LOS ANGELES — The battleship Iowa, which once transported President Franklin D. Roosevelt to a summit with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin in Tehran, is embarking on a new mission that would include a recurring role in Hollywood.
The 887-foot-long World War II-era ship moved this week from the San Francisco Bay to its new digs at the Port of Los Angeles, potentially becoming a coveted film location as well as a star tourist attraction.
Last Friday, the Los Angeles City Council approved a 10-year lease agreement with the nonprofit group Pacific Battleship Center, which plans to use the vessel as a military museum, education center and event venue that could accommodate filming.
Film industry officials have strongly supported the move, noting that Southern California has relatively few World War II-era ships, aside from the aircraft carrier Midway in San Diego and the smaller Lane Victory, a former U.S. Merchant Marine craft that is also stationed at the Port of Los Angeles and is frequently used for filming, most famously in James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster “Titanic.”
“Los Angeles has the best film production infrastructure in the world — the best crews, stages and locations,” FilmL.A. Inc. spokesman Todd Lindgren said at the City Council meeting Friday. “This battleship will complement that existing infrastructure and offer filmmakers a really unique local film asset.”
Even before the Iowa left San Francisco Bay for its new home in San Pedro, location managers from such TV shows as “NCIS” and “CSI” had been calling about booking the ship for filming, said Damian Jones, a consultant with Pacific Battleship Center.
“We’ve been contacted by a number of shows that want to be able to film on the ship once it gets down here, so we think there is going to be great opportunity for filming — both for big-budget films and lower-budget films and TV shows,” Jones said. “We’ve been telling people we’d love to work with you, but our first job is to get the ship down here.”
The move to Southern California could give the Iowa a spot in the limelight recently enjoyed by one of its peers. Universal Pictures’ recently released movie “Battleship” was shot aboard the Missouri, an Iowa-class battleship stationed in Hawaii.
The Iowa arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday. After having its hull cleaned off the coast in deeper waters, it is scheduled to be pulled into port on June 9.
First commissioned in 1943, the 58,000-ton battleship served in World War II and the Korean War and helped escort tankers in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. The vessel was decommissioned in 1990 and was stationed with other retired ships in Suisun Bay near San Francisco. It spent five months undergoing renovations in the Port of Richmond before the move to the Port of Los Angeles.
In September, the U.S. Navy signed a contract with the Pacific Battleship Center to find a berth for the ship and to operate it as a museum. The center selected the Port of Los Angeles because of the prime location, where it is expected to draw as many as 400,000 visitors a year, according to plans submitted to the city.
Interactive public tours of the ship are scheduled to begin July 9, and the vessel should be available for filming by August, although rental fees have yet to be set. Plans also call for building a museum on the site.
Relying on private donations and a grant from the state of Iowa, the Pacific Battleship Center has invested about $7 million in cash and donated labor to refurbish the ship, including repainting it, installing gun systems and reattaching the mast.
“It’s really going to look like what it was when men served on the ship,” Jones said.
That will make the ship all the more appealing to location scouts, who’ve already been exchanging emails about the Iowa’s arrival.
“We spend a lot of time making things or cheating things to look like something else,” said Ed Duffy, business agent for the Teamsters Local 399, which represents location managers, casting directors and studio drivers. “This is unique. It will have an immediate effect as soon as we’re able to film on it and will be added to a lot of scripts.”