutting edge design falls out of fashion it will be a good 60 years before it is appreciated again. And, unfortunately for the Norway ex France, the bulk of people alive today are old enough to have lived somewhere in the 1957-'80 time frame and associate the high style furnishings and artwork of the original France with items one would find in basement rec rooms, thrift shops and hit and run motels on the bad side of town, or found on the sidewalk on monthly "large trash collection" day. Even in her day, the France's interiors received mixed reviews, and with the exception of the former first class dining room, what was not removed during conversion is still fairly hideous. Boarded her in 1996 and was amused to hear one of the onboard VIPS describe her (off the record) as being "like a Holiday Inn- but not a good one. Like one you find by the airport."

>What of our beloved "Normandie"?

Benefitted from her early death and lackluster career while alive. Unlike the Queens Mary and Elizabeth, and the Nieuw Amsterdam she did not age in public, nor did she go through the purgatory of being outmoded and considered tacky as she would have been had she survived. Were she suddenly to appear intact, the reality could not live up to the expectations of fans. And because she spent more time NOT sailing in 1935-'39 than she did at sea, and carried so few passengers, she'll always have that mystique better patronized liners never attained.
 

Tom Lear

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Aug 22, 2003
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An interesting "what if....." scenario.

Assuming (presuming?) the same Gallic pride that led to the France's being constructed, it is not difficult to imagine that money going instead to the Normandie's upkeep and refitting. No doubt some effort would have been made to retake the Blue Riband from Cunard (further refinements to the engines? new propellers?), although it would have been very, very difficult to compete with the United States. (And would the France still have been built?)

There is also the outside possibility, given the hordes of newly-rich American middle class traveling to Europe in the 1950s, that the Normandie finally might have been able to turn a miniscule profit, assuming French PR efforts could match those of the British.

Once again, presuming on the same French intransigence in the rise of the jet age that kept the France sailing until 1974, the Normandie, having been refitted and partially rebuilt sometime in the 1960s, could have been kept sailing until the early 70s. The French Line would have been more obstinate than Cunard in seeing the writing on the wall, and the dirigismiste/deGaullist way of doing things would have kept tax moneys flowing to the French Line.

But it becomes too nebulous after that. Either being laid up, too expensive and antiquated to operate but too much French vanity invested to send to the breakers, which would mean a deterioration like what has befallen the United States. Or the remote possibility of being saved as a museum someplace.
 
Apr 27, 2005
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Had she survived the war, I agree, there would have been post-war refit, likely with two funnels, or worse, redesigned three funnels. Her interiors would never have been the same as prior to the war. "Liberte" would have replaced the "Paris" or might not have been taken from the Germans. I'm betting the "Ile de France" would have gone to the breakers earlier or been pressed into Mediterranean service. Eventually, "Normandie" would have either been retired as hopelessly out of date, or a financial loss, and simply become a museum or Toyotas. "France" would never have been constructed. I think "France" deserves a note of recognition however, as the most distinctive of the post-war ships, and at the least, in the tradition of "Normandie"; certainly not as a worthy successor.
 

James Carey

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Sep 14, 2004
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Sentiment comes into play, before the realization of how much money would be needed to preserve a ship as large as a liner. We liner lovers, want to try to save these beautiful lady's of the sea, but the cost would be enormous!
 

Jim Kalafus

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>Her interiors would never have been the same as prior to the war

For the most part, I think the public rooms would have been much the same as they were before the war. The artwork was removed quickly, but carefully, in 1941-'42 and had there not been a fire it would have more logical, in the shortage plagued post war environment, to restore the rooms rather than rebuild them from scratch. Many of the best pieces were recycled into the Liberte and Ile de France, which leads me to believe that CGT would have been willing do a large scale restoration had the ship survived.

It would have been interesting to see if the postwar Normandie could have overcome the various factors which kept her passenger loads low during her first four years.
95920.jpg
 
Apr 27, 2005
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I think post-war retrofitting would have been opulent and made her the showpiece she was before. The investment in her plant, her hull, her overall design, would have simply required the investment. What killed her was the fact she was a gutted hull at the close of the war. She would have been an empty container needing to be filled. All her machinery would have required intricate replacement. The only man with the knowledge and vision to do the job was Vladimir Yorkevich, and he couldn't get anyone to listen to him. William Francis Gibbs had his heart squarely placed on building his supership, and wanted nothing to do with the "Normandie". Incidently, I understand that great amounts of her cut away super structure and above decks machinery wound up as landfill on Rickers Island, in the East River. I have stood by where she sank and wondered if pieces of her still rest on the floor of the Hudson.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>I have stood by where she sank and wondered if pieces of her still rest on the floor of the Hudson.

If so, they are minute. However, one could write a fairly interesting article about all of the Normandie fragments still visible in Manhattan.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>It would have been interesting to see if the postwar Normandie could have overcome the various factors which kept her passenger loads low during her first four years.<<

I wonder about that as well. How was the trans-Atlantic passenger trade doing in this timeframe?
 

Tom Lear

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Aug 22, 2003
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If I can remember off the top of my head correctly (very, very big "if"), 1958 was the busiest year ever for transatlantic shipping. Then the bubble burst. But the 1950s, as a whole, seem to have been a very lucrative time.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Mmmmmmm...I was thinking more in the lines of the 1945 to 1950 timeframe. With large portions of Europe recovering from the war, I don't know that there would be a lot to appeal to somebody going on Holiday, and a forth large liner might have been seen as excess tonnage. (Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Aquataina were still available.) That would have made things a bit tough *if* this is the case.

I'm just wondering if it was.
 

Tom Lear

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Aug 22, 2003
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If I remember correctly, a lot of liners were tied up in the two to three years after the war ended, repatriating troops, sending refugees abroad and then in the yard being converted from wartime service back to commercial guise. The Liberte wasn't ready for commercial service until 1950, and the battleship Jean Bart also wasn't completed until the late 1940s. I think the Normandie would have also had to wait a fair stretch before sailing again commercially - but this is all academic (I suddenly realize).
 

Jim Kalafus

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There was an intriguing letter for sale on eBay a while back, written aboard Normandie on CGT paper in either 1935 or 1936 in which the writer had highlighted the phrase "I really hate this ship." She also advised the reader to avoid Normandie and mentioned that the incessant vibration had finally caused her to vomit. I lost to a higher bidder and so did not get to read her detailed account beyond what was shown on eBay.

I think that had Normandie survived, she would have been lucrative during the "seller's market" of the early 1950s, and then, like the Queens, become a big money loser when newer ships with a better standard of accomodation, and jet travel became options. Normandie's fatal flaw prewar (other than the vibration, the depression and the threat of impending war keeping tourists away from continental Europe) was that, as fabulous as her deluxe accomodations were, her 'bread and butter' cabins were inferior and, compared to the Queens, there were too few of them. Third class, in particular, was a warren. Postwar, after 1950, an 'all first class' liner could have succeeded for a while in a way not possible 1935-'39 but, my guess is that by 1960 she would have been in deep trouble competing with the superior new Italian Line vessels and the United States.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>but this is all academic (I suddenly realize).<<

True. Some idiot thinks it's a good idea to use a cutting torch in the vacinity of piles of Kapok life preservers and *POOF* Exit one beautiful liner stage right, enter an academic discussion on the "might have beens" stage left. What Jim posted about the vibration doesn't suprise me in the least. This was a high speed vessel and they didn't have computers to help design screws that would minimize the monsterous cavitation. Down in the spaces where the lower classes slept, it must have been an absolute horror.
 

Tom Lear

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Aug 22, 2003
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The vibration problem was already solved by the second season, I believe. Perhaps the female correspondent was sickened by the preponderance of Art Deco and all the mirrored surfaces. There was also the famous missive by a British gentleman whose name escapes me, traveling with his son, complaining of the excessive gilt and the Zigfield-follies-like atmosphere, making it "impossible to enjoy a good book or get any meaningful work done," I think he said. I know after three days confined in such a frilly environment, the first thing I'd want to do as soon as I hit land again would be to buy a couple of six packs, stop bathing and settle down with a couple of Playboys - I know that's not exactly funny, but neither is chorus after chorus of pre-pubescent bellboys dolled up and powder-puffed to the nines in crimson-colored velour monkey suits.

Still, that would have been enough to over-awe the legions of 1950s midwesterners leaving the corn-fields for the first time. For all the Ward and June Cleavers, Ethel and Fred Mertzes, and Ozzies and Harriets wanting to get a good gawk at "gay Paree," the Normandie would have been the perfect intro.
 
Feb 18, 2006
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Of course, Normandie may have ended her days as USS Lafayette, in service to the US Navy. Interesting spin on things, if you think about it. Still, I'd like to have her out in Long Beach next to Queen Mary...
 

Jim Kalafus

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>The vibration problem was already solved by the second season, I believe.

A year late...BUT.....

CGT fitted the Normandie with new propellers at either the beginning of the 1936 or 1937 season, and during her trials the vibration was minimal and the company made- what proved to be- the mistake of announcing that the vibration problem had been conquered. Then, on the eve of her retuirn to service she dropped- and lost-a screw,and its corresponding mate had to be removed and two of the old style propellers refitted. End result was same old vibration for another entire season and some bad publicity generated by the pre-voyage publicity about solving the vibration problem. 1938, her final complete year of service, was her first in which the phrase 'smooth sailing' could accurately be applied.

>Still, I'd like to have her out in Long Beach next to Queen Mary...

In a way it would be nice to see her intact, but on the other hand the Normandie that exists in the mind's eye could never be matched by the actual ship. I recall the first time I saw a color photo of the First Class Lounge and was surprised by how strident- perhaps garish is almost appropriate- the colors were. I had always 'pictured' the room in sedate tones, and seeing the preponderance of bordello red and gilt was a bit of a letdown. In much the same way, when I finally got to see the Dupas panel fragment at the French Art Deco exhibit at the Met, I thought that the colors were appalling (particularly the pink sections that were executed in the same lurid shade that Med School diagrams use) another Normandie let-down! So, I keep my 'memories' of the ship I never actually saw in B&W
 

Tom Lear

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Aug 22, 2003
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Putting the web site together two years back, I confess I spent a lot of time in Photoshop re-tinting or toning down the color photographs. I still wonder if maybe it wasn't the color film of the time, that tended to over-saturate hues, kind of like the color photos you see from Nazi Germany in the same time frame.

A peculiar phenomenon with many things French ever since Napoleon III, IMHO. Throw up something fantastically over-decorated and screaming for attention, and let everyone "ooh" and "aah" for six months before common sense and good taste finally restore themselves. This is what happens when art tries too hard to be "art."
 

Rich Davidson

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Nov 7, 2006
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i know this is an old thread now...
If the Normandie were still in service in the late 1960s I wonder if Long Beach would have purched her over the Queen Mary? As the French Line were planning a sistership to Normandie, to be named Bretagne, its likely the France in some format would have been constructed - just imagine, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, Normandie, France, what a photo-op that would have made on Luxury Liner Row!
 

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