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Could the Nuclear Submarine USS Dallas Finally Come to Dallas?

Depends on whether you think the idea of a landlocked Dallas Maritime Museum is as crazy now as it was a few years ago.
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The USS Dallas, named for Big D and famed for its part in The Hunt for Red October, was decommissioned Thursday at a U.S. Navy base in Washington, reviving the audacious notion that the nuclear submarine could become the landlocked centerpiece of an imagined Dallas Maritime Museum.

The idea of an $80 million maritime museum in a city located hundreds of miles away from the ocean set sail years ago, picking up enough speed that in 2013, when it first looked like the Dallas would be retired, Mayor Mike Rawlings was posing for photos with seamen on a plot of land on Riverfront Boulevard. The postponement of the 362-foot submarine’s last voyage at least temporarily sunk the hopes of a maritime museum for us landlubbers. Now there’s reason to believe the museum is rising back from the depths.

Ron Natinsky, the former city councilman and chairman of the museum’s board, says that the museum has not given up its near Ahab-like pursuit of the submarine. A group of museum representatives was in Washington on Thursday for the decommissioning itself, and despite questions about cost and logistics, “the bottom line is yes,” work is still underway to bring a nuclear submarine to Dallas, he says.

If everything works out, it will still take significant time for the Dallas to be disassembled and transported to North Texas. Crews will have to wait at least several years for the submarine’s nuclear reactor to safely cool, although Natinsky says workers can start categorizing and removing nonessential parts of the Dallas as early as the first of the year. There was some discussion of the submarine’s last sea voyage taking it to the relatively nearby Galveston Bay, but it will instead have to be taken apart in Washington.

Regardless, Natinsky’s vision of the Dallas Maritime Museum involves the submarine being completely reassembled, minus the parts that are deemed top secret by the Navy, including the propeller and some parts of the hull. (Replicas will fill in at the museum.) He sees visitors traversing what is “basically a three-deck steel tube” in the submarine’s interior.

The museum has already begun collecting other naval memorabilia and items for display, including ship’s bells, but the USS Dallas, named as it is for Dallas, seems to provide the museum’s primary and somewhat tenuous reason for existing in the first place. Natinsky is optimistic the museum can get it here. Ideally, the 36-year-old Dallas would become only the second nuclear submarine to be featured at a museum. (The Dallas Maritime Museum at one point floated the idea of trying to obtain the former presidential yacht the USS Sequoia, which has since spent years falling apart in a Virginia boatyard.)

Four years ago, when the museum was intended for a site near the Cedars and had the support of City Hall and the city’s visitors bureau, it came with an estimated $80 million price tag. Planners are now looking at different sites, including one at Fair Park, but there is still “extreme interest” in funding the submarine’s transportation and the museum’s construction, Natinsky says.

It’s tempting to mock the idea of a maritime museum in landlocked Dallas—why not build a space center while we’re at it, as was suggested here several years ago. It’s also possible to admire the almost insane, stubborn disregard for the restraints of God, nature, and good sense. It’s Fitzcarraldo with a submarine in place of a steamboat, the North Texas watershed in place of the South American jungle, broad-smiling Dallas businessmen in place of a deranged Klaus Kinski.

And after talking to Natinsky, I was easily convinced of one thing. Walking around the inside of a decommissioned nuclear submarine, whether it’s floating in Galveston Bay or sitting on dry land in Dallas, would indeed be “very, very cool.”

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