The Port of Redwood City is celebrating its 75th year by inviting over today another septuagenarian — the USS Potomac, the presidential yacht commonly considered the "Floating White House” during its Roosevelt-era heyday.
Together, the port and the yacht will mark three-quarters of a century of maritime history by throwing open their doors to the public for a peek into the past and — at least for the Peninsula’s only active commercial port — a look to the present and future. "It’s a unique opportunity to celebrate both birthdays together,” said Port Executive Director Mike Giari. "And it’s a great chance to come down to the best waterfront of any city on the Peninsula.”
Giari concedes some people don’t know the port even exists and even more can’t really say what it does. On Saturday, though, visitors can learn its story through historical photographs and displays by port tenants like Sims Metal Management, which is co-sponsoring the Potomac’s rare visit.
The port actually started operating in the 1860s to ship logs and lumber to build San Francisco and Oakland. In 1936, Redwood City voters passed a ballot measure financing and revitalizing the deep-water port, making if officially part of the city.
The same year, the U.S. Navy crowned the USS Potomac as the official ship of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who used it until his death in 1945. Right off the stateroom sits a large teak deck used as a sitting area for Roosevelt. He liked greeting dignitaries and guests in the rounded area because it was very wide and long to accommodate his wheelchair, said Adam Alberti, speaking on behalf of sponsor Sims.
"It was certainly grand in its day. Visitors will see it is still very stately and also of that period,” Alberti said.
The 165-foot ship’s colorful past didn’t end there. Singer Elvis Presley was one of many owners before she was seized in San Francisco after being used by drug smugglers. The ship was impounded, sank, raised and abandoned on an East Bay estuary. Rotting and a week away from being sold for scrap, the ship was rescued by the Port of Oakland which paid $15,000 and launched a $5 million, 12-year renovation.
The last time the ship made the voyage from Jack London Square to Redwood City was 10 to 15 years ago, Giari said.
Aside from the Potomac, visitors today can also enjoy food and drink at the Sequoia Yacht Club, listen to live music at the waterfront stage and learn more about the port, its tenants and what they do.
"You know all those squished cars you see transported on the highway?” Giari asked.
They are headed to Sims which recycles all sorts of metals.
How about the foundation of the new San Francisco 49ers stadium in the South Bay? All those materials came through the Port of Redwood City, Giari said.
About 50 to 60 vessels come through the port with cargo yearly and the uptick in need for construction materials — like that needed for the stadium — helps keep the port thriving even if flies under many people’s radar, Giari said.
"We hope people will come down and learn more about us,” Giari said. "And, of course, visit the Potomac, too.”
USS Potomac public viewing:
The Potomac will be open for dockside tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 2 at the Port of Redwood City Marina, 451 Seaport Court, Redwood City. Tours are $5 for adults, free for children 12 and under. Parking is free. There will be live music at the port’s outdoor waterfront stage. The Sequoia Yacht Club will be open to the public for food and beverages.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.