ON THE SURFACE The Juliett 484, before the storm.
Out on Allens Avenue in Providence, Rhode Island is finally saying goodbye to the Cold War.
It has been three years since the Juliett 484, an old Russian submarine that served as a quirky waterfront museum at Collier Point Park, sank to the bottom of the Providence River in the midst of a particularly unforgiving storm.
And it has been eight months since Rhode Island Recycled Metals hauled the rusting warrior about 1000 yards down the river to its property at 434 Allens for scrapping.
But after a months-long effort to get the proper equipment in place, Recycled Metals has only just started the dismemberment. In recent weeks, laborers have removed the nu-clear missile tubes and begun work on the conning tower on top.
Edward Sciaba, general manager of Recycled Metals, says the next step is dismantling the cramped interior. And one gets the sense that he will breathe a little easier when that part of the job is done.
“I don’t know how they did it,” Sciaba says of the 12 officers, 16 non-commissioned officers, and 54 crewmembers who once packed into the sub. “I don’t know how anyone could stay inside there for any period of time.”
The non-profit USS Saratoga Museum Foundation bought the sub in 2002, viewing it as a nifty Cold War counterpoint to the Saratoga, a decommissioned aircraft carrier the group hoped to open to the public in North Kingstown.
Commissioned in October 1965, the sub stood nearly 282 feet long and was equipped with four nuclear missiles capable of destroying targets at a distance of some 300 miles.
The craft’s military career is a bit of a mystery. But Juliett-class submarines were spotted stalking American aircraft carriers in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean. And Frank Lennon, president of Saratoga Museum Foundation, says a drunken night with former Juliett 484 naval officers produced a Cold War-era photograph of the Saratoga viewed through the sub’s periscope.
The sub, also known as K-77, was decommissioned in the early ’90s. And in 1994, Finnish businessman Jari Komulainen purchased Juliett 484 and turned it into a short-lived restaurant and bar in Helsinki.
When the venture turned out to be less profitable than hoped, he leased the sub to a Canadian promoter who hauled it off to Tampa, Florida, in an ill-fated bid to create a tourist attraction.
A couple of attempts to sell the craft on eBay fell short. But the sub caught the eye of Intermedia Film Equities Ltd., which towed the submarine up to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2000 for the filming of the box-office bomb K-19: The Widowmaker, starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson.
The sub arrived in Providence on Easter Sunday in 2002. And it drew some 40,000 visitors before it sank in 2007. Navy and Army divers helped to raise K-77 a year later, but it was too damaged to repair.
Its final demise might be expected to stir the strongest feelings in Lennon and Bill Sheridan, who served as general manager of the Russian Sub Museum. But the pair says the real pain has already come and gone.
“This is kind of the end of the process for us,” says Sheridan. “The worst part was actually being there — and the helpless feeling of watching it sink.”
Indeed, the men insist, there is an upside to the dismantling of Juliett 484. Lennon says the Saratoga Museum Foundation — soon to unveil a reimagination of its long-planned-but-never-quite-realized aircraft-carrier attraction — will use the proceeds from the scrap sale to further its bigger project.
And if the aircraft-carrier dream becomes a reality, well, perhaps Rhode Island will be saying hello, again, to the Cold War.