Remembering and Forgetting at The Waikiki War Memorial Park and Natatorium

This paper was written by Brian Ireland and published in The Hawaiian Journal of History, Volume 39 in 2005. His extensive research found that during World War I only eight Hawai‘i residents actually died by enemy action under the U.S. flag. He examines the memorial’s contentious, colonialist beginnings and questionable symbolism within its historical context.

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Remembering and Forgetting at The Waikiki War Memorial Park and Natatorium
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Remembering and Forgetting at The Waikiki
 War Memorial Park and Natatorium


Brian Ireland was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and attended the University of Ulster where he earned a BA in Humanities and an MA in American Studies. He lived in Hawai‘i for five years while he was enrolled in the doctoral program in American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i. He graduated in December 2004 and currently lives in England.

The Hawaiian Journal of History, vol. 39 (2005)

ON THE WESTERN SLOPE of Diamond Head, commanding a majestic view west towards Waikiki, Honolulu, and further towards Pearl Harbor, there once stood a Native Hawaiian structure known as Papa‘ena‘ena Heiau. Clearly visible from nearby Waikiki village, the heiau or place of worship, measured 130 feet in length and 70 feet in width. It consisted of a mana (supernatural or divine power) house approximately 50 feet long; an oven house (hale umu); a drum house; a waiea or spiritual house; an anu‘u or tower; a lele (altar) and twelve large images. The heiau was bordered by a rectangular wooden fence approximately six to eight feet tall with an eight-foot wide base, which narrowed to three feet at its apex. On the western side of the heiau there were three small terraces, on the highest one of which were planted five kou trees at regular distances from each other. The heiau was the center point of an area of land considered sacred or spiritual to Native Hawaiians, which may have stretched across what is now Kapi‘olani Park as far as to the Kupalaha heiau situated near the present-day intersection of Kalakaua and Monsarrat Avenues.

It is likely that the heiau was built in 1783 by Kahekili, the mo‘i or ruler of Maui, as part of a victory celebration following Kahekili’s conquest of O‘ahu. After King Kamehameha’s victory at the Battle of the Pali in 1895, Kamehameha ordered the sacrifice of the defeated ali‘i (chiefs) of O‘ahu at Papa‘ena‘ena Heiau. The heiau was probably used for sacrificial or sacred purposes for 35 years. However, following the death of Kamehameha and the subsequent diminishment in status and practice of Hawaiian religious beliefs, the heiau was leveled along with many of the other traditional religious heiau and monuments. Its ruins lay relatively undisturbed until the 1850s when the stones that comprised the heiau were carted off to build roads in Waikiki and walls at Queen Emma’s estate. (1)

In sharp contrast to Papa‘ena‘ena Heiau, and nine other sacred structures that once stood in and around Kapi‘olani Park, there now stands an incongruous beaux-arts-style, neoclassical memorial, another place de memoire, called The Waikiki War Memorial Park and Natatorium, which opened in 1927. Although it has fallen into disrepair, in its prime the memorial was an impressive structure. The swimming pool was over 100 meters long, twice the size of an Olympic pool, the mauka (mountain-facing) wall was composed of an arch at least 25 feet high, flanked by two 12-foot arches each topped with four large eagle sculptures. Approximately 9,800 of Hawai‘i’s citizens served in the U.S. armed forces after America’s entry into World War I in 1917 and the names of 101 of those who died are inscribed on a plaque attached to the “Honolulu Stone” situated mauka of the Natatorium and unveiled in 1931. (2)

There is, however, some considerable doubt as to the veracity of those casualty figures. According to statistician Robert Schmitt, of the 9,800 Hawaii residents who served in World War I,

102 died—14 overseas during the war, 61 in Hawai‘i or North America or after the armistice, and 27 in unknown circumstances. Twenty-two of the 102 recorded deaths occurred among Island residents serving with the British. Actual battle deaths of persons in the U.S. armed forces whose preservice residence was Hawai‘i numbered six: seven others were wounded. (3)

These figures are not entirely correct: 101 names are listed on the memorial not 102; eight soldiers were “actual battle deaths,” not six. Nevertheless, these figures raise questions about the purpose of the memorial. Since only eight Hawai‘i residents died by enemy action under the U.S. flag—the others having died of other causes before and after the war’s end—the Memorial obviously exaggerates the death toll, thus magnifying the sacrifices made by “Hawai‘i’s sons.”

Memorials are an important way of remembering. They are not just part of the past; they help shape attitudes in the present and thus act as a guide for the future. Professor Charles Griswold, chair of the philosophy department at Boston University, argues that memorials are “a species of pedagogy” that seeks to instruct posterity about the past and, in so doing, necessarily reaches a decision about what is worth recovering. (4) In Lies Across America, sociologist James Loewen asks, “Where . . . do Americans learn about the past?” He argues persuasively that it is “surely most of all from the landscape.” (5) One recurring theme of Loewen’s analysis of American memorials is their importance as a political statement. Although many memorials outwardly project discourses of “remembering” or “honoring,” they may also have covert and hidden meanings. Rather than simply paying tribute to the dead, the Waikiki War Memorial actually promotes militarism. It is a triumphalist monument to the glory of war, which dishonors the dead by masking the horror of mechanized trench warfare behind a pretty facade and noble but misleading words.

Furthermore, when one adds the memorial’s architectural style, which is so incompatible with its Pacific island setting, to the discrepancy between actual casualty figures and those listed by the memorial, it becomes clear that the Waikiki War Memorial was built also to further the “100% Americanism” of Hawai‘i. The memorial acted as a channel through which Hawai‘i’s American settler community could express its nationalistic pride. Patriotic groups used it to further the cause of Americanism and to glorify war as a noble and heroic sacrificial act. Conveniently forgotten in this narrative, however, are the soldiers actually named on the memorial. Details of why they enlisted, and how and where they died, are missing from the memorial’s dedication. This paper will address how and why these soldiers are remembered by the memorial and evaluate if the extant structure is either the best or only way to remember their deaths.


Local citizens formed a War Memorial Committee in 1918 in response to the promptings of a group called the Daughters and Sons of Hawaiian Warriors. There were a number of interested parties involved including the Daughters of Hawaii, the Rotary Club, the Outdoor Circle, the Pan-Pacific Union, Central YMCA, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Hawaiian Women’s Guild, Kamehameha Alumni Association, Hawaiian Civic Club, Order of Kamehameha, Longshoremen’s Mutual Aid Association, Knights of Pythias, and the Ad Club. Notable interested individuals included former territorial Attorney General W.O. Smith and territorial tax collector Colonel Howard Hathaway. (6) As historian Kirk Savage has noted, they were following a relatively new trend in monument building that began in the 19th century:

In the expansive era of the nineteenth century, monuments were not bestowed by the state on the citizenry, or at least they weren’t supposed to be. . . What gave monuments their particular appeal in an era of rising nationalism was their claim to speak for ‘the people’. . . Most monuments therefore originated not as official projects of the state but as volunteer enterprises sponsored by associations of ‘public-spirited’ citizens and funded by individual donations. These voluntary associations often had direct links to officialdom, but they received legitimacy only by manufacturing popular enthusiasm (and money) for the project. (7)

The first designs for the memorial had no connection whatsoever to the extant construction. In fact, there was considerable support at one stage for either a memorial designed by architect Roger Noble Burnham (8) to be erected in Palace Square close to the statue of King Kamehameha, or for a Memorial Hall. (9) Burnham suggested that his design would “symboliz[e] Hawaii’s contribution to Liberty. It consists of three figures, the central one typifying Liberty while beneath are a Hawaiian warrior and a Hawaiian maiden. The warrior offers his spear while the maiden extends in outstretched hands a lei.” (10) This design would feature a rostrum enclosed on three sides by a wall. Unlike the extant memorial, Burnham wanted to honor both the military and Hawai‘i’s civilian population, which had contributed to the war by buying bonds and helping the Red Cross. One wall, therefore, would have inscriptions dedicated to Hawai‘i’s civilian population and the other walls would depict military activities.

Burnham’s modest design was championed by Mrs. Walter (Alice) Macfarlane. She was born Alice Kamokila Campbell, daughter of wealthy landowner James Campbell and Abigail Kuaihelani Maipinepine, who was from a mixed Native Hawaiian and haole (Caucasian) family from Lahaina, Maui. When James Campbell died in 1900, his estate was held in trust for his wife and daughters. Alice Macfarlane, who in later years would become a voice against statehood for Hawai‘i, was a respected and influential woman. She opposed notions of a memorial hall, an auditorium, or civic center as she was concerned that a “memorial hall would commercialize the memory of the men who had paid the supreme sacrifice.” Supporters of the memorial hall design, however, believed that it would become a center of civic life where “people could go and hear enlightening talks and entertaining music.” (11) One other suggestion at this time, by the Chamber of Commerce, was for the memorial either to be placed in a prominent position at the entrance to Honolulu Harbor or on Sand Island, where “it would be the first thing that would greet the arriving traveler, and the last thing he would see.” (12) These early deliberations over the placement of the monument, and its design as either a traditional monument or as a usable, “living” structure, would characterize the nature of the debate for many months.

In early February 1919, further designs were considered; Burnham exhibited sketches of a design that incorporated his original sculpture into a larger design that also included a memorial hall. (13) The cost of this project would be somewhere in the region of $750,000, (14) the equivalent today of $7,674,333.33. (15) Another suggestion at this point was for a very practical memorial that would comprise one new wing of the Queen’s Hospital. (16) Yet another design by T.H. Ripley & Davis architects envisaged an impressive memorial hall surrounded by large Grecian columns, which would feature a large rotunda filled with “statuary tablets.” (17)

On March 24, 1919 it was reported in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser that the War Memorial Committee was finally going to announce that a general design had been agreed upon for a monument and memorial hall to be situated on a “strip of land along Punchbowl Street, between King and Queen Streets.” This was to be the majority report’s proposal. A dissenting minority report, led by Alice Macfarlane, questioned the cost of the proposed memorial and suggested once again that it be limited solely to a monument without the additional expense of a memorial hall. Macfarlane stated that the monument should “emphasize the spiritual side of victory, rather than . . . show the wealth of the community.” (18) The next day, however, the Advertiser reported that the memorial would not be situated on Punchbowl and that proposals had been made to approach the Irwin Estate to buy property at Kapi‘olani Park instead. For some time John Guild, chairman of the Beach Park Memorial Committee, had been in correspondence with the Irwin Estate about buying the property for use as a Pan-Pacific Peace Palace. However, at the War Memorial Committee meeting, Guild suggested that the land be purchased for a war memorial park instead. It seems this was a compromise to ease the tensions raised between those responsible for the majority and minority reports.

The site of the memorial had now been resolved but the debate over its design had not. Guild’s letter to the Legislature envisaged a memorial park with an “arch or statue” as opposed to a memorial hall. (19) Perhaps it was believed that the open spaces of the park would provide a natural amphitheatre and that a hall was no longer appropriate. Or perhaps there was no way to overcome the objections of Mrs. Macfarlane and still maintain a consensus. In any event, Guild was insistent that the memorial plans be given due consideration and that they should not rush into accepting a design. He worried that,

We do not want to erect a monument which shall at some future date be looked upon as a thing of bad taste. Too many of the soldier’s [sic] Monuments of the past have been of this character. I believe the memorial should take a form that will express the spirit of Hawaii and be in harmony with the wonderful tropical surroundings of the proposed site. (20)

Early deliberations over the erection, placement, and design of the memorial took place almost entirely within the American civilian community in Hawai‘i. However, in August of 1919 the newly-formed American Legion entered the fray. (21) Colonel Theodore Roosevelt (son of the ex-president) and other senior officers created the American Legion in France to direct disaffected soldiers away from the lure of socialism. Journalist and author Marcus Duffield states, “The American General Staff was seriously concerned about how to keep up morale. American bankers and business men [sic] who visited Europe returned filled with anxiety. What would be the attitude of returning troops?” (22) By early 1921, the Hawai‘i branch of the American Legion had wrested control of the memorial scheme out of the hands of the citizens’ War Memorial Committee. There is no suggestion of conflict or dispute in the historical record—a Paradise of the Pacific editorial noted simply that the “American Legion . . . has charge of the projected War Memorial”—but it would have taken a very brave or foolish citizen indeed to stand up to military veterans who had so very comprehensively wrapped themselves in the U.S. flag. (23)

Despite many different ideas as to what design would constitute a fitting memorial and where it should be situated, by early 1921 the American Legion’s views held total sway. For example, CJS Group Architects note in their Final Historical Background Report on the memorial, that, “This concept of having a memorial [i.e. one that included a swimming pool] was originally initiated by the American Legion Chapter of Hawai‘i.’’ (24) This despite the fact that the Legion was not involved, in fact did not even exist, when some of Hawai‘i’s citizens were submitting plans and raising interest and money for the memorial in 1918. Of course, arguments over control of projects such as memorials are not unusual: The Daughters and Sons of Hawaiian Warriors were complaining as early as January 1919 that “they proposed the memorial first and then later on another element steps in and crowds them.” (25)

However, even given that expected bickering, the question still remains, why did such a new and untried organization quickly gain such a hold over the Memorial project? Perhaps the answer can be seen in the preamble to the American Legion’s constitution, in which the Legion pledges not only to “preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great War” but also to “foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism.” (26) Coming so soon after the end of a devastating world war in which 116,000 Americans were killed, (27) it is hardly a surprise that a veterans’ group would quickly attain a position of influence. However, what made the Legion so powerful was that its aims coincided with those connected to the powerful U.S. military presence in Hawaii, with some of the haole elite who were pushing for statehood, and with others who did not want statehood but did want to make Hawai‘i less alien to their American sensibilities.

At the Memorial Park’s formal dedication on Armistice Day, November 11, 1919, Governor James McCarthy symbolically handed over possession of the park to the American Legion whose Honolulu chapter had been formed barely two months earlier. The Legion’s chaplain, Father Valentin, read prayers at what the Advertiser described as a “semi-military ceremony not without its lessons to present and future generations.” (28) Although the Legion now had control over developing the park, it still had not solved the problem of the design of the war memorial itself. In that respect it had made no more progress than the war memorial committees from which it had assumed control. The Legion did, however, ignore all previous designs and schemes and published instead a rough outline of its own proposals:

. . . an arch or other memorial feature at the shore. To the landward would be an open space under the trees, carefully landscaped and prepared for seats so that memorial exercises, band concerts or other similar events may be held with the arch or monument as the stage and background. To the seaward would be a natatorium, but with its concrete walls rising only high enough above the waterline to keep their tops above the surf. . . By the plan suggested the views along the beach would not be obstructed in any way and yet all the features of other plans, and more, would be preserved. (29)

Unlike Burnham’s earlier design, this was to be a memorial dedicated only to the military, with no recognition of the contribution made to the war effort by Hawai‘i’s civilian population. It is telling that although the Legion was offering prizes for new designs, it had already established what the rough outline of the memorial should be. In fact, its outline is remarkably close to the extant memorial, the only real differences being the incorporation of the arch into the actual natatorium and the omission of the landscaped area on which now stands the Honolulu Stone and plaque.

In 1921, when the Territorial Legislature authorized the appointment of a “Territorial War Memorial Commission” to hold a competition to find an appropriate design for the memorial, Governor McCarthy asked the American Legion to put together the Memorial Committee, effectively handing it total control over the project. Governor McCarthy invited the Legion to submit names for the Memorial Committee and asked Louis Christian Mullgardt to be the Territorial War Memorial Commission’s advisory architect. (30) In choosing Mullgardt, the governor and the American Legion were virtually ensuring that a neoclassical-style beaux-arts memorial would be built. All of the architects favored neoclassical designs. For example, Mullgardt designed the Panama-Pacific International Exposition’s “Court of the Ages” and “Tower of the Ages.” The Territorial War Memorial Commission nominated three architects from the mainland to judge the competition: Ellis F. Lawrence of Portland, Bernard Maybeck of San Francisco and W.R.B. Wilcox of Seattle. (31) All three were practitioners of the neoclassical style of design. Furthermore, the winning design had to conform to Mullgardt’s plan for the Memorial Park, in which the war memorial “was to consist of a temple of music, plaza, and collosseum [sic] with swimming basin.” (32) It made no real difference, therefore, who actually won the design competition; it had already been decided that a neoclassical beaux-arts natatorium and landscaped park would be the outcome.

Figure 1-Tentative Sketch ca.1919-1922 HSA

FIG. 1. Tentative Sketch of Memorial Natatorium proposed by the American Legion, ca. 1919—1922. War Memorial Commission. Hawai‘i State Archives.


When the judges arrived in Hawai‘i in June 1922 to award the prize, they were met by officials of the American Legion under whose auspices the memorial was to be built. Within a few days the judges awarded the first prize to Lewis Hobart of San Francisco. (33) Between 1922 and 1927, when the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium was finally opened, Hobart’s original design, described as a “dream plan” by Maybeck, was twice pared down to stay within the $250,000 budget. The original plan for a natatorium, temple of music, ticket booth, dressing rooms, and some very elaborate friezes, busts, and murals could not be built within the budget, and after attempts to appropriate more money failed, the temple of music became the cost-cutters’ main casualty.

Figure 2-The Natatorium, 1928 HSA

FIG. 2. The Natatorium, 1928. Hawai‘i State Archives.



Like most beaux-arts constructions, the Waikiki War Memorial Park and Natatorium is grandiose and pompous. The entrance is composed of a grand arch flanked by two pilasters projecting slightly out from the wall (pilasters are rectangular supports resembling a flat column). The top of the arch features typical classical ornamentation—a medallion and frieze topped with a round pediment in the Greek Revival style. Two large symmetrical eagles on either side flank the medallion. Adjacent to the main entrance arch are two smaller arches, above each of which is a decorative cartouche set into the wall, topped with elaborate cornices. The effect of the entrance is to present a symmetrical facade, an imposition of order, structure, and planning into the natural disordered surroundings of sea, beach, and parkland. In its imperial grandeur, it means to instruct viewers of the benefits of the stability and order that European civilization can provide. Architectural historian William Jordy states “the idea of stability was . . . implicit in the traditionalism of the Beaux-Arts esthetic; in other words, its academic point of view which held . . . that the past provided vocabularies of form and compositional themes from which the present should learn.” (34)

Figure 3-Entrance Arch, Undated HSA

FIG. 3. Entrance Arch of the War Memorial, undated. Hawai‘i State Archives.


Memorials can only work as designed when the shared memory of the past is uncontroversial, Historian Kirk Savage points out, for example, that memorials to the American Civil War avoided controversy by memorializing soldiers from both sides but not the disputed causes for which they fought. In the process, these memorial makers erased from their reconstructed history images of slaves and slavery. Conversely, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial remains controversial because its design reflects the arguments over the war it commemorates. American World War I memorials avoided such controversy by narrating that war as a noble cause, a clear-cut fight between good and evil, freedom and despotism—the evil “Hun” verses the freedom-loving, democratic nations of England and the United States.

While comparisons between war memorials dedicated to different wars can be problematic, some use can be made of comparing and contrasting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington to the Waikiki War Memorial. It should not be expected, of course, that the Waikiki War Memorial should in any way resemble the Vietnam Wall: the former is a product of a victorious war with relatively few American casualties (compared to other Allied losses), the latter is a product of a bitterly divisive war that America lost. However, rather than making any comparison between the two memorials inappropriate, those differences in historical context can actually serve to illustrate the functions of war memorials in a society at any given time.

Unlike, the self-reflective Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, the imposing entrance of Hobart’s structure has most of its decoration and inscriptions well above eye level, and thus demands that its audience step back, crane their necks and look up to the two American eagles. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is made with black reflective granite instead of the triumphant white marble or stone of beaux-arts monuments. Whereas the facade of the Waikiki War Memorial demands that viewers remain passive in contemplation of its majesty, onlookers at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial can see themselves reflected in the stone, which seems to mirror the self-reflective mood associated with the “Vietnam Syndrome.” The names on the Honolulu Stone plaque are arranged in a rigid and anonymous way: top and center is an eagle holding laurel leaves. Below that there is a five-pointed star in whose center is a circle with the letters “US”. Below that on a banner is the legend “FOR GOD AND COUNTRY.” Below that is the legend “ROLL OF HONOR” and below that again is the quotation, “DULCE ET DECORUM EST PRO PATRIA MORI.” Below that are the words “IN THE SERVICE OF THE UNITED STATES.” The names are listed in three columns and split into Army and Navy. Below that, also in three columns, are the names of those who died “IN THE SERVICE OF GREAT BRITAIN.”

These categorizations group the soldiers together as if they died in a common cause, and make them anonymous servants to the greater glory of war. Compare that to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where the soldiers’ names are arranged chronologically by date of death instead of country, rank, or regiment. This has the effect not only of verisimilitude— making it real—but also of presenting a more democratic “people’s” memorial rather than a regimented military monument. In order to find a name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, relatives of those killed would need to come prepared with a certain amount of historical information about the war, including the date of the death of their loved one. Whereas most war memorials function as designed only if they remain vague about actual details of a war and its causes, in contrast, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial works only when precise historical details are present. Unlike the interactive Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which asks visitors to reflect on the causes of the war and the folly and waste that war entails, the facade of the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium means to inspire awe and respect for Euro-American achievements, to excuse warfare as a legitimate and honorable way of solving disputes, and to glorify the U.S. military and its role in the conflict.

The Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium is dedicated to war, not peace. However, it is also dedicated to victory. The memorial contains, for example, three triumphal arches (an entrance arch, flanked by two smaller arches). In a 1919 Pacific Commercial Advertiser article, architect C.R. Ripley had warned of the inappropriateness of utilizing such celebratory imagery. Ripley argued, “Surely we want no memorial arches. The watchword of the war has been, ‘To make the world safe for democracy.’ Where does the victory arch typify that inspiration? We want no memorials to glorify war and victory.” (35) Hobart, however, relied heavily on the American Legion’s arch-dominated design, (36) thus ensuring that the memorial would be dedicated to vanquishing America’s enemies.

University of Kansas architecture professor James Mayo points out, “War memorials to victory are trophies that not only keep us mindful of who won, but also assure us that the war was honorable. God was on the side of the victors, and therefore their cause was righteous.” (37) The Waikiki War Memorial fits neatly into Mayo’s analysis of victory monuments: it is made to be “steadfast and solid,” of those good materials [that] are practical expressions of permanence.” The main design on the mauka-facing wall is above head level, a technique, Mayo notes, that “works as a metaphor, since we look ‘up’ to people we respect.” (38) A major theme of this memorial is the sacrifice that Hawai‘i and its citizens made for the greater glory of America. Advocating “peace” instead of victory was seen as weakness; war was a rite of passage to manhood transmitted “through inscriptions on war memorials which lauded martial virtues by accompanying the names of the fallen with adjectives such as ‘brave’ or courageous.” (39)

The Waikiki War Memorial does not make any bold or precise statements about those it commemorates. There are no phrases, for example, like “killed in action” or “killed by enemy fire.” Instead, the memorial is coy and evasive about where and why these soldiers died. It utilizes non-specific phrases such as “For God And Country,” “Roll Of Honor,” “Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori,” “In The Service Of Great Britain,” and “In The Service Of The United States,” all of which could refer to almost any war. Clearly the overall impression the memorial wishes to convey is that the soldiers died for a noble cause, which is why the legend does not linger on any specific reasons for the war, or mention any battles. The effect of this is, as Mayo notes, “facetious,” as the high-minded and abstract ideals mentioned “are not grounded in the ugly realities of war.” (40) In this respect, the memorial is ahistorical. This narrative is, as historian Paul Fussell points out,

typical of popular histories of the war written on the adventure-story model: they like to ascribe clear, and usually noble, cause and purpose to accidental or demeaning events. Such histories thus convey to the optimistic and credulous a satisfying, orderly, and even optimistic and wholesome view of catastrophic occurrences—a fine way to encourage a moralistic, nationalistic, and bellicose politics. (41)

By employing a rhetorical device known as enthymematic argumentation, the memorial gives the impression that 101 persons from Hawaii died in France—79 died fighting under American arms, and 22 in the British Army. In enthymematic argumentation, the speaker builds an argument with one element removed, leading listeners to fill in the missing piece. Since it provides only limited information, one might assume from reading the text on the Honolulu Stone that all of those who died were killed as a result of enemy action. This is, however, not the case. For example, of the 79 who served in the U.S. armed forces, it can be ascertained that only eight were killed by enemy action—seven in France and one, Private Manuel Ramos, on the way to France, when his troopship was torpedoed in the Atlantic Ocean. (42) The causes of death of the other 71 soldiers and sailors are more mundane than the memorial would have us believe. Thirty-six died of flu and/or pneumonia in the great epidemic that ravaged the world in 1918, five in accidents, one of suicide, two of heart attacks, eight of unknown causes, and 19 of other natural causes including tuberculosis, cancer, appendicitis, meningitis, blood poisoning, peritonitis ulcer, intestinal obstruction, and brain hemorrhage. Eight of the 71 non-combat-related deaths occurred in France: four of those soldiers died of flu, two in accidents, and two of unknown causes.

Whereas the British public knew by the end of the war that the battlefields of Belgium and France were slaughterhouses, an epiphany which led to the disillusioned literary style of the period, Americans, who had suffered far fewer casualties, and had been fighting for only about six months, from March 1918 until the Armistice in November, were still inclined to think of the war as a “noble cause.” Historian David Kennedy states, “Almost never in the contemporary American accounts do the themes of wonder and romance give way to those of weariness and resignation, as they do in the British.”43 This desire by Americans, to remember the war as dignified and purposeful is also why Latin was chosen as the language of the most forthright statement on the Waikiki War Memorial’s plaque. Such “‘[R]aised,’ essentially feudal language,” as Fussell calls it, is the language of choice for memorials. (44)

By the end of the war, British writers left behind the “high diction” of 19th-century literary tradition—words and phrases like “steed” instead of “horse,” “strife,” instead of “warfare” “breast,” instead of “chest” and “the red wine of youth,” in place of “blood”—and instead described events in a more down-to-earth and realistic way. (45) However, memorials were a different matter: whereas it seemed appropriate, given the high death tolls and brutality of World War I, for writers to change to a more factual and graphic idiom,“high diction” remained the language of monuments and memorials. It seemed somehow inappropriate and disrespectful, given the solid dignified presence of a concrete or marble memorial, to tell the undignified truth about wartime deaths, a truth that would involve grisly descriptions of severed limbs, burst intestines, decapitations, and other bloody injuries. Moreover, if the purpose of the Waikiki War Memorial was to inspire Native Hawaiian devotion to the greater glory of the state (the United States)—to be, as historian John Bodnar states, “reminded of ‘love of country’ and their duty to their ‘native’ land”—it would be self-defeating to remind Hawaiians of the butchery of Flanders. (46)

The purpose of the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium is only superficially a tribute to Hawai‘i’s Great War dead. In fact, the dead were used in death as they were in life, as sacrifices to the gods of war, to militarism, colonialism, and nationalism. This is evident in the memorial’s scale and in its deliberately vague and secretive inscription. James Mayo argues that war memorials “represent failure, the failure to prevent war.” (47) However, the American Legion and its supporters chose to build a huge neoclassical structure that exaggerates Hawai‘i’s role in the Great War. Given the relatively small number of casualties and minor role played by Hawai‘i, a more honest memorial would surely have been the small token affair envisaged by Burnham and championed by Macfarlane.


The Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium represents a grand, overstated tribute to the relatively small number of casualties sustained by residents of Hawai‘i. However, that, of course, is not its true purpose, as is evident in its design and scale. The message that it symbolizes is one of submission to imperial forces and glorification of both war and the American military. This is exemplified by the legend on the Honolulu Stone which reads (in Latin), “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” or “it is sweet and noble to die for one’s country,” from Horace’s Odes. This phrase would not only have been familiar to those with a classical education, but also to a wider audience who had read popular war novels. As historian David Kennedy points out, “one of Edith Wharton’s characters [in her 1918 book The Marne] tearfully meditate[d] on the ancient phrase from Horace: ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’” (48) However, at that time, the more topical and relevant use of that quotation was by British soldier and war poet, Wilfred Owen. His poem entitled Dulce et decorum cautions against the very same triumphant patriotism that the Waikiki War Memorial Park and Natatorium represents:

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Both Hobart and the American Legion probably knew of Owen’s poem. Like Siegfried Sassoon, he was well known and widely publicized at that time. They chose, however, to use the quote in its original context—as an obsequious and jingoistic tribute to war.

One-hundred-and-one persons from Hawai‘i died during the Great War. Who can know now what their motivations were in enlisting? Certainly for some it was not to defend the United States, as 30 or so of them enlisted with the British Army before the U.S. even entered the war. On July 31, 1918, a military draft was introduced that applied to all residents of the United States between the ages of 21 and 30, whether native born, naturalized, or alien. The draft was expanded in October 1917 to all male residents between the ages of 19 and 40. In total 4,336 of those who registered for the draft were called up to serve in the 1st and 2nd Hawaiian Infantry. (49) Of the 79 non-Navy U.S deaths recorded on the memorial, 40 men served with the 1st or 2nd Hawaiian Infantry. These units were, in effect, the Hawai‘i National Guard, federalized and sent to Fort Shafter and Schofield Barracks, or garrison duty to release other more professional troops for war service. A soldier in these units had little chance of being sent to France. Many of them worked as laborers in the sugar plantations and, as scholar Charles Warfield notes, Washington recognized that Hawai‘i’s sugar was more important than any contributions in terms of manpower that it could make to the war:

The National Guard had been organized with the idea that it would be used only for the defense of the Islands and would never be sent overseas. A large proportion of its ranks was composed of men who were indispensable to the sugar industry of the Islands, which had been greatly expanded during the war in Europe. If the National Guard of Hawaii were mobilized when the United States went to war it would seriously cripple the sugar industry. (50)

Twenty-five of the non-Navy soldiers who are named on the memorial enlisted after July 1918, and 36 of the 67 men enlisted in non-naval forces were attached to the 1st and 2nd Hawaiian Infantry. In other words, nearly one third of those who died while serving in the U.S. military may have been unwilling draftees, not volunteers, and almost one half may have joined the Hawaii National Guard to avoid having to go overseas to fight in the World War. (51)

Of the 72,000 residents of Hawai‘i registered for the draft as eligible to fight, 29,000—or 40 percent—were issei and nisei. Of the total that actually did serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, 838—approximately nine percent—were of Japanese descent. (52) Since Japan was at war with Germany at this time, who can say with any certainty that those from Hawai‘i were fighting for either America or for Japan? If they were fighting for the U.S., like the famous 442nd Regiment of World War II, how many enlisted to prove their loyalty in an unwritten test that should never have been enacted? Undoubtedly, those involved in the advocacy, planning, design, and building of the Waikiki War Memorial were mostly haole. There is little evidence, for example, of the involvement of Native Hawaiians or Japanese residents of Hawai‘i. Indeed, it is ironic that 838 Japanese residents of Hawaii volunteered to fight in France yet the American military, which in 1919 had asked the Hawai‘i State Legislature to pass a bill regulating Japanese language schools, and the American Legion, which gave that bill its full support, were extremely antagonistic in both rhetoric and action to Japanese culture in Hawai’i. (53)

Most newspaper accounts of Hawai‘i during the Great War paint a picture of a dedicated, patriotic populace, eager to do “its bit” for the war effort. Occasionally, there is some slippage in this narrative. For example, a 1919 Advertiser headline complained that, “not enough Hawaiians are on hand at the railroad depot when the mustered-out soldiers arrive there each day from Schofield Barracks to form a real welcoming committee. Representative citizens are in a feeble minority in the crowds.” This was in contrast to the U.S. mainland where “every town that has a railroad depot has its crowds on hand when a train comes in and the returning boys are given the biggest kind of welcome.” (54)

Author and sociologist Albert Memmi has noted that it is the colonialist’s “nation’s flag which flies over the monuments” in a colonized country and that the colonialist “never forgets to make a public show of his own virtues, and will argue with vehemence to appear heroic and great.” (55) Both of these descriptions aptly fit the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium. It glorifies war and acts to consolidate the American imperialist presence in Hawai‘i. Its celebration of the deaths of men for “freedom and democracy” masks the fact that World War I was fought between imperial powers, many of which were governed by unelected monarchies. Historian Jonathan Schell argues, “every political observer or political actor of vision has recognized that if life is to be fully human it must take cognizance of the dead.” (56) But what is the proper way to remember the dead of a senseless world war? Should they be used, as the American Legion and others seemed to think, to perpetuate patriotic, pro-militaristic narratives? The architectural folly that is the Waikiki War Memorial Park and Natatorium should remind us that, instead of glorifying war, nationalism, and militarism, there is no better tribute to those fallen than to remember war’s waste and futility.


  1. See Robert R. Weyeneth, Kapi‘olani Park: A Victorian Landscape of Leisure. (Honolulu: Dept. of Parks and Recreation, City and County of Honolulu, 1991) 48–52, 62, 67. Also “Heiau found at La Pietra,” HSB, Feb. 16, 1968: A-8.
  2. Anne Burleigh, “Save the Natatorium,” Hawaii Architect ]uly 1973: 12–13.
  3. Robert Schmitt, “Hawai‘i’s War Veterans and Battle Deaths” HJH 32 (1998) 171–174.
  4. 4  See Marita Sturken, Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the Aids Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering. (Berkeley: U of California P, 1997) 48.
  5. James Loewen, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong (New York: New Press, 1999) 15.
  6. See Jeannette Murray Peek, Stepping Into Time: A Guide to Honolulu’s Historic Landmarks (Honolulu: Mutual, 1994) 108; “Memorial Project Takes Real Shape” PCA, Feb. 19, 1919: 5; “Pan-Pacific Art Committee to Plan Memorial,” PCA, Feb. 19, 1919: 4; “Statue Or Memorial Hall Issue Must Be Determined,” PCA,Jan. 11,1919: 5; “Proposes Aid for Memorial Funds,” PCA, Jan. 9, 1919: 1; “Rotary Club To Honor Officials Of Old Republic,” PCA, Aug. 12, 1919: 6.
  7. Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton UP, 1999) 6.
  8. Burnham was a well-known architect responsible also for the design of the United Spanish War Veterans Memorial (also called The Spirit of ’98) erected in 1950 at the Wadsworth Hospital Center, West Los Angeles. Text from the plaque on the memorial reads: “1898—To Those Who Volunteered and Extended the Hand of Liberty to Alien Peoples—1902.”
  9. “Proposes Aid For Memorial Funds,” PCA, Jan. 9, 1919: 1.
  10. “Proposes Aid For Memorial Funds,” PCA, Jan. 9, 1919: 1.
  11. “Proposes Aid For Memorial Funds,” PCA, Jan. 9, 1919: 1.
  12. “Promotion Body Talks Memorial,” PCA, Jan. 15, 1919: 2.
  13. “Mass Meeting To Pass On Memorial,” PCA, Feb. 12, 1919: 1–2.
  14. “Rotarians Interested In Plans For Memorial For War Dead,” PCA, Feb. 22, 1919: 5.
  15. Economic History Services:
  16. “Mass Meeting To Pass On Memorial,” PCA, Feb. 12, 1919: 1–2.
  17. “Proposed Memorials For War Heroes Are Widely Discussed,” PCA, Feb. 15, 1919: 4.
  18. “Final Decision On Memorial Is Expected Today,” PCA, Mar. 24, 1919: 6.
  19. “Memorial Park Proposal Wins Warm Approval,” PCA, Mar. 28,1919: 1.
  20. Irwin Property Makes Ideal Site For Park As Memorial To Men Of Hawaii Who Served,” PCA, Mar. 30, 1919: 1.
  21. “Veterans Plan to Launch a Post of Legion Here,” PCA, Aug. 29, 1919: 1.
  22. Marcus Duffield, King Legion (New York: Johnathan Cape & Harrison Smith Inc, 1931) 5.
  23. “A Suggestion,” PP, Feb. 1, 1921: 3.
  24. CJS Group Architects. Final Historical Background Report Waikiki War Memorial Park and Natatorium (City and County of Honolulu, Dept. of Parks and Recreation, 1985) 2.
  25. “Proposes Aid for Memorial Funds,” PCA, Jan. 9, 1919: 1.
  26. Thomas A. Rumer, The American Legion: An Official History 1919–1989 (New York: M. Evans & Co, 1990) intro.
  27. Christina K. Schaefer, The Great War: A Guide to the Service Records of all the Worlds Fighting Men and Volunteers (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 1998) 161.
  28. “Beautiful Park Is Dedicated To Memory Of Men In Great War,” PCA, Nov. 12, 1919: 1.
  29. “American Legion Plans Memorials At Waikiki Park,” PCA, Aug. 10, 1920:1.
  30. Mullgardt was well-known both locally and nationally: he had designed the Honolulu Commercial Center (1919–1921) and, along with Bernard Maybeck, Mullgardt was on the Architectural Commission of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco (February 20–December 4, 1915).
  31. “Memorial Architects To Look Over Plans,” HA, June 14, 1922: 3.
  32. Ralph S. Kuykendall, Hawaii in the World War (Honolulu: The Historical Commission, 1928) 451–452.
  33. “Successful Architects Conception Of Hawaii’s $250,000 Memorial,” HA, June 21, 1921: 1.
  34. William H. Jordy, American Buildings and Their Architects: Progressive and Academic Ideals at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1976) 279.
  35. “Proposed Memorials For War Heroes Are Widely Discussed,” PCA, Feb. 15, 1919: 4.
  36. See “Tentative Sketch of Memorial Natatorium proposed by American Legion,” McCarthy—Territorial Departments War Memorial Commission, AH.
  37. James M. Mayo, War Memorials as Political Landscape: the American Experience and Beyond (New York: Praeger, 1988) 61.
  38. Mayo 61.
  39. George L. Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (New York & Oxford UP, 1990) 48.
  40. Mayo 88.
  41. Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (New York: Oxford UP, 1990) 21–22.
  42. See United Veterans’ Service Council Records, AH. The seven soldiers killed in action in France were Private Louis J. Gaspar, Sergeant Apau Kau, Private Antone R. Mattos, Private John R. Rowe, Private Henry K. Unuivi, Manuel G.L. Valent Jr. (rank unknown), and Captain Edward Fuller. There is contradictory information about Manuel G.L. Valent (or Valente), Jr. (rank unknown). His home address is listed as Aiea, O‘ahu, and he was attached to Co. L. 298th Infantry. He was either killed in action or died in service—on either July 18 or Sept. 30, 1918. The Star Bulletin says “Died in Service,” in September 1918, but UVSCR card refers to him as “KIA.” See also “Hawaii Men Who Wear Wound Stripes: War Leaves Its Mark on 14 Island Heroes,” HSB, May 10, 1919: 3.
  43. David Kennedy, Over Here: the First World War and American Society (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980) 214.
  44. Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford UP, 2000) 21.
  45. Fussell 22.
  46. John Bodnar, “Public Place in an American City: Commemoration in Cleveland.” Commemorations: the Politics of National Identity. John R. Gillis. (Princetown UP, 1994) 78.
  47. Mayo 58.
  48. Kennedy 179.
  49. Charles Lamoreaux Warfield, History of the Hawaii National Guard From Feudal Times to June 30, 1935 M.A. thesis (U of Hawai‘i, 1935) 78.
  50. Warfield 72.
  51. The figures may be underestimates: there was also a Naval Militia of the Territory of Hawai‘i, which was established in 1915. At the outbreak of war with Germany, the Naval Militia was federalized and 50 enlisted men and officers were accepted into federal military service. See Warfield, 69–70.
  52. Franklin Odo and Kazuko Sinoto, A Pictorial History of the Japanese in Hawai‘i 1885–1924 (Honolulu: Hawai‘i Immigrant Heritage Preservation, Department of Anthropology, BPBM, 1985) 208.
  53. Gary Y. Okihiro, Cane Fires: The Anti-Japanese Movement in Hawaii, 1865–1945. (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1991) 108.
  54. “Weak Welcome Is Given To Soldiers: General Public Is Not Turning Out To Meet Trains From Schofield Barracks,” PCA, Jan. 30, 1919: 1.
  55. Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967) 13, 54.
  56. Jonathan Schell, The Fate of the Earth (New York: Avon, 1982) 122.

Making Progress On Natatorium Future

Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial as it looks today. It has just been named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation on the heels of demolition vs. preservation plans here | Photo courtesy Sandra Sagisi

MidWeek: Lifestyle/Island Matters, June 4, 2014
By Mufi Hannemann

Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial as it looks today. It has just been named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation on the heels of demolition vs. preservation plans here | Photo courtesy Sandra Sagisi

Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial as it looks today. It has just been named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation on the heels of demolition vs. preservation plans here | Photo courtesy Sandra Sagisi

A crumbling structure with faded memories is the focus of a newly designated national treasure in Hawaii, which continues to serve as a setting to remember those who lost their lives in the armed forces during the first World War. Last week, on Memorial Day, dignitaries, residents and visitors alike had a chance to hear moving tributes at the Natatorium War Memorial in Waikiki.

Now a ruin and one of the last standing architectural landmarks of old Hawaii, the island icon has received a great deal of attention both nationally and locally this month. It has just been named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which comes on the heels of demolition and preservation plans — pending further review.

“To be demolished or not to be” has long been a subject of controversy over the decades. I applaud the City and County of Honolulu and the state of Hawaii, which are following through on plans that stemmed from a task force I commissioned as Honolulu mayor back in May 2009. I accepted the findings back then made by a 16-member task force to demolish the historic site and build two groins in order to create a beach, and restore/rebuild the arches inland. In its place would be a public memorial and a stadium, ensuring that we always pay proper tribute to our World War I heroes, and also providing our water enthusiasts with an expanded Waikiki beach area.

This dual commitment by both the city and state governments showing collaborative restoration efforts is a positive step forward to getting beyond the status quo predicament in which we have been mired for much too long. For those who feel that the $18.4 million price tag delves too deeply into the pocketbooks of Hawaii taxpayers, a full restoration of the natatorium would cost nearly $69 million! Moreover, a recent Honolulu Star-Advertiser online poll resulted in 90 percent of the respondents in favor of the plan recommended by the 2009 task force. The work is expected to begin in 2015 with a timeline completion of two years.

I would like to personally acknowledge again Collin Lam (my former deputy director at the city’s Department of Design and Construction) who chaired the Waikiki Natatorium Task Force, and all the community members who laid the groundwork with the help of city and state officials and consultants for the plan that is being lauded today. Other members are Lt. Gen H. C. Stackpole (veteran), Rick Bernstein (Kaimana Beach Coalition), Jean Pierre Cercillieux (Kaimana Beach Hotel), Dr. Chip Fletcher (UH professor of ocean engineering), Edgar Hamasu (veteran), state Rep. Ken Ito (veteran), Dr. Andrew Rossiter (Waikiki Aquarium), Rick Egged (Waikiki Improvement Association), Donna Ching (Friends of the Natatorium), Kiersten Faulkner (Hawaii Historic Foundation), Fred Ballard (veteran), Art Caleda (veteran), Brian Keaulana (waterman), Hannie Anderson (paddler) and Tim Guard (businessman and military affairs advocate).

Their recommendation was no easy task. The other options thoroughly studied were: 1) Keep the natatorium as is; 2) Relocate the arches to a different site on Oahu; 3) Conduct a full restoration; or 4) Turn it into a beach volleyball and aquarium site. The final vote was nine to three — seven members were in favor of the creation of a new beach, three raised their hand for full restoration and two voted for the demolition and construction of a world-class aquarium.

* Since we are on the subject of national treasures, William W. “Bill” Paty Jr., a veteran of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, is himself a living treasure. He was an Army captain and member of the 101st Airborne Division during World War II, who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day with thousands of other soldiers. He was captured as a POW, had two failed attempts at fleeing the enemy and was later decorated with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his bravery and survival.

Paty, a former agricultural executive and chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources in the Waihee administration, will be the guest of honor Friday at the Home of the Brave Brewseum. It is the newest edition to Glen Tomlinson’s World War II museum located at 909 Waimanu St. in Kakaako. Tomlinson features one of the largest collections of WWII memorabilia that you will ever see in the Pacific. How fitting it is that Paty, who rarely speaks of his combat experience, will be recognized there for his valiant military service on the 70th anniversary of D-Day this Friday.

On behalf of his countless admirers, I send a special salute to a very deserving patriot of our times.

The Conversation: Natatorium Follow-Up: Jim Bickerton

Hawaii Public Radio
Town Square: Wednesday, May 28th, 2014


Excerpt transcribed by the Kaimana Beach Coalition.

Beth-Ann Kozlovich: Maybe you remember the picture from last year – Governor Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Caldwell standing together at the Natatorium to announce their decision to replace the crumbling structure with a memorial beach. Many people thought the issue had been settled; then last week the National Trust placed the Natatorium on its list of national treasures. That stirred up a whole debate again and brought out one point on which all sides can agree: nothing can actually be decided until the Environmental Impact Statement comes out next year.

Jim Bickerton is here representing the Kaimana Beach Coalition. Nice to have you back.

Jim Bickerton: Good morning, Beth-Ann, thanks for having me.

BAK: So how much of a surprise was that announcement last week for all of you by the National Trust?

“People don’t realize that the National Trust is not a government agency – it’s a private organization, just like the Historic Hawaii Preservation Society.”

JB: Not really a big surprise, it’s just an extension of what they’ve been trying to do for a while. People don’t realize that the National Trust is not a government agency – it’s a private organization, just like the Historic Hawaii Preservation Society. They’re well-intended people with – their plan is to preserve things, we certainly understand people want to try to do that. But this is a mainland group and this is a homegrown solution that we have here that it looks like the community has really gotten behind. Right after you had the gentlemen from the National Trust on your show, the Star-Bulletin ran a poll – I think they had over 4,000 responses, which is very high, if not the highest level of response – and over 80% of the people [who] responded supported the solution that both the Mayor and the Governor have gotten behind.

And a lot of people don’t also appreciate that it’s a compromise solution – it is a memorial beach. I watched the Memorial Day service on television on Sunday and the beautiful arch was in the picture, the wall was in the picture, the great stone with the plaque, those were all in there – and they’re still gonna be there in the memorial beach. Instead of having a dead memorial, which is what we have now, we’ll have a living memorial that the community can use 365 days a year.

BAK: Their point is that it should also be a living memorial, but in the way it would be preserved, as it is right now. Don’t we really need to sort of wait it out and just see what happens with the EIS next year? Because their point seems to be, well, if you get in there and start disturbing a bunch of stuff you really don’t know what it is you’re going to do, and until that EIS is done, should we all just not be talking about this for a while?

JB: Well I think that’s a fair point. We should all wait for the EIS, but one of the things – you know, they call themselves restorationists, but what they really are is rebuilders. Because what people need to know is that the Natatorium was built with very outdated technology – it’s falling apart. And so to restore it requires it to be scraped right down to the seabed and built from the ground up again. And so it really isn’t about restoring something; it’s what are we gonna build there. What’s there now has to go away. Are we gonna build something that’s outdated, that isn’t healthy in an environment where people can fly in from all around the world with every virus and bacteria known to man, or are we gonna build something that has worked around the islands, which is a public beach park? That’s the question. We think we know the right answer, but we’re certainly looking forward to the city’s Environmental Impact Statement.

BAK: Jim, this is such an emotional issue, and it’s emotionally generational too, given the fact that it’s been around for most of my life and for a lot of people who say, enough already, get we just get a decision and do something – do you think that once we get that EIS we’re actually going to be at that point? And not where a lot of people perhaps thought we were last year with the decision?

“…as people become aware of how limited our beach resources are and how tough it’s going to be to get to Ala Moana Park when they build ten, twenty, thirty thousand units in Kaka‘ako, they’re really gonna cherish that open space on the beach and realize how valuable it is.”

JB: I think that the EIS is going to answer a lot of questions. I do think that we’ll be at that point. But I think that the emotions about this will continue for a long time to come. But it has changed over time. I mean, support for the current solution that the Mayor and the Governor are proposing is at its greatest level that it’s ever been. And so I think part of it is that as people become aware of how limited our beach resources are and how tough it’s going to be to get to Ala Moana Park when they build ten, twenty, thirty thousand units in Kaka‘ako, they’re really gonna cherish that open space on the beach and realize how valuable it is. And so I think – one thing I have great confidence in, this community – we do work things out in the end, and good solutions are found. What we’re saying is, this is the solution that’s already been found. It was through a task force, it was through debate, it was a compromise, and so really to come in and try to say, well it’s got to be this all-or-nothing solution that the rebuilders want, it goes against I think the way that we’ve solved our problems here.

BAK: In the meantime, over the summer there will be hearings; people will be able to weigh in. It’s not as if it’s either/or but it’s still in the business of gathering information.

JB: Yes, and I think in that regard I’d like to give a plug to our Web site, because we have lots of just objective, concrete information, old articles –

BAK: No pun intended?

JB: There you go. Concrete. It’s, and we’ve got archive materials going back many, many years. So people who are interested in the issue can bone up on it and give their input to these hearings.

BAK: Well part of that is what obviously both you and the Trust have been asking of people, [to] really do some homework, do some research, look at it – and if you can, get yourself down there too, and see what’s really there, because very often what’s in your memory isn’t necessarily what’s there in reality. And then try to compare some of those ideas. But once we have the EIS, there sort of is the feeling that maybe that will be the point. Given all the emotionalism, the opposite may be true too.

JB: Well, it’s – you know, I’ve been with this for over twenty years now, and I –

BAK: That’s why I’m asking you!

JB: – I have a hard time believing that we’ll ever come to a complete end to it. But we keep plugging away. I think information is the key, information to people is very key. And you just have to also look to the future and think about what we really need in this community. And that’s what I think is gonna drive it in the end – what does the community need? The environmental impacts are gonna be there no matter what you build. And there’s an environmental impact to doing nothing, because it’s crumbling into the sea. We just have to find out what they’re gonna be, weigh them, and make a good decision.

BAK: The community, though, is changing. And we’re watching more people move to Hawaii. There are a lot of suggestions – as we come closer to 2020 there will be far fewer people who were born and raised in Hawaii, and that changes sensitivity to what Hawaii may be all about as we move forward into the future. The idea of the beach versus the memorial, obviously very far away from the first World War, and the need for the beach. Do you think that is going to be, what’s going to be uppermost in people’s minds?

“People talk about, how much does it cost to build it? But how much does it cost to maintain going forward? We have beach parks all around this island because they are easy to maintain. They don’t cost the government a lot, they bring a lot of joy and recreation to people.”

JB: Well, I do think that serving the community is the most important thing. Remembering the past is a very important thing. That’s why the memorial’s incorporated into the beach idea. But you can’t take that whole hundred yard stretch of beach and devote it to something that can’t be used on a daily basis by the people. The other thing is the expense – we don’t talk about that. People talk about, how much does it cost to build it? But how much does it cost to maintain going forward? We have beach parks all around this island because they are easy to maintain. They don’t cost the government a lot, they bring a lot of joy and recreation to people. And so when you weigh that cost versus the high cost of maintaining a pool, a concrete pool in the middle of the ocean, against the benefits that it can bring, I think that type of comparison will drive the decision too.

BAK: Right. As we talk about with many things, that it’s not just getting it to a certain point, but how are you gonna keep it at that point as you move into the future? One thing is for sure – in our future we have a lot more discussion about the Natatorium whether we like it or not!

JB: I think I’ll be back next year!

BAK: Thanks very much, Jim. Jim Bickerton has been practicing law in Hawaii for more than 25 years and is a founding partner of the firm that bears his name. He represents the Kaimana Beach Coalition.

Town Square: Historic Preservation

Hawaii Public Radio
Town Square: Wednesday, May 22nd, 2014

You might think that it would be easy to get agreement on which historic places should be preserved…unless you’ve actually been involved with historic preservation or pay attention to what different groups want to do with some of Hawaii’s historic places. On this Town Square, we talked with chief preservation officer, David Brown, and senior field officer from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Brian Turner, about the preservation of the Natatorium and the overall preservation of historical sites.


Excerpt transcribed by the Kaimana Beach Coalition.

Beth-Ann Kozlovich: Aloha and welcome to Town Square – I’m Beth-Ann Kozlovich. As always our weekly conversations include you, and if you like to join us any time during the program, here’s our number – from O‘ahu, 941-3689 and if you call us from the neighbor islands or you’re listening to the live stream someplace else, you can get to us at (877) 941-3689.

What can we say about the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium that hasn’t already been said? The question of should it stay and be preserved or should it be redeveloped has had a long 30-year journey toward an answer. A year ago this month, many people thought there was one – that was when the Governor and Honolulu’s Mayor announced an agreed plan to demolish the pool and bleachers and create a memorial park. Yesterday the National Trust for Historic Preservation made its own announcement – it was adding the Natatorium to the list of national treasures, and that has fueled the Natatorium debate once again. Today we’re going to talk about what may be next for the Natatorium and, more broadly, what goes into designating historic places – the criteria and the often long quest for preservation.

Joining us from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Brian Turner, is a Senior Field Officer and attorney; he represents the National Trust to facilitate public participation in the preservation of sites, buildings, and objects of national significance. David Brown is the Executive Vice President and Chief Preservation Officer; he directs the trust, an assortment of preservation programs. Those would include direct action to protect America’s national treasures, advocacy for preservation incentives and laws, support for local preservation leadership, building of new historic site models, and promotion of preservation’s role in environmental sustainability. And you’re here too, and we want to hear from you – 941-3689 if you’re on O‘ahu or (877) 941-3689 if you’re listening from the neighbor islands or any place else.


Brian Turner: Thanks Beth-Ann.

BAK: Nice to see you again Brian Turner, and welcome to you, David Brown.

David Brown: Thank you Beth-Ann.

BAK: When people hear about the National Trust, do they have confusion about what the Trust actually does and that this is a privately funded organization?

BT: All the time. A lot of people think of us as a government agency but actually we’re a non-profit membership organization that advocates for historic places all around the country.

BAK: So how, David, do you find what it is that you think is worth of preserving?

DB: Well, as the country’s only national preservation organization that focuses on historic preservation, we are looking at places that have national significance or national implications, and places like the Natatorium certainly rise to that level. But we are focused on places that mean something to the communities where they are but also mean something in terms of our history as our – of our country.

BAK: So, community organizations would approach you?

DB: They often do, and we certainly have been involved with community organizations here in Honolulu and Hawai‘i in a number of issues, including the Natatorium for decades, really.

BAK: And including Pearl Harbor about 15 years ago?

DB: Including Pearl Harbor about 15 years ago – we’ve had a rich and productive relationship with groups like Historic Hawai‘i Foundation and the Navy.

BAK: For most people who are not involved with historic preservation, when they see that sometimes these battles go on for a very long time trying to get something of – with some sort of designation, not necessarily from your organization, but just in general – and often wonder why, why if it’s significant why isn’t it being preserved and we’ll often have people call us and say things like, “but it has such significance”. How do you prove significance? What’s the criteria for that?

DB: Well, that’s a great question, and there are different ways of looking at significance. Of course, the federal government through the National Register of Historic Places has criteria for significance and they look at things like the history, the associations of a place, the architecture, and the context and how much of the sites remains, and so its integrity, and that’s sort of the way in terms of determining significance from the National Register point of view, which is an important place to start as we’re looking at significance. But we also talk with a number of communities and there are things that mean to communities that perhaps don’t rise to those levels of National Register designation, and yet they’re still important. And this is especially true when we’re dealing with communities that perhaps are not part of the majority history in their community, and they have places that are, that have different meanings to those members of their community. And as we’re looking at trying to preserve the broad story of America, we’re looking at a number of different ways of meaning, and preservation is a lot aboutnot only memories but it’s about continuity.

BAK: Does that make it more or less difficult what you’re talking about some part of history that’s not necessarily part of the collective broad story that we all seem to do, to carry with us in some ways, but something that’s very specific community. Does that make it more difficult to preserve?

DB: It may. Certainly preservation started as we focused on the founding fathers and the places that everyone could agree were important – the Mount Vernons of the world – but as we’ve become broader in our understanding of what’s important to a community, sometimes it is difficult for certain segments to understand why these places need to be saved, why they mean something to the community that cares for them, and that’s part of their memory. But also they see these places not only as part of their memory but part of their future, and they want to carry those forward. But it can make those discussions more difficult, but we think they’re more robust as well.

BAK: When you look at Hawai‘i, and obviously the long discussion over the Natatorium is just one of the examples; Pearl Harbor as we mentioned before is another one – are there others, Brian, that are on your list that you already have somehow targeted that might be the next discussion?

BT: At this point we’re not – we’re focusing in on the Natatorium, that’s our principle focus, but we’re always kind of in our discussions with the preservation groups here on Hawai‘i which are really doing – you know, Historic Hawai‘i Foundation was mentioned, they’re doing great work, and we stay informed through groups like them in every state, almost, that we work in. One of the issues that’s come up recently is determining the future of Honouliuli Gulch. The National Park Service was asked by Congress to do a special research – a study and a draft study is out where the Park Service is recommending the designation of the site as a unit of the National Park system, so they’re now inviting public comment on that and that’s something we’re supportive of.

BAK: And that seems to go back to David’s point about parts of a community that find a very important segment of history that’s wrapped up very much in the community’s perception, not necessarily in a national perception but in this case it certainly is both.

BT: Right. The story for those listening who aren’t aware – Honouliuli was a site where Japanese citizens were interned during World War II, so it’s a site where memories are – it’s not a place of celebration necessarily, but it’s a place that we don’t want to lose.

BAK: And that brings up another point, about how preservation is done, very often people say, “oh, that’s beautiful, it needs to be preserved” or it’s “oh, look at this architecture”. But this is more than this, preserving something that’s beautiful.

BT: Right. One of our colleagues, Tom Mays, has done a lot of really great research on this. All of the reasons – why save old things – in addition to just having beautiful communities, there’s points about memory and individual identity, civic identity. I think if the Trust see that we have an obligation to future generations, it’s a question of what we leave behind and how we’re going to educate our kids about what came before them. And we have to have a mind for the future as we make these decisions.

BAK: As those decisions are being made, and as obviously you’ve said you’re mindful of what’s happening or may happen in the future with other generations, there’s also the changes that happen in communities where you have a very different demographic that comes in and you may lose some of those community memories of a site. Have you had instances with that?

BT: Well, all the time. I mean, America is a very dynamic place, and communities change over time, but there’s something about the tangibility of a place that can really bring about that memory to a community that maybe wasn’t aware of its importance. David and I had a chance to visit ‘Iolani Palace while we were here and I understand that for a time people didn’t know what to do with it. It was considered for demolition, and now it’s an incredible site. I think that anybody who visits Hawai‘i may not be aware of that history and it’s something that I think we both felt they should be exposed to.

BAK: One of the concerns in Hawai‘i is as population is shifting – and some projections have said that more – the closer we come to 2020 the fewer people will be in Hawai‘i who were actually born here and that will change the way perhaps some of these locations are regarded and also what may happen with historic preservation. So that’s a very real thing in many ways for us. Tonight we’re taking a look as historic preservation. Yes, we’re going to talk about the Natatorium too, but there are other places that perhaps you think should be preserved. We’re talking with two from the National Trust tonight – Brian Turner, Senior Field Officer and attorney, and Executive Vice President and Chief Preservation Officer David Brown – and you. Our number is 941-3689 or (877) 941-3689.

Going to Walter now calling us from Salt Lake. Aloha, Walter, welcome to Town Square.

Walter: Hi, thank you for taking my call.

BAK: Nice to have you.

Walter: I was wondering, it’s going to cost way more to preserve the Natatorium, but Governor Neil Abercrombie [wanted] to keep the arches but just move it forward. What’s wrong with that, it’s still preserving it, but you know, to he just wants to get rid of the pool and make it sicker because to, you know, to do construction on that costs a lot more money. So I was wondering, why do you disagree with that?

BAK: All right, let me get the – our guests to talk about that tonight. Now this is the argument, I mean this has been going on for a long time. Last year at this time we were told that it would cost about 70 million dollars to do the restoration effort as opposed to a little over 18 million to be able to do the demolition of the pool and the bleachers, move the arches – the arch – and to create a memorial park, and obviously this has been the bone of contention about really what that price tag is all about. And even as recently as yesterday hearing from both the Governor’s office and the Mayor’s office that both want to wait and see what happens with EIS due out next year. But your perspective in moving the arches, does that in fact preserve a site if that were to happen?

BT: Well, no. With all respect to the caller, the Natatorium is comprised of three significant features. One is an arch and arcade, the second is a bleacher structure and the third is a swim basin with a pool. And it was designed as a pool, it was listed on the National Register with those qualities. If you destroy it, it really doesn’t honor that design intent or any of the history. We understand that the arch would be not moved but reconstructed nearby. It would significantly alter the integrity of the resource.

BAK: David?

DB: Well, I think – and as Brian suggested – the Natatorium Memorial is the entire structure. It’s the pool, the arches, and the bleachers. It was designed to be a living memorial, which I think that’s one of the amazing things about this place and what makes it so unique. It was not just as a memory place for World War I veterans, but it was a place where people could come and remember World War I veterans, but they could also have recreation, and repose, and it was seen as a living memorial. And we don’t have very much left in Hawai‘i that memorializes the World War I veterans, the ten thousand Hawaiians who served in World War I. And this place was designed by the architects and the city at the time and the state to be a place not just for the past, but for the future. And that’s why we think that it’s so important to think about this as a complete memorial.

I think the other thing that the caller brought up, which we would – we’re looking to the EIS process to help with – is this question of cost. We’ve heard these numbers, we haven’t really seen what’s the basis for the seventy million for rehabilitation versus the eighteen million for demolition. We don’t know what’s in those numbers and what they mean. Certainly one of the reasons the National Trust wanted to become involved was to be able to understand, be able to look at those, have them looked at from outside experts who are comfortable with working in these types of situations and really come to an understanding of what the true costs not only of rehabilitation is, which this seems to be a high cost to us but what’s the true cost of the demolition and the environmental cost that would go along with that. And so we think the Governor told us that the EIS process was where those kinds of discussions would come out, and we think that’s the best process for figuring out the way forward.

BAK: Which seems to be the story that we are hearing from all sectors, that until that happens none of those hard real answers may be available, which in effects says we’re kind of in a holding pattern. Would you agree with that? There’s not a whole lot more that we’re gonna be talking about except for how people emotionally [feel] one way or the other?

BT: Absolutely. You know, the EIS as they mentioned on the call – on the show yesterday – the EIS and the law that provides for any EIS is intended to have those figures available for the public and disclose what’s behind those costs. So we think it’s very preliminary to come out with numbers without supporting data.

BAK: All right, we’ve got a caller on the line. If you’d like to be next, join us at 941-3689 or (877) 941-3689. We’re talking more broadly about historic preservation and specifically about the announcement concerning the Natatorium, now being designated as a national treasure. 941-3689 or (877) 941-3689. Going to Rick calling us from Kaimana Beach.

Rick: Hi gentlemen, aloha, welcome to Hawai‘i.

BT: Aloha.

Rick. Yes. I hope you’ve been receiving a good welcome here. The local people absolutely have weighed in on this – we’ve had a Waikiki Natatorium Task Force that met for six months of which I was a member – and during the task force we heard from all parties, interested parties, what they call stakeholders, and this was sponsored by the city. It was determined by the city engineers and the Army Corps of Engineers of course weighed in as did many other people that indeed there is no restoration of the Natatorium possible, that the Natatorium must be razed and rebuilt from the ground up. And the cost of that, by the city engineers who considered very carefully, was about seventy million dollars. So this is not an arbitrary figure that’s just floating around.

We used the experts that we have here in Hawai‘i who are very good experts, we don’t need necessarily [to] have people coming from the mainland to tell us what our engineering and construction costs will be. That said, in the face of all your runout today in the Huffington Post you had a big story, in The Atlantic magazine today you had a big story, and certainly the front page story that you got in the Advertiser yesterday, which was full front page, there was something we have here called the “Big Q” in our local newspaper which is a question that’s asked every day. Today the question was whether the community favored a restored beach, excuse me, a restored Natatorium, or a new beach. And the poll came back 3,810 people in favor of the new beach which represented ninety percent of the community. And 478 people in favor of a restored or demolished and rebuilt Natatorium. Ninety percent of the local community favored a new beach. Which would cost about eighteen million dollars compared to seventy million dollars.

BAK: Rick, what would you say would be the main reason that you see for that kind of response? Is it because we have a change of generations who are very far from World War I? Obviously the thing has been crumbling and closed for so many years and a lot of people don’t really have some memories of that place other than being a point of contention and not very user friendly.

Rick: Well, you know I’ve been swimming at Kaimana Beach straight for fifty years and I’ve certainly swam in the Natatorium when I moved here in 1965 at age twenty. I was a competitive athlete, and I worked out and I’m [still] an ocean swimmer every day. And the Natatorium was a horrible place to swim. It was murky, you couldn’t grab a hold of the edge, it was three feet above your head, and the water was not clear. It was a structure that absolutely didn’t work. It was very much like an Edsel. It was pretty to look at, but it wasn’t functional. And when it closed in 1979, it would close for good reasons. As did all of the saltwater swimming pools around the country. Because they breed MRSA and staph and any other kind of contagion because the pool just can’t flush well enough and it was gonna be dependent upon the tidal flow. And secondly, you contaminate a saltwater pool. In other words, they were playing science with 1920 engineering and they did it all over the country and it just didn’t work.

BAK: Didn’t pan out. Rick, thank you so much for your call. Glad you called.

Rick. Thank you very much, and I’d like to hear the response to how they feel about the community weighing in at ninety percent –

BAK: We’re gonna give them the chance to do that right now. Thanks so much for your call.

DB: Well –

BAK: David.

DB: You know, polls on newspapers and on radios are not scientific polls and we don’t know. I mean as you suggested there are a lot of people here in Honolulu today who don’t understand the meaning and the place of the Natatorium. All they have seen for 35 years is a crumbling pool. And oftentimes the choices to save places are not necessarily the ones the community’s looking at – sort of two different black-and-white types of decisions. It’s like, well we’re going to – you know, it looks like it’s going to be easier to clean this up rather than to restore it and reuse it. So while I appreciate Rick’s point about the community weighing in on the question of the day I think that is just what it is. It is, you know, it’s an unscientific measure of where the community stands. But even with that I think it’s – I think it is important where a community thinks about it’s – what a community thinks about its history, and we’ve been involved with people who swam in the Natatorium who have very fond memories of that, who saw it as a place that was a wonderful aquatic facility for Honolulu and very much think that it would be a great place for the future. And so, I think people are gonna have different perspectives on whether these – whether the pool worked or not, and I can’t get into that – I didn’t swim in the Natatorium.

BAK: Well, for a lot of people though this is going to boil down to also the cost of it and really wanting to see some of that. Rick’s point was that we had these meetings and this is what we heard from great many engineers who were brought in to answer some of those questions, these are the figures they came up with. Now that was a little while ago, that wasn’t exactly yesterday, things have changed. Real costs, hard costs, as we know, even if you get something you know, a week ago, it may change in the actual doing of it.

DB: Well, and the, you know the panel that – the task force [that] was looking at the future of the Natatorium didn’t agree. It wasn’t a unanimous decision in terms of what the future should be and I know also that folks who were on that task force feel like they don’t understand where those numbers came from. And so I think it’s a legitimate question to say we need to go through an Environment Impact Study process and we need to look at the hard numbers. It’s easy to just say, “well this is seventy million, it’s too expensive”. But I think it is important to understand the cost not only of demolition but the environmental costs that come with that. I think it’s also important to understand what real restoration costs might be.

BAK: All right, well, while we – just put those numbers of the side, I’m going to give you a couple of numbers that you can remember right now if you want to get into this conversation: 941-3689 if you’re on O‘ahu, that’s the number to call, 941-3689 or from the neighbor islands or if you’re listening to the live stream elsewhere, get to us at (877) 941-3689. Going now to Rick – I’m sorry, Jeff – calling us from Waimanalo.

Jeff: Here we are.

BAK: Hi there.

Jeff: It’s kind of a double-sided conversation tonight so I’d like to have two brief comments. One is that sometimes maybe having a monument be a monument is OK if we make it safe with no rebar sticking out for people to enjoy as it is – maybe it doesn’t need to be restored, you know, it’s right next to be biggest swimming pool that we have anyway. That’s that. The other one is that I’m – I have [had] a career in old buildings, and mostly in the Midwest in historical buildings. My only comment about the other bigger battle was that in Madison in Chicago we, in the ’70s and ’80s, we won a lot of battles about restoring and keeping old buildings available and rehabbing them and changing them and making them part of it. So when I was back there recently it turned out that we lost the war. Because we won the battles, we became complacent, and the development issues, and the development people did not.

BAK: So it seems that you’re sort of putting out there the fact that you’ve gotta be constantly vigilant because populations do change, areas do change, and nothing is forever, even perhaps in some cases historic preservation.

Jeff: Well, you know I mean if you go to Italy, in places in the Mediterranean, you see wonderful monuments that were once seats of government, and now they’re monuments, and they’re treated as such. That’s what we need to do, and make a decision, because we have wonderful old buildings here, we have wonderful old neighborhoods, and we’re losing that local flavor because we are making decisions that don’t reflect an appreciation of that.

BAK: Or may not have some cooperation – there are people that have been calling us for years, saying, “What about the Queen Theatre in Kaimuki? What a great structure”.

Jeff: Isn’t that a great old building?

BAK: Yeah, wouldn’t that be a great old building to be able to save and [is] seemingly thwarted at every turn. Jeff, thanks so much for your call, I’m really glad you called.

Jeff: Thank you so much for the program. Aloha.

BAK: A pleasure. Going now to Eric, calling us from Honolulu. Aloha Eric, welcome to Town Square.

Eric: Hi, aloha. I happen to be just outside the Natatorium as we speak, and listening to the conversation I couldn’t agree more with the previous caller Jeff who clearly demonstrates an appreciation for preservation of historic structures of old buildings, of the historic fabric that comprises not only the history of Honolulu itself but of the islands, and one of the things that seems to be left out of the conversation regarding the Natatorium is the fact that a) it was truly a living memorial, as one of the experts in your panel as mentioned. The memorial is not the arch itself. The memorial is the pool. It was designed as a living memorial that people would enjoy and participate in, it was essentially an interactive memorial to celebrate those ten thousand people who served in World War I.

Above the arch what it says is “The War Memorial”. Now, most people don’t quite appreciate what that means. “The War Memorial”, it was in reference to the “Great War”, World War I, which wasn’t given a number until World War II came along. So that fact that we had a memorial – one of the few in the country, by the way – to World War I, is something that if you just extrapolate to a hundred years from now, people thinking about World War II and erasing their memory regarding World War II and its significance in world history. So that’s one point.

Secondly, I wanted to address the point that the earlier caller Rick made regarding the costs. And the panel of experts that he quotes, I would beg to differ substantially. I was part of the team involved in the letting of the design contract for the restoration of the Natatorium, and there was an actual contract signed with a licensed contractor for thirteen and a half million dollars. Now, I recognize Rick’s voice, and he will be the one who will tell you that he was part of the team who sued to stop renovation even though from a design perspective the design was intended to cure essentially the flaws that he mentioned. And in fact, in 1927 when the Natatorium was built it was under-designed in terms of flow, but those were all designs that were cured in the restoration plans that were done in the early 2000s.

BAK: All right, Eric, let’s stop there and let’s get the panelists –

Eric: So those are the two key points I’d like to make. One final point is that the Natatorium is to the sport of swimming what St. Andrews is to the sport of golf. We have here on the island one of the critical keystones to the competitive sport of swimming worldwide, that’s recognized from people all over the world except by us living here in Hawai‘i. I’ll leave it at that.

BAK: And sometimes that often happens, that it’s almost like you’re not being able to be a prophet in your own land. Thanks very much for the call Eric, we’re going to talk about this a little bit and get to our other caller in just a minute. I mean very clearly, just demonstrated by the last couple of callers that we’ve had, the issue of the Natatorium is deeply held, it’s emotionally held as much as financially based, and really tough for a lot of people to grapple with. Until we get some hard numbers in the EIS, it seems we’re going to have a lot more of this conversation unless we’re able to come to some point of neutrality, until we can actually take a look at some of those numbers. But what do you both hear when you listen to callers as we’ve heard over the last couple of minutes?

BT: Well, one of the things that – one of the reasons we’re really involved here is that the EIS process, even though it sounds like this is a done deal, there’s been a task force and things have been decided, the EIS process [is] actually the best chance in a generation for the public to get involved in this decision making, which was what was always intended by these environmental laws. It wasn’t – when you’re gonna take an action so drastic as to demolish something on the National Register and do so much work out in a very sensitive marine environment, those decisions are intended to have a very public component. And, you know, we’re sort of inviting this debate here. The city’s gonna open up a process, and I know it seems like it’s been a really long time, but I think what we really wanna get across – and working very closely, of course with the local people here – is that the public finally will have that opportunity.

BAK: Even though they think they sort of already had that opportunity, not that long ago?

BT: Do you mean in the ’90s with the last process? Well, they did, and –

BAK: And we see how long it’s been as this keeps revolving.

BT: And the conclusion of that process was to restore it. And the money was appropriate to do that. And so, you know, obviously some people want restoration –

BAK: But then with the task force that Rick called about and just the reverse of that, and then you heard what Jeff had to say, trying to get to some sort of definitive decision just hasn’t been able to happen.

BT: Right. And now, you know, we’re strongly supportive of the action the city’s taking now in doing an EIS. We think we’re gonna get at the heart of the issue here and we wanna be a part of it. That’s what we’re saying with this announcement.

BAK: All right. We’ve got lots of callers who wanna hear what you have to say, we’re gonna go off now to Elaine calling us from Honolulu.

Elaine: Hello?

BAK: Aloha, Elaine, welcome to Town Square, hi there. Thanks for your patience.

Elaine: Hi, I am so happy that the decision has been made to try to preserve this. It was heartbreaking that it wasn’t going to be preserved at one point it seemed. I’m hoping that even though my children did not get to enjoy it that someday my grandchildren may be able to get to enjoy this, and if in the big picture we can not even [in a] second talk to somebody halfway around the world I’m sure we can somehow restore this very beautiful and very significant memorial to the war veterans of World War I.

BAK: But Elaine, you made the point that you’re happy that this decision has been made. There really isn’t a decision, I mean that’s part of –

Elaine: Well, there’s talk on the table, basically. I thought it was a done deal they were going to destroy this beautiful thing and now that somebody wants to just – the federal government or somebody – wants to make it, you know –

BAK: Well, it’s not the federal government, it’s the National Trust, and they would probably be the first ones to tell you, hey, everybody thinks that we’re the federal government. But they’re not, they’re privately funded, they’re a non-profit. And they’re added their voice to it by putting it on the list of national treasures. Thanks so much for your call. Going to Brita now calling us from the Big Island. Aloha, Brita.

Brita: Aloha! And thank you, national treasury and NPR for bringing this subject up – again. In 1977 I swam in the Natatorium. [Rick] was right, there was coral growing in the Natatorium, and thank God, in 30 years there still is. So I vote for restoration, reduce and reuse, and that that is a pool where there’s a natural ecosystem, the aquarium is right around the corner. I believe that Duke Kahanamoku and the gentlemen that gave their lives for our freedom in World War I would appreciate having that reef [re]stored and possibly used for monk seals that might need some protection, that green sea turtles and –

BAK: So you don’t necessarily – hang on a second. You don’t necessarily see this as being restored to being a swimming pool, doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose of restoring it to what it was supposed to be?

Brita: Well I think that given the fact that corals are endangered and if you looked in it you would notice – like I said, I haven’t seen it since 1977, I’m a bit removed, I’m on the Big Island – if you were to look in there, there is an ecosystem in there, and I think that just people like possibly something on the stadium where people could see maybe the original part but then also see creatures in there and I think that that would continue with a living memorial and possibly –

BAK: But that’d be a little different.

Brita: – I think that environmentally not disturbing the water. You know, my son is a diver, and in the last some-odd years, I mean if you go to Waikiki the ecosystem and the coral doesn’t only suffer because it’s humans being there, sunscreen in the water is destructive, it’s just food for thought.

BAK: All right, well thanks very much for your call, we appreciate it. But for a lot of people, I mean the two of you sitting here with me, David Brown and Brian Turner, I mean, you’re hearing people grapple with how do we somehow preserve the meaning of the Natatorium and make it useful, make it appropriate to where we are right now? What, you know, Brita was suggesting, I don’t know that a lot of people would wanna have a pool that would be filled with other creatures, they might as well go out in the ocean for that. But what would make the pool itself trainable and usable and useful in a way that would be different from the ocean and that would maintain its integrity, all of those questions that we all keep swimming around as we keep talking about this. And if you wanna talk about it with us the phone lines are open. 941-3689 or (877) 941-3689. Gonna go off to Mark calling us from Waikiki. Aloha Mark, thanks for your patience.

Mark: Aloha! This is one for Mr. Brown and Mr. Turner. If that EIS comes back and it says the Natatorium can’t be rebuilt, that it has to be demolished, then what would you say to that?

BAK: Good question. So let’s say we get the EIS back and it says, you know what, it’s just not feasible to try to restore it. What would you say?

BT: Well, it’s a dealing in a hypothetical, and it’s always hard for us, because we’re taking this one step at a time. I think what one of the things we really have to keep in mind as this process moves forward is what it would take to actually remove the structure from the shoreline. And, you know, in addition to being a great resource a rehabilitated pool would be, I think that preservation has a really practical purpose here. Keeping intact a structure that [has] stabilized the marine environment as the other caller suggested, you know, for a generation there’s giant foundational piles, eleven on each side, that go out, and you know, we have to also think about the consequences of pulling all that stuff out. So, you know, I rather not get into the hypothetical of, what if the decision doesn’t go our way. We’ll get to that.

Mark: But does the memorial structure defeat public safety?

BT: Not necessarily, if it was designed in a way – you know, we think it could be designed in a way that would actually accommodate handicap accessibility, it really offers an opportunity for a marine experience that other people can’t have.

Mark: But it… shows that saltwater pools are unsafe, and that’s why they’re getting rid of them all.

BT: You know, I disagree with that point. There are saltwater pools all over the world. Australia has quite a few. One person very familiar with the rock pools in Australia told us today that there’s one in every community. So obviously there is engineering out there that’s been done to make them safe for the public.

BAK: Mark, thanks for much for your call, glad to hear from you. Going off to Maui now, and we’re gonna talk to Buck. Aloha Buck, welcome to Town Square.

Buck: Hello?

BAK: Hi there.

Buck: Hi, you know I’d like to see I think it’s really a shame that it can’t be – I’d like to see it used for what it was originally built for. I remember when we were small kids, and we’d get bussed down by the schools for the summer fun and swimming in the Natatorium was just this – it was like an experience. Even though I was too small and they wouldn’t let me jump off the tower, I still had the feeling that I was connecting with the Duke and Johnny Weissmuller, and Buster Crabbe, and all the famous swimmers and the whole tradition, you know, I felt like I was part of the community when I went there. And we’d go down to the public park concession stand and buy shave ice and cuttlefish. And there was just this whole stretch of like magnificent old Waikiki that’s all gone now, the duck ponds are gone, and the bridges are gone, and the bandstand’s replaced –

BAK: Well, and you know what, I would ask you Buck, if some of those same feelings about what’s gone, I mean we have these very melancholy feelings, many of us, about what has gone away that’s never gonna be there again, because life changes, and communities change, and development happens, and all that kind of thing, of – would you be swayed the other way if – to put the shoe on the other foot – if you found out that this couldn’t be done? Would you be OK with that?

Buck: I’ll say two things. One – those that don’t learn from history repeat it, number two – those that learn from history go kicking and screaming saying don’t do that [just] as those that haven’t learned from it repeat it. We’ve gotta learn from our past that was when, you know, gracious living, and manners, and civilization, and people were nice to each other. Now, you know, they just go and kick sand in your face. I think that we need to be reminded of our graciousness and what living in Hawai‘i was all about.

BAK: If it can be done safely, if it can be done financially, appropriately, I think all those questions are still out there and it all hinges on what we’re gonna see next year in that EIS. David?

DB: Yes. Beth-Ann, I think the conversation we’re having today is exactly what preservationists wanna see. You have people who are passionate about their community, and they care about the future of the community. And that’s really all that we as preservationists can ask for in these conversations. So you asked earlier, what does it mean that we’re hearing this? And I think that’s a very good thing.

BAK: But as people are drawing sides on this, and clearly you’re hearing this, because this is nothing new, it may be a newer experience for the two of you, but for folks who are here and have done this now for thirty years, had these kinds of arguments, it’s becoming, you know, we’re on this side or you’re on that side of it, and you as a preservationist somewhat removed from all of this. How do you create a sense of conciliation? Or obviously it’s going to happen at some point where there is a decision, and there is a firm plan.

DB: Sure. And I think – I think having, as Brian suggested earlier, making sure that there’s the conversation that takes place where the public is involved, as there was in the ’90s, and the decision was made to restore it, is important so that people feel they’re part of the conversation, I think is important. But I also think that the last caller was talking about – and you were going back and forth with him about the changes in community. And I think that communities that work best are ones where you can see a continuity and it’s sort of a continuous community. And that’s what’s important because there’s things from the past that inform what we are today, and there are things, thinking about the future, that can learn from what we’ve done in the past. And that’s what we’re trying to see in community.

BAK: All right. We’ve got some more community folks who’d like to get in on this conversation and talk to you. Gonna go now to Dee calling us from Mānoa, and if you’d like to be next, 941-3689 or (877) 941-3689. Aloha, Dee.

Dee: Hi.

BAK: Hi there.

Dee: I went there in the 5th grade to learn to swim. I swam to … Sakamoto there summers when I was in high school and heard lots of different suggestions. But one I heard that I did like, and because the pool is really horrible, I mean, it was horrible then, it’s horrible now. And, was it that somebody suggested that they just fill it in, leave it like it is, more or less, fill it in and use it for [a] sand volleyball tournament thing. So that’s – or we use it in some way, because it’s gonna cost money to do anything. OK, that’s it!

BAK: All right, Dee, thanks very much for your patience and for your brevity, we appreciate that. The idea of, you know, repurposing this in some other way, not having it be a pool, does that still fill the criteria as you see it, Brian?

BT: Well, the – you know, with preservation there’s always a sliding scale. And perfect preservation here would be completely honoring that original design intent of Lewis Hobart, who was the architect who designed this in the ’20s. And, you know, it may be at the end of the day that that’s not completely feasible, or there are certain things that may be altered to make it better. So it might reduce its, you know, eligibility a small degree, but not enough to make it ineligible. So this happens all the time with rehabilitation projects on historic buildings. And I would encourage the caller to, you know, when the city starts the process this summer they’re gonna be asking the public, what alternatives do you want us to see developed here? What do you think we should study, what have we missed that we haven’t looked at already? And the caller can write and say, I think this should be a volleyball court. And I think this should be an alternative that you should explore – you should look at the costs, you should look at how it would affect the design intent, the integrity. Right now, we wanna see the city honor that original design and make again a great aquatic – vibrant aquatic center at the Natatorium. Because of course, this structure was built to honor those indigenous swimming traditions that really made history in the early 20th century. And the great Duke swam there, and Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weissmuller, as another caller said. So, you know, that would be our preference here.

BAK: But part of that means it has to be done safely, and it has to be something that is going to protect the health and well-being of those people who might be using that in a very different way than – I mean certainly we have many more health considerations now than we did in the ’20s when that was first built and certainly a bigger body of knowledge. So if all that were to happen, that would be fine, but if not, clearly from what you just said, you would be open to perhaps an alternate use to be able to keep it. So part of what I’m getting at here is this is not necessarily an either/or conversation, but it’s – and? And? Or could we? And seems to be what the both of you are suggesting as this process goes forward.

BT: Yeah. You know, fundamentally what we wanna see is public participation here.

BAK: All right, we’ve got more participating right now, going off to Dan calling us from Ala Moana. Aloha Dan, welcome to Town Square.

Dan: Hi, aloha. Yeah, you’re right, it’s gonna be the environmental impact statement. My opinion is that it’s, you know, I’m gonna hypothesize it, it’s never gonna be a saltwater pool as it once was. It’s just in 1910 and before that it was different. It’s gonna be – it’s a science experiment right now just growing whatever’s in there, it’s not pristine any more, it’s a wreck, it would have to be an entirely new structure. It could be a freshwater pool, but that’s just kind of a different thing, and then you’re talking, I’m thinking lots of public costs if someone were to say hey, there’s gonna be not a cent of public money’s gonna be spent on this, I mean lifeguards, everything else, that’s not realistic. I think, you, know, what you keep in your home as a momento, as a family heirloom. There are certain things that you keep, but you can’t keep everything, and you gotta pick and choose.

I say this – I would like to see it turned into a beach, I’ll say that right up front, just plain beach, I’m not entirely against the volleyball thing, that seems kind of sensible. I say this as someone – my granduncle, my granddad’s brother, was in World War I, he was in a pile of dead bodies, he barely made it, he became an architect, he actually – all he had was the flu, it wasn’t from war injuries or anything like that, but World War I, you know, I mean, they have the plaque there, I’ve been down there, I’m a beach user, and they should be – you know, they’re memorialized as I see it already, and you can’t just have every single president that comes along can’t have an eternal flame and we’re just gonna be – it gets overwhelming just with the sheer public cost. And so, that’s my point of view on it and I thank you for letting me express that. Thank you.

BAK: Thanks very much, Dan, and I’m sure both gentlemen who are here on the table will say that you should be involved with that process as it moves forward. Thanks very much for the call. Going now to Pat calling us from Kaua‘i. Aloha, Pat.

Pat: Hi.

BAK: Hi there.

Pat: Aloha. I wanted to –

BAK: Before you get going, Pat, I’m gonna ask you to please turn down your radio because we’re getting feedback and we can’t hear you very well.

Pat: I was just listening – I wanted to say a couple of things. One, I don’t believe in the words “can’t” or “never”. And two, it’s really hard to hear people here on this – in the state – say something about we can’t get help from the mainland or from people who have different experiences from us, I don’t believe that either. I believe that the people who are here suggesting or maybe even saying that they would do an EIS have some answers that we have not had before and that we might be learn from.

BAK: Well, the EIS is required regardless, whether the Trust would be involved or not.

Pat: And I also feel very strongly that when people on this island, especially those who are non-native, say something like, unless you have some experience like we have, but ignore the importance of native people, then there is not a really good reality in what they’re saying. That’s not to negate the experience that they have of 50, 70 years here, but the intention in having World War I monument is historic to be because I came from the mainland at one point and really never saw any recognition of the power of what happened in World War I.

BAK: So that was the first thing that you saw that actually brought the history of World War I to you?

Pat: Not the first thing, but it is one –

BAK: I mean the first type of monument, or the first monument of any sort.

Pat: Of any real, I guess any real quality –

BAK: All right, well we’re gonna leave it there for the moment. I’m glad you had that experience.

Pat: And my grandfather was also a World War I –

BAK: Pat, I’m sorry, we gotta say goodbye to you for the moment, but thanks very much for calling us. Gonna go off now to Rique calling us from Niu Valley. Aloha Rique, welcome to Town Square.

Rique: Aloha. For once I don’t have an opinion!

BAK: Really?

Rique: I have a question, though. And that is maintenance. We have the worst record of maintaining anything we have. And will that be figured into the equation?

BAK: David would like to answer you on that one. David Brown.

DB: Well, I think that’s a great question. And one of the reasons that we’re having this conversation today and that the citizens of Honolulu and Hawai‘i have been having this for 35 years is because the building wasn’t maintained when it – after it was built. And that’s a real issue in this country. We look at crumbling infrastructure all over – all over the country, in every state, and it a real issue. And so I think there are questions of maintenance, but there’s questions of maintenance with the beach as well. And I think you all know much better than I do in terms of what type of maintenance is required of a beach and especially one here at Waikiki. And I think those are all legitimate questions to be put into the public conversation about what’s possible, what’s not possible, and what’s the best for the community with the Natatorium.

BAK: And where’s that income stream going to keep coming from after whatever is done, is done?

DB: That’s right.

BAK: How do you maintain it so that we don’t have another crumbling situation.

DB: Exactly.

BAK: In another couple of decades or more. 941-3689 or (877) 941-3689 is our number if you’d like to get to us very quickly before we have to say goodbye, we can talk to you if you wanna do that. Otherwise, I’m gonna ask the two of you some questions about this because for many of our callers – and you hear the way this is just living in people’s guts – what advice do you have for all of us, as we begin to grapple with this and move forward, as you’ve had other experiences around the country where they are no less passionate about their possible area of preservation as we are about this one? What do you suggest that people do to be able to have, if not just a civil conversation, but one that looks at many of the different possibilities so that the best solution can come up?

DB: Well, I think you said it Beth-Ann, best. We tend to look at these things as black and white. It’s either this or this. And going through a public process, we often do this with historic sites and historic buildings, we actually find a better solution by having the conversation and saying, what are the possibilities here? And Brian was talking about how we often with historic buildings don’t get the perfect restoration, and in many instances we don’t. But think of all the communities that are now thriving because we have adaptive reuse of historic buildings in new and interesting ways. And so I would say, use this public process to think about a myriad of opportunities and be open to what those are.

BAK: All right, we’re gonna take one more call, from Mandy from Mānoa. Aloha, Mandy, we’ll ask you to be brief, but good to talk to you, welcome to Town Square.

Mandy: Yes. I unfortunately could not listen to the first part of the program and one of my concerns is we’re talking history. How about the fact that where the Natatorium is is when first the warriors of Kahekili and after that Kamehameha landed when they came to conquer O‘ahu? And so if we’re gonna go back and talk about history, then let’s go all the way back, let’s have a beach, the way it was when Kahekili and his forces and Kamehameha and his forces landed.

BAK: Mandy, thanks very much for the call. She brings up the point, OK, if you’re going to talk about preserving history, you gotta ask the question, whose history?

DB: Well, and I think that – I think that’s fair, and I think that’s part of the public conversation. I’m not sure the beach that was – that’s being proposed to be restored was the beach that would have been seen at the time that she’s pointing out. And so – and part of what we see in communities is layered history. And things happen on top of other places. And that’s an important part of understanding the story. And you can certainly, as we think about what the future of the Natatorium is, we can think about, how do we honor the earlier history that took place there as well? And that’s certainly something we see at a lot of historic places.

BAK: When you do see this, and you have those levels and layers of history, how to you accord what weight to which one?

BT: Oh, that’s a great question. That’s a question we’re always grappling with, and I would just note – we’re very sensitive to that concern, but, like David was saying, you know, at the time the Natatorium was built, there was very little beach along Waikiki. We heard an oral history yesterday of somebody who swam there in the ’30s, and he said there was about a 10-foot strip of sand at Kaimana Beach. And now that’s expanded largely because of the littoral drift has created the sandy beach there. As far as layers of history? That’s what’s so interesting about preservation to me. Is because our intent, you know, in having these dialogs, we always wanna honor, you know – that’s our goal. But there’s a question of how to get there. And that’s why community input is so important. We’re not coming here and saying, we have the answer. We want to facilitate that dialog. And I think we can get there. And processes like [this that] are happening with our environmental laws which we, you know, defend, are a good start.

BAK: And [the] first opportunity for people to do this?

BT: Well, we’re told that there will be a meeting this summer. That’s all we know.

BAK: But we don’t actually have a date yet, so stay tuned as soon as we have one.

BT: Stay tuned.

BAK: We will have one out there for you. I wanna thank both of you for taking time, I know you’ve gotta catch a red-eye flight, David Brown, and get back to D.C., and you’ll be going there shortly to, Brian Turner. Both of you, thanks very much for being here. Brian Turner’s a Senior Field Officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. David Brown is the Executive Vice President and Chief Preservation Officer.

Thanks very much for joining us tonight and spending the hour with us. I’ll be back with you tomorrow morning right here at 8 o’clock for The Conversation, we’ll see you then. I’m Beth-Ann Kozlovich, aloha.

From Our Files: Architecture

Honolulu Magazine
A. Kam Napier

KBC note: this is an excerpt from the February 2013 issue of Honolulu Magazine. We have bolded the words in the excerpt, as it highlights the fact that the design of the Natatorium was contentious from before it was even built.

Our History

In 1888, King Kalakaua issued a royal charter, commissioning a magazine. Then titled Paradise of the Pacific, this publication became HONOLULU Magazine, making it the oldest magazine west of the Mississippi.

Honolulu Magazine Feb 2013

November 1920

We now know the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium as a sadly neglected monument to Hawaii’s losses in World War I, but, in 1920, it hadn’t even been built yet and wasn’t the only proposal for the site. Our predecessor, Paradise of the Pacific, argued against the natatorium, declaring its swimming pool to be undignified and unserious, inevitably to be used by a “yelling mob.” It preferred this more static, unofficial alternative put forward independently by sculptor Avaro Fairbanks. Argued Paradise, “It would surely be more fitting that the memories of our sacred dead should be commemorated in a manner that shall, for all time, show forth to the world the deep reverence and love in which we hold them.”

Documents Indicating Concert Venue Preference

From the email records obtained in September 2012 via the FOIA

Email 1

To: William J Aila Jr/DLNR/StateHiUS@StateHiUS, Paul J ConrylDLNRIStateHiUS@StateHiUS, Dan S QuinnIDLNRlStateHiUS@StateHiUS, Sam J Lemmo/DLNRIStateHiUS@StateHiUS
From: Wendy Clerinx/Gov/StateHiUS
Date: 08/0812012 05:38PM
Cc: Michael Ng/Gov/StateHiUS@StateHiUS
Subject: Natatorium

Hello William and DLNR,

As you may know, Governor has long had a vision for the Natatorium and ending the virtual stalemate over its future.  There was a resolution this past session that called on DLNR to convene a task force to provide recommendations for the future of the Natatorium.  The Governor supported this reso and although it didn’t pass, he’d like DLNR to take on this responsibility with the idea that whatever the working group recommends, the Govemor would then issue an EO to rescind Governor Ariyoshi ‘s EO and follow through with the group’s recommendation.

The City and County of Honolulu had a taskforce on the issue just three years ago .  It is not the Governor’s intent to make DLNR duplicate this work, rather it would be to take their work and launch off of that in a very limited scope.  The past recommendation was to do some kind of a memorial beach.  The Governor is not interested in revisiting the options of doing nothing, fully restoring the structure, and restoring the original shoreline.  He would like to restore the area to be used as some kind of venue/recreational area such as for beach volleyball or concerts.  The group could also look at future issues like where to put the Natatorium within DLNR and future funding requests that would be necessary.  If the group could work quickly, it may also be possible to put in planning & design monies in the upcoming budget submittal.

I’m sorry about the wide distribution ofthis email.  I’ve talked to a number of people in DLNR on the Natatorium and so I’ve induded everyone.  If it would be helpful to meet to discuss the Govemor’s objectives, we are happy to do that.  Just let me knowl  And if there’s someone in particular I should be directing Natatorium emaits to, please let me know that as well.

Many mahalos!


Email 2

Michael Ng/GovlStateHiUS@StateHiUS, Bruce A Coppa/Gov/StateHiUS@StateHiUS
08101/201206:06 PM
Subject: Re: Natatorium and Stan Sheriff Non-compete

Thanks Wendy. Lets go with the second recommendation re having Gov convene a working group asking DLNR to lead. But, the goal is to keep the structure (not demolish pool). but perhaps build on top of It (not . fill since walls cannot withstand weight) and use as a venue like beach volleyball or concerts. So, we would ask the group so specifically look at a proposed use, rather than just look at everything and come up with a recommendation.

Along with that, I think we have a EO drafted but not Signed and executed until we have the working group recommendation. Perhaps have the draft EO as part of whatever memo or documents we have to establish the task force to show our intent.

Mikey can provide more input.

Blake Oshiro, Deputy Chief of Staff
Office of the Governor
415 S. Beretainia Street. 5th Floor
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813
(808) 586″(}034

Jeremy Harris — The Exit Interview

Honolulu Advertiser

His unlikely political career began more than a quarter-century ago as a young environmental scientist on Kaua’i. Jeremy Harris was concerned about over-development and threats to the natural environment, and felt the best way to make himself heard was to jump into elective politics.

Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris looks over municipal construction work near Kuhio Avenue and Kai’olu Street in Waikiki. “What I get pleasure from is the physical accomplishment. It’s building the park or putting in the tree or building the affordable-housing project. That’s where I get my reward,”Harris says as his last term winds down.
Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

From Kaua’i, Harris moved to Honolulu, where he represented the environmentalist ethic in the 1978 Constitutional Convention. From there, he found himself at Honolulu City Hall, when then-Mayor Frank Fasi appointed him as a top aide.

When Fasi quit the mayor’s office to run for governor in 1994, Harris became acting mayor, was elected to fill out Fasi’s term, and then went on to win two terms as mayor in his own right.

Now, those years as mayor and that long unexpected career in politics are coming to an end. On Jan. 2, Harris will step down as mayor and, as he tells it, will end his career in electoral politics. Among his proudest accomplishments is making Honolulu a world-class example of a “sustainable” city, one that preserves and nurtures existing resources, whether environmental, fiscal or social.

Harris recently sat down with The Advertiser’s Jerry Burris to talk about his years as mayor, his disappointments, his proudest achievements and what he believes the next mayor should do to keep the momentum going. Here are excerpts from that interview:

Q: Your term is winding down. You have a lot of things in place, a lot of things that are just launching or will take off in the next few weeks. Wouldn’t you like to stick around?

A: Oh, it’s going to be very hard to walk away from the city. I’ve been either the mayor or the managing director for the last 20 years.

The city is almost like a child. You know every intersection and every tree that is planted and every park and every roadway improvement. And so turning it over to someone is like turning over your child to a foster parent. It’s difficult.

And you’re not sure if the foster parent is going to take good care of your child. My hope is that the next mayor will recognize the value of these programs and recognize the status we’ve attained internationally — because Honolulu really is viewed internationally as a model. I know people here perhaps don’t understand that. But I’m invited to speak all over the world on the Honolulu miracle.

Harris, shown here in 1976 as a young environmentalist, began his political career as a Kaua’i County Councilmember and later served as an aide to then-Mayor Frank Fasi.
Advertiser library photo

So my hope is that the next mayor is not going to stop the recycling program. The expansion of H-Power, which is vital for us stopping the landfill operation — H-Power is a financial engine for the city, so to stop it would be both financially and environmentally a bad idea.

Q: Do you have some fears that some of these things might be put on the shelf?

A: Well, I’m not hearing that, but I’m just apprehensive about what’s going to happen when there’s a new mayor in this office. And we had an instance just a few days ago with the Natatorium where both candidates pledged they were going to stop the remedial emergency work at the Natatorium. Well, that concerns me because that says to me they must not have read the engineering report. Independent engineering analysts went down there and looked at it and they said there is a real and present danger here.

Announcing a decision before you read the analysis or speak to the experts is alarming. And if you do tear it down, you have to invest about $20 million to rebuild piers out into the water, stone groins, or else the beach will be gone within a month, because the Natatorium created the sandy beach.

Q: What do you think, if you had more time, had another year, is there something that is not going to get where you want it to be by the time you leave?

A: I’d like to have every house serviced with curbside recycling before I leave. And that was my goal, and of course, the council has thrown up roadblock after roadblock, delay after delay, so we’re not going to be able to get that done but we’ll at least have the first phase done by the end of the year.

And I would have liked to have gotten a monorail system built. That’s not going to happen in a year. I think the Bus Rapid Transit system is going to open a lot of people’s eyes as to the capability of hybrid electric rubber-tire system.

I think what we probably need on the island is a monorail system that is a hybrid electric system.

Q: Have you come to the conclusion that whatever happens with transit here in the future, that it’s just smarter to go alone, without federal help?

A: Oh, absolutely. With the pain and the cost and the delays, you can’t do the federal process in anything short of eight years.

As Jeremy Harris leaves office, he says he’s glad to be out of politics, but adds that he wants to use his managerial skills to make a contribution, perhaps doing environmental work of some kind.
City and County of Honolulu photo

Q: So then if you’re talking about a $1 billion to $2 billion system, you’re saying it’s got to be raised right here. Where do you get that kind of money?

A: You have a dedicated tax. And the next mayor has to be willing to say — and the governor, and the Legislature, and the council have to be willing to say — when it comes to transportation, there is no free lunch. No one’s going to come in here and build the system and it’s going to be free, and you only pay a dollar to ride; that’s not real.

The reality is, if we want transportation improvements, we’re going to have to pay for it. But as a political realist, I have my doubts.

Q: What are your political plans?

A: Well, to tell you the truth, I’m really looking forward to getting out of politics right now. A lifetime of political involvement is enough.

It’s time for something else.

Politics is so brutal in today’s world. Both at the national level and at the local level. It’s driving a lot of the good people out, and it’s discouraging promising new political leaders from getting in, even just taking positions within government.

Something is wrong when you can’t get people willing to take the top spots in government because of the negative climate that exists. I think our whole country is going through quite a trauma right now. I’ve never seen our nation so divided; the animosity is so great.

But I think nationally right now, whoever the next president is, the top priority has got to be reuniting this nation. And I don’t think Bush can do it. I think only Kerry can do it.

Q: Have you voted already?

A: No, I was going to do it this afternoon, but I didn’t get back in time.

Q: Have you said anything as mayor as to who you’d prefer as a successor?

A: No, and to tell you the absolute truth, I was going to decide as I walked into the booth today. I don’t know which of the two to support. I know both of them, and I think both have their pluses and minuses, and I can’t yet decide which one is going to be better to lead the city.

I’m disappointed in the campaign. I don’t think the campaign’s been a very elucidating campaign at all. I don’t think it’s clear what either one of them stands for, or where they want to take the city.

I think that is a shame that there hasn’t been a higher level of political discourse. I think people want and need to be able to vote their hopes and aspirations, and when public discourse in a public campaign doesn’t enter that level at all, then people end up voting their prejudices. And that’s sad.

I think we need to spend more time thinking about the big picture and developing dreams for our community and for our kids and thinking big.

Q: If you’re through with elective politics, as you just said, what do you plan on doing?

A: I haven’t decided. Ramona and I were talking about that. I want to find some way to make a contribution. I would like it to be (one) that uses my background in management and in sustainability.

Q: You got into City Hall because you got a job with (Mayor) Frank Fasi, and then that relationship got worse over time. Was it just a difference of opinion or was it more than that?

A: Well, I have to say, Frank and I have had our differences. and despite all the personal hard feelings and all the nasty things that have been said, when you look back over his tenure, he did a lot of good things for this city.

I think what his greatest strength was that he wasn’t afraid to try the unorthodox. And sometimes the ideas didn’t pan out. But sometimes they ended up being brilliant. So despite the personal animosity, I think that needs to be recognized.

Our falling out really came during that (first campaign for mayor in 1994). He basically didn’t want me to run, because he thought that would take away resources from his gubernatorial effort. And we disagreed on that.

I had been managing director for nine or 10 years and had paid my dues and knew the city better than anyone and was, I thought, better capable to become mayor than any other candidate, and I thought that I had a right to run.

Q: Was it always in your mind that you would move up from mayor to governor, or were we all just assuming that?

A: Oh, no, I was considering it but — and this may surprise you: Everyone has assumed I’ve had this enormous overriding ambition to be governor. The fact is, the best job, the very best job, on the island, is managing director of the City and County of Honolulu.

The second-best job is mayor of Honolulu. Where I get my personal satisfaction is not from the politics. I hate politics. I don’t get pleasure from political interchange and all the political intrigue or the acquisition of power and the wielding of power.

What I get pleasure from is the physical accomplishment. It’s building the park or putting in the tree or building the affordable-housing project. That’s where I get my reward.

Q: So, you did at least seriously think about running for governor that first time. Is it because you felt there was a leadership vacuum out there? If you enjoy this gig, what pulled you in another direction?

A: Well, a lot of it is the career path. You get into this career of politics. And there is a progression: mayor, governor, senator, president of the United States.

But ultimately, what I decided was to stay here, because this is what I enjoy doing, and this is where I thought I could make a difference, and this is where I had the knowledge and skills.

Q: The second time you considered running for governor, it was a little different, wasn’t it? It wasn’t a matter of choosing between two possible jobs. You got hit with a two-by-four this last time around.

A: I would have gone last time, if I thought I could have won.

Q: To me, that’s a perplexing statement. In politics, if the person feels that they’re right for the job, doesn’t that drive you? Not a poll at any given time saying that you can win or not win?

A: Yeah, but put it in context. I was in a position where I had another two and a half years as mayor — or run for governor with polls that showed it was a long shot for me to win.

I think I made the right decision. I mean, I don’t think I would’ve won. I think I would’ve won the primary, but I don’t think I would’ve won the general.

Q: How much do you think that campaign spending commission charges about illegal contributions factored in this?

A: In the polls that we did, that wasn’t the biggest factor in bringing down my numbers. Actually, the thing that brought my numbers down was the four-month battle with the City Council over the budget.

As you recall, a new budget chair came in, and it was a daily almost front-page story about city budget and all the rest. That’s what knocked the numbers way down. The biggest thing that hurt me was that the daily drumbeat of problems with the city budget — you remember there was all the talk that the city was going to go bankrupt

And of course, the campaign spending stuff didn’t help. That was on top of it.

Q: And the voters are not analyzing who’s right or wrong, they’re just reading the headlines?

A: Yes. The biggest mistake I’ve made in the last 10 years has been my poor relationship with the media. I mean, that was an enormous mistake on my part. I think that instead of building a positive relationship with the media, I ended up with a confrontational relationship with the media.

I think when I first started out, we were sending press releases out on a daily basis: You know, the mayor was cutting this ribbon, and digging that sewer, and riding on the back of that garbage truck and all the rest.

And after a few months, that wore very thin. So most news directors told their reporters: don’t include Harris in the story. We could walk on water, and we were cut out of the story. When you get to the point that you have so alienated the media that they are only going to run a negative spin if they include you at all in a story, then it’s very difficult to communicate positive things with the public.

Q: One the least-happy times for you has been ‘Ewa Villages (in which a city official was convicted of siphoning off as much as $6 million in public money in a phony relocation scam). How did that happen?

A: I think it was a combination of factors. It was internal control procedures that were not nearly as refined as they should’ve been. But on top of that, it was someone who was very cagey in knowing how to circumvent the internal control procedures that were in place, and how to satisfy all the bureaucratic requirements that were necessary in order to get reimbursements, and do the bidding and all the rest.

To their credit, the Finance Department has gone back and I think plugged every loophole and tightened up every review procedure.

I am proud of the way we handled ‘Ewa Villages. Because the second that any hint that there might be something wrong came to my desk, I picked up the phone and called the authorities and called the investigators, and they went in, and so there wasn’t any delay.

Q: Are you comfortable that you got as far as you needed to go in determining responsibility for the ‘Ewa Villages scam?

A: Oh yeah.

Q: I know this is going to be frustrating for you also, because, every day there’s a story about a contractor or engineer pleading or paying a fine (for illegal campaign contributions) Somehow your name is usually mentioned. Is there anything you’ve tried to do, or can do, or have done to break this thing?

A: Over the last three years, there have probably been a thousand times in the newspapers and TV news when the innuendo is out there: that you trade contracts for political contributions to City Hall. And that is an outrage, because we don’t do that. And we have never done that. The people that decide who get contracts have nothing to do with the politics, and don’t know who contribute or who doesn’t contribute.

And yet there is no way for us to defend ourselves. We just get the innuendo that so-and-so contributed, and oh, they have a contract. Thousands of people have city contracts. Thousands and thousands of companies do business with the city.

I’m sure there’s not a person on the street who doesn’t believe that you trade contracts for contributions in Honolulu. And that is terrible, not only to do it, to me and to my reputation, but to all the people that are involved, who actually do the contracting for the city. They are honest, hard-working professionals, most of them civil servants, and they don’t deserve that, to be tarred with that brush.

And after three years and millions of dollars of investigation, there’s no showing that there’s any relationship between contracts and contributions. And there won’t be. Why? Because there hasn’t been. At least in my administration. Now, I can’t speak for state government for the last 40 years or any of my predecessors, but I know darn well that our people haven’t done that. And yet there’s nothing that can be done. You just sit back and have to bear the smear.

Q: What do you suppose drives these guys to bundle contributions and do things when they know it’s not kosher, it’s not legal?

A: I don’t know. But why does anybody contribute to these campaigns? Why do people contribute $200 million to Bush and $200 million to Kerry and millions of dollars to Lingle? Why? Obviously, because they want to get those people elected.

Obviously, nobody should violate the law, but to presuppose that because someone violates a campaign-spending law, that there is some corruption at City Hall, is unfair. First of all, it’s not true, and it’s unfair.

Q: But when someone reads the paper and he learns that some guy managed to over-contribute to Jeremy Harris, isn’t it reasonable that the person would say: Well, why did he do that? He must be trying to buy something something. Wouldn’t that be a natural human reaction?

A: Well that’s the innuendo that goes in the story. I mean, why is someone contributing in the first place? Whether they contribute $4,000 or $5,000, why are they contributing in the first place? Why are people contributing millions of dollars for the president and millions of dollars for the governor?

The most expensive mayor’s race in history — we’re seeing that right now. Why are they doing that? Well, it’s obviously because they think they’re going to be better off with their guy in.

There’s such cynicism today. If you read any newspaper in the country or turn on any news report, the underlying assumption of the story is, if someone is in public service, if someone works for public government, they are either inept, incompetent or corrupt.

Q: What’s the first thing you’re going do when you step out of here?

A: Actually, In January, I have speaking engagements in Australia, Abu Dhabi, the Mainland. I’ve got six or seven international speaking engagements. There’s an enormous demand to hear Honolulu’s story. So I probably have 40 speaking engagements committed to for next year already.

Q: How will you keep body and soul together?

A: Well, I can retire … I’ve been in the state retirement system for 30 years.

Q: What do you see yourself doing? Consulting? Environmental work?

A: Environmental work. And I think it depends on what happens in Washington on Nov. 2. But I’m really going to wait till January to see where the opportunities lie.

Q: You really will put a lid on it for a little while right now?

A: Yeah, I mean, I’ll continue to talk about it and think about it, but there’s no rush to walk into a job on January second or first or whatever it is.

Q: So, you’re through with elective politics?

A: Well, right now, yes. Well, never say never, but that’s not where I see myself going.

Letter From An Anonymous Structural Engineer

This is a letter I received from a concerned structural engineer who wishes to remain anonymous for political and business reasons.

Rick Bernstein
October 10, 2004


I had not yet read your email when I talked to you about 6 pm. However, I would not change or revise anything you wrote. As a matter of fact the Department of Health requirements for a concrete bottom and pumps would further invalidate any design that doesn’t presently accommodate these requirements. I don’t fully understand all the history and requirements. However;

The concrete bottom undoubtedly would have to be supported on additional piles, which would be very difficult to install if the present work takes place.

Any reasonably extensive piping and pump system must be installed before the deck is placed. (This work is not in the contract. RB)

There are two common ways to drive piles into the reef. (1) Bearing piles that are driven in water are usually “socked” into the reef several feet. The piles might be fitted with a hardened driving shoe and using a “brute force technique”, penetrate the reef. (2) If the reef is too hard, a slightly oversized hole is drilled through a casing into the reef. The pile is then driven into the reef and the casing removed for another usage. This second method is clumsy and expensive.

If they drive the piles into the reef (method 1) the vibrations could further damage the already suspect bleachers and arch… and it is not out of the question that the Aquarium and Kaimana Beach Hotel and neighboring buildings could be affected.

The second method (pre drilling) reduces the vibrations, but significantly increases the liberating of the detritus and contaminated material on the bottom. The silt filter would have to be pretty effective to prevent contaminating the surrounding swimming areas. My experience on many construction projects is that it will most likely not be effective and the Kaimana or perhaps other swimming beaches will be closed for periods of time.

These questions are always answered by the responsible, paid professionals before a project starts construction.

It would seem to me that if I were the structural engineer or other professional who did put his stamp on the drawings or reports and I recognized that Harris and his minions would not be around in a few months, it might occur to me that I would be left twisting in the wind.

I’ll stop for now.


The Anonymous Structural engineer

Specific Questions:

  • Have the new requirements for a hardened bottom and pump and filter system been integrated in this design and construction process?
  • Have all drawings and elements of the various disciplines been stamped by a licensed professional? Are these people insured?
  • Does the Corps of Engineers have jurisdiction here?… and did they review the drawings?
  • Is there an environmental impact statement?

Pile driving etc.

  • Are they going to use one of the procedures above or some other method?
  • Has any study been done on the effect of the pile installation on the bleacher structure and the Aquarium, Kaimana structures?

Pollution of surrounding swimming areas:

  • Generally pile driving and especially drilling is a very messy operation. The drilling particularly liberates all sorts of strange elements. The pile driving vibration often causes what they call “drawdown” or subsidence of adjacent structures on piles. This occurs often in sandy areas.
  • It is also highly probable that objectionable elements will be liberated from the pool bottom that will bypass the “silt filter”.
  • Has this been addressed by an environmental assessment and procedures by Healy Tibbets for a second line of defense?

The Truth About Historic Preservation: Adaptive Re-use of the Natatorium

By James J. Bickerton, Esq. and Douglas A. Codiga, Esq.

Contrary to the Harris administration’s assertions, historic preservation laws would not prevent the creation of a memorial beach along the lines proposed by the Kaimana Beach Coalition. Although the Natatorium is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Hawaii Register of Historic Places, these designations are not the end of the story.

First, it is important to remember that not every registered historic place is preserved forever. In fact, the Harris administration recently demolished 15 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Properties as part of the Ewa Villages Redevelopment project because the buildings were no longer viable due to economic and health and safety concerns.

Further examples include Tustin, California, where two World War II blimp hangars listed on the National Register were to be demolished despite being among the largest wooden buildings in the world – because the community wanted to develop a regional park. And in Minnesota, demolition of an historic bridge, also listed on the National Register, was planned because traffic had increased and a new bridge was required.

“Adaptive re-use” occurs when, as with the Honolulu’s Natatorium, a community wishes to preserve, rather than demolish, the essential historic features and beauty of the place, but must modify the structure to meet current economic realities or health and safety standards.

Despite the Mayor’s assertions, the administration’s current plans are actually an example of “adaptive re-use” because they propose a modified Natatorium with different features than the original. The Harris plan eliminates a tall diving tower and two large reflecting pools, both of which were prominent features of the original site. Due to Department of Health rules, the Harris plan must include a pool with a hard bottom and cleanable sides (rather than the original sandy bottom). The pool must use large motorized pumps to flush water through the pool (rather than rely on the original passive tidal flushing). These changes add up to “adaptive re-use.”

The Kaimana Beach Coalition’s proposal to create a memorial beach by modifying some of the walls of the pool is simply another type of “adaptive re-use.” It is far superior, however, because it will save the community millions of dollars in construction and upkeep, eliminate threats to public health and safety, reduce commercialization, and bring final resolution to the Natatorium issue.

In short, the Kaimana Beach Coalition believes that a memorial beach would be entirely consistent with the letter and spirit of federal and state historic preservation laws, which allow for the “adaptive re-use” of historic properties to accommodate public health and safety concerns, local economic realities, and evolving community needs and values.

Letter From Kevin Bodge, Senior Engineer

Kevin R. Bodge, Ph.D., P.E.
Senior Engineer/Vice-President, Olsen Associates, Inc.

From: Kevin Bodge
Date: August 20, 2004
To: Rick Bernstein

Here is copy of letter I sent re: Natatorium back in ’98. Based upon changing conditions, years’ passing, observed experience, I’d triple the cost projections in that letter (and add more for demo etc.) . . . . but that still leaves the price tag well within/under current funding levels. Keep me posted. – Kevin

November 21, 1998

Dr. Charles Fletcher
Professor, SOEST; Department of Geology and Geophysics
University of Hawaii
Post 721, 1680 East-West Road
Honolulu, HI 96822
FAX (808) 956-5512

Dear Professor Fletcher:

I was surprised to learn that there is continued interest in permitting the Natatorium restoration project in its proposed, mostly enclosed configuration. Based upon my brief review of the project’s documents and limited site visits, I do not believe that the proposed design will function as intended or claimed.

Offhand, three potential problems with the proposed design concern me. First, the groins will principally impound sand — not water for circulation. The re-curved (shore-parallel) heads of the groins, in particular, are known to be highly effective in promoting sand deposition, even when ambient littoral transport rates are low. The accumulation of sand in the groins’ lee will ultimately block the circulation intakes (despite their elevation above the seabed); or, certainly, greatly reduce their flow capacity.

Second, the design depth of the sheltered pool is mostly greater than the ambient seabed, and thus represents an effective “sink” into which fine sediments will settle. The result will be a degraded bottom condition dominated by silts and clays that originate, mostly unseen, from the ambient coastal waters. The weak currents and absence of waves within the pool preclude flushing of these objectionable sediments. I have witnessed this phenomena repeatedly in the Caribbean; and am at present engaged in no less than six different projects in the Bahamas to “fix” the problem of fine-sediment deposition within artificial basins connected to the sea. The requisite solutions routinely require opening the basins to the sea, mechanical circulation (pumps), and/or high-frequency suction dredging.

Third, the location of the intakes on the Diamondhead side inherently conflict with the profile of the Sans Souci beach. At present, that beach’s active profile appears to fully extend to the seaward end of the Natatorium wall. If the intake could be maintained in an open state, it is altogether reasonable to expect some erosion or deflation of the Sans Souci beach by the introduction of a “vent” at its toe.

Overall, the designers’ prediction of water flow through the basin appears counter-intuitive. Even assuming that the intakes remain unobstructed by sand, it does not seem reasonable to expect that the claimed nearshore current magnitudes — and flushing — will be realized. On each of the three [arbitrary] days that I recently visited the site (once in February, twice in November), the nearshore waters were very calm and there was little or no indication of significant currents. The E.A. claims that this condition occurs only 2% of the year, or 7.3 days per annum. It seems odd that my three visits happened to coincide with half of the site’s annual occurrence of calms. The groins cannot create a current. Intuitively, even where a current is present, their very short lengths are more likely to divert the current offshore than toward the intakes; or, at least, to be minimally effective.

If an enclosed swimming area is, indeed, desired, then the only reasonable engineering solution is to completely isolate the basin and to exchange and circulate its waters by mechanical pumps and proper filtration. This is surely no more expensive than the groins, intake baffles, and long-term maintenance requirements of the proposed design.

A more prudent solution, though, would be to create a semi-protected swimming beach, open to the sea, with stabilizing groins on each side. These groins could potentially incorporate the existing sidewalls of the Natatorium, though armored with boulders. The existing seaward wall and the interior decks would be removed. The facade, of course, could remain as an architectural feature. As you know, I have designed over a dozen beach restoration projects of identical size, with stabilizing T-head groins, that have been constructed and have performed per predictions — with no requirement to-date for beach renourishment — over the past decade, throughout the Caribbean and the southeast U.S. The construction cost of these beach restoration projects, including sand fill and rock groins, ranged from $400 to $900 per front foot of beach [mainland price]. For this 400-ft long site, assuming the high-end limit, the construction cost would be $360,000. To this, add, say 40% contingency ($140K), 25% engineering allowance ($125K), and generous demolition allowance ($275K) — for a total cost of, say, $900,000. This excludes architectural restoration of the facade or upland (park) enhancements. Such a project would in no way “disrupt” or otherwise conflict with potential future beach improvements at Waikiki.

These observations are based upon my considerable personal experience with the preparation of engineering plans, construction supervision, monitoring, and the attendant calculations and analyses associated with beach restoration and bathing projects that are very much similar to the Natatorium project. Recently, in fact, much of my work has particularly focused upon “cleaning up” beach swimming-area projects in the Caribbean, designed by others, that have failed to perform per expectations, and which suffer from degraded water quality and objectionable siltation. In so many of those cases, the original project designs were based upon academic principles; that is, they did not adequately recognize the practical realities of coastal engineering field experience.

To the degree that you may find possible, I would urge you to bring the above-referenced concerns to the attention of those responsible for permitting and/or funding the proposed Natatorium project. In my opinion, I believe that there are far more economical and reliable schemes by which to restore the Natatorium area for the safe bathing enjoyment of the public, and so as to satisfy the directives of the City and County of Honolulu in regard to the Management Policy for Kapiolani Park.

Sincerely yours,

Kevin R. Bodge, Ph.D., P.E.
Senior Engineer/Vice-President