By Gerry Barker
Photos Courtesy of Peter Knego
At the risk of sounding like a stalker, I will make this admission: I want Peter Knego’s house.
Knego, a well-respected maritime historian, cruise writer and videographer, has transformed his Southern California domicile into a veritable maritime museum, showcasing artistic treasures salvaged from magnificent ships that sailed in a bygone era. It’s akin to having a permanent residence on one of the great ocean liners that used to define cruise travel.
Born in Los Angeles to show business parents, Knego took his first “serious” cruise in 1980 on American Hawaii’s newly-rechristened SS Oceanic Independence and later, became enthralled with preserving the artistry found on ships bound for the scrapyard. His quest to rescue artifacts has taken him to all seven continents, including multiple trips to Alang, India, where many great ships are dismantled.
While some of the rescued fittings, artwork and furniture decorate Knego’s home — which has been featured in the New York Times and Los Angeles Magazine — the rest are up for sale on his website, Midshipcentury.com.
Q. Give us an update on your salvage efforts in Alang. What are some of the latest items you’ve added to your collection?
A. My most recent salvages came from some of Carnival Cruises first newbuilds, including the former TROPICALE of 1982, the HOLIDAY of 1985 and the CELEBRATION of 1987. During the pandemic shut down, all three of these ships were sold for scrap by their various owners and by coincidence, ended up on that beach in Alang for a sad, grisly and final reunion.
Having finished up her career as OCEAN DREAM for the Japanese-based Peaceboat organization, the very first new-build designed by Joe Farcus, the former TROPICALE had been vastly refurbished over the years but she still had Chopstix, her piano bar, which was added to the ship by Farcus in the late 80s, fully intact. It was an outrageous space with backlit piano key light fixtures running up the walls and across the ceiling and table tops with piano key imprints.
I rescued several of the light panels and a few of the tables that were in good condition. I only wish I could have rescued some of the magenta carpet Farcus designed but it was long since gone. One of the tables and some of the panels are currently on display at the San Diego Maritime Museum in their “Steam and Splendor” exhibit and the rest are for sale.
Like the former TROPICALE, the former HOLIDAY had also been vastly refurbished over the years and when she finished her career as Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ MAGELLAN. The only original bits left on board were a series of spectacular ceramic panels by San Francisco-based Helen Webber, who created textiles, ceramics and other works for the early Carnival ships and a few of the Holland America ships, as well.
The ones she created for the HOLIDAY represented places in the United States that people like to visit on holiday. Several things were lost over the years, but ten of the Webber panels were still on board when the ship arrived at the breakers. I purchased all of them.
One remains in India with my agent/friend there and one multi-piece panel depicting California has been sold. The others include: Two magnificent mermaids, one of which is in the San Diego Maritime Museum’s exhibit; a stunning, multi-panel work of New York; another multi-panel work of Jazz musicians playing in a town square (Middletown, USA); a New Orleans steamboat; a Florida flamingo; Oregon; and Massachusetts.
Joining them was the GRAND CELEBRATION, which was sailing in (Caribbean) waters until Covid shut everything down. GRAND CELEBRATION was originally the CELEBRATION and, like her other doomed fleet mates, vastly refurbished over the years. The one space that was left intact from its original Farcus period was the Library, which featured a 16-foot diameter stained glass panel of the NORMANDIE and QUEEN MARY, the great transatlantic rivals of the 1930s. Joe Farcus, himself, designed the panel, so I salvaged it. It was very carefully removed and sent to me with the other things mentioned here. I also got the CELEBRATION’s builder’s plate, which is now in the Golden Jubilee lounge of the (new) CARNIVAL CELEBRATION.
Sadly, I offered up the other items to Carnival, hoping they would find a home on board the new CARNIVAL JUBILEE or perhaps the new Carnival terminal in Miami, but they are not interested. I even reached out to Joe Farcus, suggesting a museum of his work should be considered as he was such an important and trendsetting designer, but that idea was politely dismissed.
It will never cease to amaze me at how little vision there is in this industry with only the immediate needs to generate profits being considered by the major cruise lines. The one exception to that in my experience will be in answer to your next question.
Now I have a garage full of ceramics and a stained glass panel that I need to get posted to my website, MidShipCentury.com, for sale. The site is way behind in updates and needs a complete overhaul, so that is one of the projects I will be working on in the near future.
Q. The launch of Carnival Celebration created a unique opportunity to showcase your efforts. Tell us about how that came to be and what it meant to you personally.
A. Back in 2004, when a container filled with parts of Carnival’s first ship, the MARDI GRAS (the former British liner EMPRESS OF CANADA) arrived, I reached out to Carnival to see if they were interested in any of the historic items I saved. When I finally got a reply, it was a rather blunt “no,” so I ended up either selling most of the items or incorporating them into my home.
Over time, I had also rescued items from the other two former British liners that formed Carnival’s early fleet, the former CARNIVALE (ex EMPRESS OF BRITAIN) and the former FESTIVALE (ex TRANSVAAL CASTLE). And, then, several years ago, I received an e-mail from Carnival’s Newbuilds and Product Development Manager, Glenn Aprile, to see if I had anything left and fortunately, I did. It was hush-hush at the time, but Glenn had convinced Carnival that for their 50th anniversary, they should have a room on board the CARNIVAL CELEBRATION, which was coming out that same year (2022) celebrating the line’s history.
Glenn basically had Carnival purchase all of the remaining items, which included an 18-foot wall of etched glass and mahogany from the MARDI GRAS, a pair of spectacular, etched glass and nickel doors from the CARNIVALE, one of the CARNIVALE’s bridge wing telegraphs and several more items that were incorporated into the lounge.
Not only is Glenn highly skilled at his work, he is also a devout fan of ocean liners, so he worked closely with Pettu Kumala, his boss, in making sure these things were properly displayed on board.
So, it took almost 20 years, but thanks to Glenn, one of my dreams of seeing such splendid items returned to a seagoing environment has been realized. Unfortunately, I cannot seem to make lightning strike twice with the other items I just purchased, which is a shame, since I still strongly believe Carnival’s guests would love to see them again.
Q. You write about and review the cruise ships of today. How long have you been a cruise writer and what publications/websites do you write for?
A. Informally, I’ve been writing about ships for various, mostly British maritime publications since 1993 or so. In the late 90’s, I started being the main contributor to the MaritimeMatters website and was doing heavily illustrated cruise blogs and ship tours before the term “blog” was created. I remember suggesting to the site owner, Martin Cox, that I should do one of those “blog” things and he replied, “You already are!” That was back in the era of cutting and pasting codes and very slow internet connections.
MaritimeMatters soon became a major force and was ranked up there with CruiseCritic and CruiseMates as one of the top sites in the cruise world. I went from there to being a contributor to now (also) defunct Cruise Travel magazine and industry trades like Travel Weekly and Travel Age West.
Since I left the music business in 2006 (Knego worked closely with Sparks, a pop and rock duo), I’ve focused on being a roving freelancer. My current markets include: QuirkyCruise.com (the site for small ship cruising), TravelAgeWest, Travel Weekly, CruiseCritic, Porthole, Cruise Business Review and anyone who will take my work.
Q. After the challenges of the pandemic, cruise travel seems to be more popular than ever, with new and bigger ships launching every year. Are we at the dawn of a new “Golden Age” for cruising?
A. I think that as long as the economy and political situations permit, the cruise industry will always be growing. And I believe there will always be setbacks, as history has so well taught us. The ACHILLE LAURO hijacking, war in the MIddle East, 911, the 2008 recession, the COSTA CONCORDIA disaster and Covid are all examples of how the industry can be turned on its side but it always seems to be able to come back stronger than ever with lessons hopefully learned. So, to answer your question, I think the Golden Age of cruising began with “The Love Boat” and continues to this day.
Q. You also have your own YouTube channel. Do you agree that journalists today have to be adept at video, social media and podcasting to compete?
A. Thank you so much for asking about my Peter Knego’s MidShipCinema YouTube channel! It is the industry’s best kept secret, although I am striving to make it more relevant and figure out how to get those algorithms to kick up more support. I am very much a “film” person at heart and love crafting videos that at least I feel are watchable. I take pride in not using descriptive words like “amazing” and “iconic” and actually providing some design and historic backdrop to my video ship tours without being too dry and humorless.
I appear in some of my videos, but unlike so many (way more popular) channels, the videos aren’t all about me posing in front of things and babbling. I guess in that way, I’m very 20th Century, but I hope people who appreciate that will discover, enjoy and subscribe to my channel.
The other thing I have that is quite unique is a library of my own footage taken since 1992, so I provide tours of long since gone ships like the ACHILLE LAURO, BRITANIS, CONSTITUTION and ISLAND PRINCESS (I), as well as the new ones like VISTA, VIKING NEPTUNE, CARNIVAL CELEBRATION, ROTTERDAM and more. I could literally spend the rest of my life making ship videos and to some extent, I will do just that!
Q. Setting aside running your MidShipCentury website, reviewing and managing your salvage operations, what does Peter Knego do just for fun or to relax?
A. Did you say relax? What is that, exactly, LOL. Seriously, I usually work to relax. For me, idle hands are a waste of precious time. Life is short and there is just too much to do. That said, when not traveling or working on something specific, I love running (while listening to Sparks), visiting museums, having a glass of wine with friends and, when time permits, watching TCM or MEtv.
A Tour of Knego’s Oceanside Home
Q. Finally, give us a glimpse at your personal wish list of things you would like to accomplish or do that you haven’t done.
A. I hope to continue doing all that I am currently doing (making videos, writing and traveling on ships) but would also love to do a documentary about my far more interesting parents, would love to figure out how my home filled with ship art, furniture and fittings can be preserved for future generations to enjoy and in some way or other, be able to help expose more people to the brilliance of my favorite band and former music business colleagues, Sparks, although they seem to be doing just fine these days.