New Submarine Museum Facility Prepared To Open

May 18, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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MUSKEGON — A new $2 million museum building at the Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum on the Muskegon River channel should be open for visitors in June or July. The new facility is already booked for after-hours use this summer by at least two veterans' groups.

Up to now the two main components of the 20-year-old organization have been the USS Silversides, probably the most famous surviving U.S. submarine of World War II, and a historic U.S. Coast Guard cutter, the McLane. A couple of converted portable classrooms had been in use over the years as a small exhibit space, gift shop and office space but those will disappear when the new museum is finished, according to Bob Morin Sr., director and chairman of the board of the museum.

Morin is a WWII veteran of the U.S. Navy Seabees. He has worked in banking and hospital administration, and served as chairman of the American Cancer Society and the Muskegon County Chamber of Commerce.

Morin said about $1.7 million has been raised to pay for the $2 million expansion.

The new 16,500-square-foot museum, located on the channel next to the two historic vessels, will have a large, central, two-story exhibit space.

The two floors surrounding the open center will feature a theater, a large gift shop, a naval research library, classrooms, offices, and large rooms for private functions, one with a large balcony running the full width of the building and overlooking the channel.

The contractor on the new museum project is Hughes Builders Inc. of Muskegon. The firm's owner, John Hughes, is a long-time volunteer at the museum and a board member. Paul Harloff of David C. Bos Homes is the architect.

Inquiries about renting the building for group events after hours have already begun. "We're not even open yet and we're already getting people calling us," said Cathy Morin, assistant director of the museum.

The museum has become very popular among Scout, church and other youth groups that have spent the night sleeping aboard the two historic vessels.

The Silversides sank 23 Japanese ships during the war and was featured in the 1943 Warner Brothers movie "Destination Tokyo," starring Cary Grant and John Garfield. The Silversides was brought to Muskegon from Navy Pier in Chicago in 1987. Although the submarine is still owned by the U.S. Navy, it has granted the Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum caretaker status.

The Coast Guard cutter McLane was used in the Prohibition-era to chase rum runners, and later in the Aleutian Islands during World War II, where it is credited with helping sink a Japanese sub.

Cathy Morin said that last year between 8,000 and 10,000 youngsters and adults spent a night aboard the two vessels and another 8,000 to 10,000 visitors took the daytime tour of the vessels. The majority of those visitors are from outside Muskegon County. The overnight program, which offers 82 bunks on the Silversides and 39 on the McClane, draws youth groups from Minnesota to Georgia.

Bob Morin has said he expects the expansion of the museum to eventually double and possibly triple the annual attendance.

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