Intrepid Discovery

Laura Kusnyer

Long one of the City’s most popular attractions, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, after undergoing a major restoration, returned to dock in Manhattan’s west side in early October to prepare for its grand reopening on November 8. The aircraft carrier–turned–floating museum was closed two years previous to allow for the rebuilding of the ship’s home at Pier 86, on the Hudson River at West 46th Street.

According to Susan Marenoff, the museum’s executive director, the pier project opened a window to perform renovations that would have been impossible with a constant stream of visitors. So when the Intrepid was tugged away in 2006—first to Bayonne, NJ, where it was repainted from hull to deck, and then to Staten Island, for extensive interior work—Marenoff and staff took the opportunity to rethink the museum experience.

“We wanted to tell the story of both the machine and human side,” Marenoff explains. That meant highlighting not only how a technologically advanced ship served its intended purpose but also the stories of those who served on the carrier over the years, from 1943 through the Vietnam War era and beyond.

Other goals of the privately funded $8 million interior renovation included:

• Streamlining the collection to focus on artifacts specific to the carrier’s history
• Creating a clear journey through the museum to make a more fluid experience for visitors
• Opening up parts of the ship never before seen by the public, including eating and sleeping areas on the third deck and the foc’s’le (forecastle), the room that houses the anchor chain
• Showcasing fabrics used on the ship. By removing carpeting and drywall that obscured materials underneath, for example, “we’ve revealed the true integrity of the ship’s structure,” Marenoff says. “We’ve opened up hatches so natural light comes in, so you can see and feel that you’re on the water the second you walk in.”

This visceral sensation of being on the carrier is a central aspect of visiting the floating museum. Beyond that, the museum strives to tell the Intrepid’s story through new interactive exhibits and traditional artifacts—including more than 20 real airplanes that now reside on the carrier’s deck. Many have been restored to display period designs indicating their missions and significance. “I am absolutely in awe of the beautiful, original artwork on these aircraft,” Marenoff says.

Thanks to $60 million in city, state and federal funds, Pier 86 has been completely rebuilt as a park, with benches, trees and other amenities. It will be open to the public, says Marenoff. The museum, she says, will be promoting the pier as an urban refuge; “a complement to the ship and its restoration.” Returning to the pier along with the Intrepid are the popular Growler submarine and a retired Concorde supersonic plane.

Kids’ experience on the Intrepid has also been enhanced. Aside from the chance to explore the ship and see the restored aircraft up close, they can educate themselves on the wonders of flight, water, space and life at sea at a new interactive area called the Exploreum. Here they can immerse themselves in a variety of activities, such as attempting to launch a plane, becoming the youngest captain of the Intrepid and climbing into a recreated Gemini space capsule.

A heads-up for parents looking for further adventure for their children when school is out: The museum offers “School’s Out, Ship’s In,” a daylong program for students interested in learning about sea, air and space; Kid’s Week, dedicated to discovery during the February school vacation week; and Camp Intrepid during the summer and for ages 7 to 11.

All told, Marenoff says, the restoration is by far the most significant one undertaken by the Intrepid in its history as a museum. “We’re all excited because it will offer visitors a more engaging experience, whether for an hour or a whole afternoon,” she adds. “The two years just flew by, but we’ve accomplished a lot, and we look forward to reassuming our place as a major icon in New York City.”