WASHINGTON INVESTOR Gary Silversmith has given the former presidential yacht Sequoia a multi-million-dollar face lift. “No longer a distressed asset, it’s the only historic vessel in D.C.,” he says. “To me, it’s a part of American history.” That’s why the Washington attorney and history buff paid a Norfolk shipyard $2.2 million for the 104-foot wooden vessel that had been used by nine U.S. presidents, beginning with Herbert Hoover.
Built in 1925 for a Philadelphia banker, the Sequoia was later sold to the Department of Commerce, which used it as a Prohibition-era inspection vessel to catch rumrunners in Chesapeake Bay. President Hoover used the yacht occasionally; it was tranferred from the Department of Commerce to the Navy in 1933. Franklin D. Roosevelt made it the presidential yacht. But when Jimmy Carter moved into the White House, he sold the Sequoia as part of his austerity effort.
Silversmith says his dual goals are “preservation and profit.” He rents out the Sequoia for parties at the hefty price tag of $10,000 for a three-hour, round-trip cruise from the Gangplank Marina down the Potomac. Guests can even dine on a duplication of John F. Kennedy’s last birthday dinner, but that’s extra. To enthusiasts like Silversmith, it’s worth it to step aboard a stage where so much history was played out. The original deck that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Churchill used to plan D-Day is still on the Sequoia. On this boat, Richard Nixon made his decision to resign the presidency. Gerald Ford held cabinet meetings on the Sequoia when it was docked at the Washington Navy Yard. Present-day politicos are also attracted by the Sequoia’s charm-Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has already booked it for a 50th-birthday bash in July.
Silversmith first came to Washington to attend law school, then started his business buying distressed assets. But his fascination with historical collecting began much earlier, when as a child he wrote a fan letter to fellow Missourian Truman and received a reply. Truman’s letter was the first in Silversmith’s presidential memorabilia collection. Now, 36 years later, he has the yacht on which Truman made the decision to drop the bomb.
The bar, where Silversmith has a printed menu of each president’s favorite drink, is his favorite room, “because it was Roosevelt’s elevator,” he explains. “This may have been the first wheelchair-accessible boat in America. But then Lyndon Johnson converted the elevator to a bar.” The Sequoia’s new owner also likes the presidential bedroom, “because presidents used it and a lot went on there.” Reminders of other presidencies include a gash in the main salon’s table, which Truman made in a fit of anger during a poker game.
Silversmith’s not interested only in presidents afloat, he hints: “Presidents come on my boat, but I’ve never been invited to the White House.”
Sequoia rentals: 202-872-8228
|PRESIDENTIAL DRINK MENUHERBERT HOOVER: “nothing” (during Prohibition)
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: Manhattan or martini
HARRY TRUMAN: Old Grand-Dad, but Wild Turkey if someone else was buying
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER: scotch (Chivas Regal)
MAMIE EISENHOWER: bourbon (I.W. Harper)
JOHN F. KENNEDY: daiquiri
JACKIE KENNEDY: gin and tonic, or vodka (Stolichnaya) and tonic
LYNDON B. JOHNSON: scotch (Cutty Sark)
RICHARD NIXON: rum and Coke, or scotch (J&B)
PAT NIXON: bourbon (Jack Daniel’s)
GERALD FORD: gin and tonic, or martini
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: beer and vodka martini
BILL CLINTON: mineral water