By Colin Woodard / July 21, 2016
On September 12, 1995, Bob Gorgone stood on a pier with hundreds of fellow shipyard workers and watched his career slip away.
As the John F. Kennedy floated out of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, the aircraft carrier’s speakers played the theme from “Rocky,” but the workers—many of them wearing black t-shirts that read “Doom on the Delaware”—felt anything but triumphant. The $491-million retrofit they had just finished on the Kennedy was the last paying job for the nearly two-century old shipyard. Then the ship fired an 11-gun salute to the yard and its now unemployed workers.
“You could hear a pin drop,” recalls Gorgone who was a top manager at the time. “People just looked at one another and hugged one another and said, ‘Have a nice life,’ and went home.”
The Yard was already a ghost town, its workforce having fallen from 12,000 to 2,000 over two years as the curtain slowly came down on a facility the post-Cold War military no longer needed.
Twenty-one years later, the 1,200-acre Navy Yard is booming. At the base of Pier 6, a thousand workers are assembling 50,000-ton tankers at a state-of-the-art $400 million, Norwegian-owned commercial shipyard. Thousands more work in swank new office and laboratory buildings a quarter-mile to the west that house T-cell cancer therapy researchers, investment advisors and a large chunk of drug giant GlaxoSmithKline’s North American operations. There’s a brand new 4.5-acre park designed by renowned landscape architect James Corner (of New York City High Line fame), with a running track, ping pong tables and hammocks among the benches and Adirondack chairs; a trendy Marc Vetri restaurant in one of the base’s former gatehouses; and, across a canal, the teeming 340,000-square foot Tastykake bakery, an iconic Philadelphia institution transplanted to in 2010 from its 88-year old North Philadelphia factory.
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