For 12 years, each day when attorney Daniel Bean drove across the Main Street Bridge to his law office, he looked at the St. Johns River and imagined what it would be like if a U.S. Navy warship museum was docked along its northbank Downtown.
“I don’t have to think about it anymore,” said Bean, president of the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association.
The USS Orleck DD-886 was towed March 26 into Downtown, the latest home port in the guided-missile frigate’s 78-year history.
The warship will be moved to a dock at the Shipyards property in June to begin its next tour of duty as a naval military museum.
Bean is a retired Navy surface warfare officer and judge advocate, former managing partner of Holland & Knight’s office in Jacksonville and a founding partner of Abel Bean Law.
He began leading the effort to establish a naval museum Downtown in 2010 as he was ending his term as president of the Jacksonville Bar Association.
At the time, the historic naval ship association was working to bring the USS Charles F. Adams, a Cold War-era guided-missile destroyer that was in the Philadelphia Navy Yard waiting to be scrapped, to Jacksonville.
The process for the Navy to transfer ownership of the Adams to the association went on for years while the Adams continued to rust in the ship graveyard.
The effort turned into nothing but frustration, Bean said.
“They kept changing the terms for transferring the warship. We had hundreds of action items complete, but they canceled the donation plan.”
That didn’t sink the association’s commitment to establish a warship museum in Jacksonville. It just forced a change in course.
From warship to museum
After highly decorated service in the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1982 spanning the Cold War, the wars in Korea and Vietnam and service as a training vessel, the USS Orleck was transferred to the Turkish government, which changed its name to TCQ Yücetepe.
After eight years of service under the Turkish flag, the warship was retired and transferred to the Southeast Texas War Memorial and Heritage Foundation in Orange, Texas, to become a museum bearing its original name.
When Hurricane Irma struck the Gulf Coast in September 2005, the Orleck was substantially damaged.
After it was repaired, the city of Orange refused to allow it to return to its berth at a city park, so the Orleck was anchored off two coastal islands for nearly four years.
In 2009, the Lake Charles, Louisiana, City Council approved an ordinance authorizing a cooperative endeavor agreement with the group in Texas.
The warship then was towed to Lake Charles and opened to the public, but over time the museum struggled to remain in operation.
In 2019, the decision was made to either sink it, sell it for scrap or find someone who wanted it.
The USS Orleck Museum needed to find its next new floating home.
Within hours of the Jacksonville association announcing it abandoned its campaign for the Adams, the museum’s operators contacted Bean and his colleagues with a proposal.
After a 25-hour road trip to visit and inspect the Orleck, Bean said the association decided to partially underwrite the museum to preserve right of first refusal for the warship’s impending disposition.
Final leg of the voyage
In consideration of a $1 million grant from the state and considerable investment from Bean and other association board members for a decade, in early 2020 Jacksonville City Council approved moving the Orleck to the St. Johns River Downtown.
A month later, a global event intervened.
The coronavirus pandemic shutdown that began in March 2020 delayed the transfer.
The Orleck also was in the path of Category 4 Hurricane Laura that made landfall Aug. 27 near Lake Charles.
The museum broke free of its mooring during the storm surge and drifted more than a mile from the dock, but was found floating and upright after the hurricane passed, Bean said.
The Orleck was towed to dry dock at Gulf Copper Manufacturing Corp. in Port Arthur, Texas, in December 2021 for inspection to determine whether it made financial sense to repair damage caused by the storm and paint the exterior to prepare the Orleck to again be a museum.
“We put a ton of steel on her. We believe we have increased her life by 10 or 15 years,” Bean said.
The cost of towing to Port Arthur and the shipyard work came to nearly $2 million.
It cost more than $300,000 for the final part of the voyage to tow the Orleck from Texas to its new temporary home near the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, Bean said.
Preparing for opening day
Having a 390-foot warship that looks like it did the day it was commissioned in 1945 docked Downtown made people pay attention to the museum project on a level the ship association had not experienced, Bean said.
“It’s human nature. People had to see the Orleck before they could begin to dream.”
Within hours of the warship’s arrival in Jacksonville, people were calling to ask how they could help get the museum ready for the public.
“We have high school students volunteering. People are scraping paint and cleaning. Someone offered to illuminate the American flag on the stern at night. There is a retired Navy captain who is on board every day painting. We get stronger every day,” Bean said.
Bean predicts that when the museum opens, unless guests have served aboard a destroyer, they will find some surprises.
“People are shocked at how tight the quarters are because everything is compressed to save space.”
With annual maintenance expenses estimated at $1 million, financial support will be needed in addition to admission fees and memberships, so the museum is seeking financial donations along with volunteer labor.
“It’s just like an active warship. It’s in the water. It rusts,” Bean said.
Visit jaxnavalmuseum.org to learn more about the Orleck and the museum.