By Robert C. Burns
January 19, 2008T
he World War II Navy submarine USS Silversides has become a familiar sight along the Muskegon Channel since its arrival from Chicago's Navy Pier two decades ago.
But there's a great deal more to the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum -- an outfit whose Navy and World War II-era artifacts number in the thousands, many of which have been stashed away in storage areas for lack of space to display them.
That is a situation the museum's board of directors is well on its way to correcting. A new $2 million channel-side museum is scheduled for opening in mid-June, rounding out a visitor destination center that is expected to attract more than 50,000 visitors annually.
It includes the highly popular Silversides, now a National Historic Landmark, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter McLane. Built in 1927 as a Prohibition-era "rum chaser," it later saw service in World War II and came to Muskegon in 1993.
Both vessels have been restored largely through many hours of volunteer effort.
Besides bringing the Silversides' propellers and torpedoes and other outdoor exhibits in out of the weather, the sizable 16,500-square-foot museum building will properly display an actual control system taken from a nuclear-powered incarnation of the USS Silversides, since its decommissioning.
Acquisition of a nuclear submarine periscope to go with it is "in the works," said museum chairman Robert Morin Sr.
And besides adding greatly to exhibit space, the recently christened Robert G. Morin Sr. Building will include two exhibit areas, a research library, classrooms, a 72-seat theater, on-premise storage space for artifacts, offices, a banquet and conference area overlooking the Muskegon Channel and an expanded gift shop.
It also will have a staging area for tours and for those participating in the museum's popular Overnight Encampment Program before going aboard the submarine or the Coast Guard cutter for the night.
The building also will become a training location for the U.S. Navy Sea Cadet, Power Squadron and museum education programs.
Finding space for all those different displays and activities called for a large building, and it is -- too large, say disgruntled neighbors like Randy Bandstra, 3520 Fulton.
The building will be 28 feet tall, enough to obscure his view of the west end of the Channel and Lake Michigan.
"It's a big commercial building that doesn't belong in a residential neighborhood, and an ugly commercial building at that," says Bandstra, who said the structure would be better suited for the city's downtown lakefront.
Morin contends that the building was set back as far as possible from the channel to prevent blocking the view from houses along it.
"There's no way to please everybody, but we tried," Morin said, adding that the building will look much different after the windows, trim and front entrance are added to the marine blue siding.
"I think it's going to be a beautiful building when it's done," Morin said.
The idea of the large museum is not to cram in every last artifact the organization has in its possession, says the museum's registrar and collection manager, Denise Herzhaft. An exhibit committee will be selecting which of several thousand artifacts to display and which to leave out, she said.
But the new building will give curators an opportunity to rotate the exhibits each year to keep things fresh.
"We have tourists and groups that come here once a year, every year," she said, "so we like to change the exhibits periodically."
Community outreach and education are a part of the museum's mission as well. A curriculum is now being written by Toni Seyferth, a communications teacher for the North Muskegon school district, and Pat Gabriel, a retired teacher from Jenison.
Researchers will find books, documents, workspace and an Internet feed to Navy archives. The library includes volumes on military history, particularly the World War II era. About a year and a half ago, Virginia Marsick, of Kankakee, Ill., donated an estimated $12,000 worth of books on the war -- and another $1,000 for bookcases to shelve them.
Already considered Muskegon County's second-most popular tourist destination, the Silversides organization got a boost with the start of Lake Express cross-lake service in 2004, in the form of a steady increase in tours and gift shop sales.
"The Silversides is the first thing to welcome visitors and the last to wish them goodbye," said Herzhaft.
A fundraising drive for the new facility is about 80 percent of the way toward its goal, said Mark Fazakerley, treasurer of the organization. Of the $2 million overall cost, a $400,000 savings has been realized through cost reductions and various in-kind services. Of that, $1.3 million has been raised to date, Fazakerley said. That leaves $300,000, which Fazakerley said he fully expects to be in hand by the end of this year.
"The (fundraising) momentum just keeps getting better and better."
That money will cover completion of the second-floor library and offices. The museum will open in June, he said. "It can be a functioning museum with what we have right now."Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum When: It opens in mid-June.
Cost: $2 million.
Location: 1346 Bluff, near the channel.
Size: 16,500 square feet over two floors.
Inside: Two exhibit areas, 72-seat theater, classrooms, research library, artifact storage, banquet and conference areas, gift shop, staging area for tours and overnighters, training for U.S. Navy Sea Cadets, Power Squadron and museum education programs.
Information or to make a contribution: Call (231) 755-1230 or go to the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum Web site.