A U.S. judge yesterday gave Wilson Boat Line, which has been operating tour boats on the Potomac River for 103 years, one last week to find a way of settling its debts, or face the alternative of going out of business permanently.
Judge Glenn Goldburn issued the order after attorneys representing dozens of the company's creditors had rejected the Wilson Line's plea to be granted the period of the summer tourist season to work out its problems.
Wilson Line and its parent company, Star Community Industries, Inc., filed for reorganization under chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Act in April 1977.
The case is being heard in a federal bankruptch court in Hyattsville.
The company owes about $2.5 million, all but $57,000 of that to Commercial Credit Business Loans, Inc., which financed the purchase of three 400 passenger catamarans, the America, the Liberty and the Freedom, in anticipation of Bicentennial tourist business that never materialized, the court was told.
In a memorandum filed with the bankruptch court this week, Commercial Credit charged Wilson Line and its chairman, Joseph I. Goldstein, with "using this court as a shield to ward off creditors for the purpose of continuing a business which cannot be rehabilitated . . . for the sole and singular benefit of one person - Mr. Joseph GOldstein.'
"While his creditors stand in line with their hands tied," the memorandum continued, "Mr. Goldstein drives expensives personal residence, commutes about the Eastern Shore by helicopter and maintains a condomimium apartment in Daytona Beach."
The memorandum also questioned why Wilson Lines had managed to pay Goldstein more than $50,000 last year - in salary and rental payments for a boat owned by him personally - but had "but paid plaintiff one single cent."
Goldstein told The Washington Post that the payments to him had been proper. He also acknowledged that he had kept up payments on a company helicopter and a condomimium in Daytona Beach, Fla.
"But I paid that out of my own personal pocket," he siad. "They don't know what they're talking about."
The Wilson Line is worth at least $4.5 million, said Goldstein, or far more than the amount of its debts. "Something's going to happen," he promised. "It's not as bad as it seems.
Goldstein, the brother of Maryland Comptroller Louis Goldstein bought the Wilson Line in 1958 for a reported $1 million, and later purchased Marshall Hall, and amusement park on the Maryland side of the Potomac across from Mount Vernon, for a reported $1.2 million.
Plans to turn Marshall Hall into a Disneyland-type "theme park" were thwarted, and in 1974 Congress voted to annex Marshall Hall into neighboring Piscataway Park, created to preserve the view from Mount Vernon.
At yesterday's hearing, an attorney for the company urged the court to remember that Wilson Line is a "quasi-public business," ad that thousands of school children from all over the country had booked reservations for the coming season.
"Are you going to say I'm putting those school children off the boat?" asked Judge Goldburn to laughter from the creditors' attorneys.
Stephen Gell of the D.C. corporation counsel's office, which has complained that Wilson Line has failed to make required improvements to its pier at 6th and Water Streets SW, rose "to say something for the people of Washington."
The Wilson Line, Gell charged, has no current liability insurance to cover a mishap on land or water.
"Then it seems the school children ought to be protected by keeping them away from the boats," said Goldburn.
"You can't just end it without a wind-down period," a Wilson Line attorney pleaded.
"Tell me where in the act it says there has to be a wind-down period," replied Goldburn. But theen he ordered the one-week extension until next Wednesday - "seven days to move heaven and earth," he termed it.
Several prospertive buyers of some or all of Wilson LIne's assets were in the audience at yesterday's hearing.
William Auth said he represented a Netherlands Antilles firm called Unicorn Investments that is "extremely interested in the facilities."
Walter Gold, vice president of Potomac Boat Tours, Inc., which has two boats and pier facilities near the Lincoln Memorial and on the Goergetown waterfront, said his company had been negotiating for more than four months to take over the Wilson Line's operations.
"We're ready to take it over on 24 hours notice," Gold said.