Local philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest has pledged a $300,000 matching grant to help a nonprofit purchase the SS United States, the iconic Cold War-era ocean liner docked in South Philadelphia.

The record-setting 990-foot vessel, which has languished at Pier 82 for more than a decade, was offered for sale in January by Norwegian Cruise Lines for an estimated $20 million.

A spokesman for the SS United States Conservancy was not immediately available yesterday to elaborate on the nonprofit's matching-grant announcement or say how much has been raised.

Tomorrow night, an awareness program and buffet diner to benefit the conservancy will be held at the Ikea store that sits across Columbus Boulevard from the rusting hulk.

The program will feature a panel of speakers including conservancy president Susan Gibbs, who is the granddaughter of the ship's famed designer, William Francis Gibbs. The program will start at 6.

Walter Cronkite, who died this month, was the honorary chairman of the conservancy. He called the vessel's neglect "a crime against history."

In 1952, the SS United States set the trans-Atlantic speed record on its maiden voyage - a mark that still stands.

Besides being an ocean liner - President Bill Clinton was a passenger on a 1968 voyage to England to pursue his Rhodes Scholarship - the ship was outfitted so that it could carry an infantry division more than 10,000 miles without refueling.

It was retired in 1969.

Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.