AUREOL, AUGUSTUS and OLYMPIA United!
The RMMV AUREOL of 1951 was a hard working, much-loved liner that linked Liverpool (and later Southampton) with West Africa in the waning days of the British Empire. She was built by Alexander Stephen and Sons at Glasgow, Scotland in an era when polished woods, linoleum decking, nickel and glass fixtures and brass fittings were the norm. Long after most of her contemporaries were scrapped, she went on to a second, mostly stationary career as the accommodation ship MARIANNA VI at Jeddah (the port for Mecca) for Greek billionaire oil tycoon John S. Latsis. Latsis was very fond of British liners and had amassed quite a “collection” of them during his lifetime. Sadly, by the time he died in the late 1990s, the last of his old liners, including the by-then-derelict MARIANNA VI had outlived their purpose.
MARIANNA VI after being laid up for thirteen years at Eleusis Greece in 1998. Copyright Peter Knego 1998.
I visited MARIANNA VI when she was on the sales list, marveling at all of her beautiful fittings, including her handsome Tourist Class Bar, which the crew nicknamed “Nellie’s Bar”.
Nellie's Bar in 1998. Copyright Peter Knego 1998.
During construction, a loose bolt was apparently trapped under the bar that “came to life” when the ship hit rough seas. Crew members attributed the rattling noise to a ghost named Nellie and so the bar took on that appelation throughout the ship's career. When the former AUREOL was finally scrapped at Alang, thanks to some confusion on the part of my agent in India, I unwittingly became its owner. It arrived at my home in Moorpark in such deplorable condition it almost ended up in a landfill but after a couple of years, we fixed it up, put it on casters and it has now become the centerpiece of our new home.
Greek Line's SS OLYMPIA. Peter Knego collection.
The SS OLYMPIA of 1953 was a mostly tourist class liner intended for Greek Line's transatlantic service between New York and Greece. She was a handsome, hard working ship that lived an especially long, prosperous life under her latter day incarnations as CARIBE I and REGAL EMPRESS until being scrapped at Alang in 2008. The OLYMPIA was built by the same shipyard that built the AUREOL and in many ways, she was an enlarged version of of that ship.
Forward stairtower of the MV REGAL EMPRESS, the former SS OLYMPIA, in 2008. Copyright Peter Knego 2008.
Even after a succession of refits, the former OLYMPIA retained many of her original features, including backlit Odeon-style sconces in her stairtower landings.
OLYMPIA stairtower sconces in the trash-bound wreckage at Alang. Copyright Peter Knego 2009.
I found several of these piled up in a junk yard at Alang and rescued them before they were recycled into rebar or some other material.
OLYMPIAn sconces aglow once more. Copyright Peter Knego 2014.
After several years in storage, these fixtures have been carefully re-mounted onto some beautiful avodire paneling and now sit on either side of Nellie’s Bar, which was ironically created by the same designers and craftsmen two years earlier.
Even her latter day livery as the MS PHILIPPINES could not detract from the MV AUGUSTUS' exquisite sea-going lines. Copyright Peter Knego 1999.
Italian Line’s MV AUGUSTUS was one of the most beautiful liners ever built. Constructed at Trieste in 1952, she served on Italian LIne’s South and North American transatlantic routes until being sold to Asian interests in 1976. The ship sat basically unused but well-maintained for many years, her second owners oblivious to all of her precious vintage Italian elements that were created by Italy’s top architects, artists and artisans.
A freshly "re-varnished" former first class stateroom aboard the MS PHILIPPINES (ex AUGUSTUS) in 1999. The flash reveals only a hint of the gorgeous avodire paneling underneath.
During my only visit to the ship at Manila, I watched as workers applied coats of dark varnish atop the beautiful avodire paneling in her first class staterooms and suites. The new varnish shined well enough but it obscured the exotic patterns and warm tones of the original paneling.
Four restored AUGUSTUS avodire panels lined up and ready to join the MidShipCentury catalog. Copyright Peter Knego 2014.
When the former AUGUSTUS was broken up, I salvaged some of this beautiful paneling and have worked carefully to remove the latter day varnish to restore it to its original glory.
AUGUSTUS First Class Dining Room in its heyday. The mahogany and glass screens are in the backdrop. Peter Knego collection.
During that magical 1999 visit, while enjoying a meal in the ship’s former first class dining room, which was designed by Gustavo Pulitzer-Finale (one of Gio Ponti’s rivals), a little sleuthing uncovered the series of glass screens designed to slide over the portholes in rough seas.
I would learn later that these mahogany-framed screens were hand painted on silk that was set between two layers of glass.
Some reports suggest Pulitzer, himself, rendered their beautiful undersea motifs but the style is very much like the artist Righi, whom Pulitzer commissioned to do similar work for the liner CONTE BIANCAMANO.
Now, some sixty years after these fittings were created, they have been joined together in our new home to serve and delight once more: AUREOL’s Nellie’s Bar fronts AUGUSTUS’s Righi/Pulitzer screens (which now slide open to reveal a Southern California front yard) and the OLYMPIA’s stairtower sconces simmer brilliantly as a framework for the entire ensemble, casting their starry glow atop painstakingly restored AUGUSTUS avodire paneling.
With huge gratitude for the craftsmanship of Bret Swarens and Tom Nicolai, who transformed these MidShipCentury visions into reality.