City considers new alternatives for crumbling Waikiki Natatorium

KITV, June 22, 2016
By Catherine Cruz

City considers new alternatives for crumbling Waikiki Natatorium

HONOLULU – The Waikiki War Memorial was recently designated as a national treasure even though it has been closed for almost 50 years. Its last major face-lift was 16 years ago.

Next week, the natatorium becomes the focus of a week-long series of meetings in an effort to decide what to do with it.

KITV-6-22-2016

“We have preservation groups and park and beach groups, veteran groups and Native Hawaiian groups that we will be sharing what we have gotten so far on the alternatives,” said Robert Kroning, director of the city’s Department of Design and Construction.

The city has been considering two alternatives: full restoration or demolition, which involves creating a new beach and rebuilding the historic arch inland.

But the city said two other alternatives will be considered next week.

The State Historic Preservation office recommended looking other options, including doing away with the pool but keeping the bleachers.

“One of alternatives has preserving the bleachers with a beach. That option requires groins to stick out further. Another keeps the bleachers with no beach, only the ocean,” said Kroning.

Next week’s meetings will involve natatorium stakeholders, but will later include the general public.

Kroning said keeping the salt water pool may prove to be a very expensive proposition because of new health department requirements.

So should it be restored no matter what the costs?

“If they can spend all that money to shorten rail, why not spend it on this?” said veteran Randy Howard.

“People see it and think it’s this old thing that’s falling apart, so just tear it down. But I think it would be interesting if they restored and provided information about it,” said Honolulu resident Caleb Woodfin.

“I think it would depend on how much it would cost, but I think it would be interesting if they had a museum or something,” added Emily Grumling who came down to the memorial for the first time.

No matter what gets decided, something’s got to happen soon. As every day passes, more cracks appear on the walls.

The city has been monitoring reports about the facility. There are cracks that have developed in the women’s showers as well as in other areas.

It’s not clear if they are cosmetic or structural, but the city said it may take action if health and safety become an issue.

Tearing down of the Natatorium stalled by city over state’s concerns

Honolulu Star-Advertiser, June 16, 2015
By Gordon Y.K. Pang

KRYSTLE MARCELLUS / KMARCELLUS@STARADVERTISER.COM Studying an option somewhere between full restoration of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium and preserving only its arches would delay action on the project by more than a year.

KRYSTLE MARCELLUS / KMARCELLUS@STARADVERTISER.COM
Studying an option somewhere between full restoration of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium and preserving only its arches would delay action on the project by more than a year.

KRYSTLE MARCELLUS / KMARCELLUS@STARADVERTISER.COM Built in 1927 to honor those killed in World War I, the Wai­kiki War Memorial Natatorium was a popular pool for many years but fell into disrepair and was closed for safety reasons in 1979.

KRYSTLE MARCELLUS / KMARCELLUS@STARADVERTISER.COM
Built in 1927 to honor those killed in World War I, the Wai­kiki War Memorial Natatorium was a popular pool for many years but fell into disrepair and was closed for safety reasons in 1979.

Historic Preservation officials want a third “alternative” considered before the razing

The city’s plan to tear down the Wai­kiki War Memorial Natatorium is being pushed back more than a year.

Robert Kroning, the city’s director of design and construction, said officials with the State Historic Preservation Division have asked that the city look into inserting into its draft environmental assessment a third possible “alternative” for the future of the long-contested plan.

Studying such an alternative — something in between full restoration and saving only the arches — would take about 16-18 months, pushing back completion of a draft environmental assessment that the city had hoped would have been completed by April, Kroning told the Hono­lulu Star-Advertiser on Friday. “An 18-month delay would probably put us toward the end of 2016,” he said.

A final EIS would probably be completed about six months after that, he said.

Kroning emphasized, however, that the Caldwell administration is not wavering from its previously stated preferred position that calls for most of the nearly century-old structure to be torn down and the area turned into a beach. The Beaux Arts-style arches would be saved and moved back from the shoreline under the plan, which is estimate to cost about $18.4 million.

The draft assessment lists, as the only alternative to demolition, full restoration of the pool, bleachers and arches, as has been sought by preservationists.

SHPD officials, however, recently told the city that they “feel pretty strongly that we should be including at least one more alternative that takes into consideration … saving a little bit more of the memorial than what we have in our preferred alternative,” Kroning said.

Debate over what to do about the dilapidated facility has dragged on for nearly four decades. Built in 1927 as a memorial for those who died in World War I, it was a popular pool for many years. But after years of neglect and disrepair, it was shut down for safety reasons in 1979.

The decision to tear down the Natatorium was reached by the city following the recommendation made in 2009 by a task force comprised of various stakeholders.

In May 2013, Caldwell and then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced that the city and state would work cooperatively to raze the pool and bleachers, and leave the area as open space.

“The city is moving forward with the preferred alternative,” Kro­ning said.

In a statement, the state Architecture Branch did not say outright that it asked for a third alternative. However, the branch said, “We did attend a site visit on May 29, 2015, to assess the condition of the Natatorium and discuss options that may be identified within the EA including restoration, adaptive reuse, and redevelopment of the site.”

Representatives for both the Friends of the Natatorium, which supports full restoration, and the Kai­mana Beach Coalition, which wants a beach there, voiced cautious optimism that the latest developments are positive steps in their respective directions.

Mo Radke, president of the Friends, said the delay “gives me hope that the City and County of Hono­lulu (is) looking at all the alternatives that they should be looking at and not just narrowing it down to just a couple of options.”

He added, ”If they’re looking to do the right thing historically, socially, civically, financially, well, then looking at all the different options is the smart thing to do.”

Rick Bernstein, Kai­mana Beach Coalition leader, said he’s being philosophical about the delay. He said he’s been told that including the third alternative is only a precautionary move that would put the city in a better legal position should a tear-down be challenged.

Bernstein said he expects the city will continue on a course toward tearing down the pool and bleachers. To restore it, he said, would require bringing in commercial entities to support such a costly endeavor.

Let’s Face It: Natatorium Arch Is Ugly

MidWeek: Politics: Just Thoughts, September 24, 2014
By Bob Jones

midweek-9-24-2014-1

Hawaii’s first World War I casualty is honored at Oahu Cemetery. BOB JONES PHOTO

Hawaii’s first World War I casualty is honored at Oahu Cemetery. BOB JONES PHOTO

I just don’t understand the reasoning by those who say we cannot demolish Waikiki Natatorium because it was erected as a memorial to World War I soldiers from here.

I mean, we’re not suggesting tearing down the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or unearthing the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

This is … well, let’s approach it honestly:

It’s a rather unattractive cement arch. Nobody’s buried there. Nobody even knows to whom, individually, it’s dedicated.

There’s a stone and plaque mauka of it that hardly any visitors bother reading. It’s a weathered cement arch and nothing more.

If Frank Fasi were still mayor, you’d probably wake up one morning and find the natatorium no longer there, and in its place a wonderful beach and family picnic area.

Of course, my critics will say, “That was the problem with Frank Fasi. He didn’t follow the democratic process. He just did things.”

I had my problems with Fasi “just doing things,” and I can’t recommend that method of governance. We used to call it fascism.

But, in this case, we’ve had studies; we’ve taken the issue out to communities. I’d say it’s past time for the governor and the mayor to quit playing Mr. Nice Guy, make a decision and go with it.

The sensible decision is to demolish the pool. That’s for sure.

The other decision should be to gauge just how strong public opinion is against either taking down or moving that so-called “historic arch.” I sense that there’s about a 5 percent gang that says no. Most people who don’t live near it would vote “who cares?” It does not affect their lives one way or the other.

But, realistically, look at that facade. I cannot fathom why any organization favoring historic sites considers that one of them. It is grotesque architecture not even admired for the time in which it was built. It looks like something done with leftover cement from some nearby high-rise project. Check out those “bottles” on top made to look like ancient Greek amphoras. Cheesy.

A compromise would be to commission some appropriate — and small — sculpture adjacent to the memorial stone and plaque honoring our few WWI dead.

We did not suffer heavily in that war. It was far away and involved very few soldiers from Hawaii. It did not interrupt our social or economic life for a single day. It’s not intertwined with our history.

So let’s quit mythologizing Waikiki Natatorium and get on with restoring that area as a much-needed beach access area for today’s families.

I’m thinking that even Pvt. John Rupert Rowe, the first from Hawaii killed in combat in WWI, might agree with that because we already honor him at Oahu Cemetery, not at the natatorium.

banyantreehouse@gmail.com

Redevelopment of Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial gains traction

Pacific Business News
July 23, 2014
Duane Shimogawa

The City and County of Honolulu submitted an environmental report to the state for the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial redevelopment project. | PBN File

The City and County of Honolulu submitted an environmental report to the state for the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial redevelopment project. | PBN File

The project to redevelop the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial, which includes creating a new beach fronted by a replica World War I memorial arch that could cost more than $18 million, is gaining some traction.

The City and County of Honolulu recently submitted a 141-page final environmental assessment and environmental impact statement preparation notice done by Aiea-based WCP Inc., to the state.

This notice, which triggers a 30-day public comment period, is to let the public know that a full environmental impact statement will be done because of the anticipated impacts it could have on the environment, as well as gather input on the project. A final EIS on the project is expected to be completed in summer 2016.

Last year, Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced a plan to spend $18.4 million to demolish the pool, which has been closed for years, move the historic arch identifying it as a war memorial, and create a new public beach on the site.
Officials at the time said it would cost $69.4 million to restore the pool decks, which are crumbling into the ocean. An updated cost of the project is expected to be disclosed in the EIS.

The plan, which includes aligning the replica arch with the existing Roll of Honor plaque and hau tree arbor, also involves building a new bathhouse, the removal of an internal roadway and construction of a consolidated parking lot.

The purpose of the project is to improve the Waikiki War Memorial Complex area of Kapiolani Regional Park by renewing the memorial to World War I veterans and to fully reopen that portion of the park to the public, as well as to bring new life to the deteriorating structure.

The Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial was recently named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which supports the search for alternatives to the city and state plan to redevelop the 6.7-acre site bounded by the Waikiki Aquarium, Kalakaua Avenue, the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel and the ocean.

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.

mufi@mufihannemann.com

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 savekaimanabeach.org, 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.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll: 90% support pool removal

Honolulu Star-Advertiser, May 22, 2014

What should be done with the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, now named a “national treasure”? 

  • B. Raze pool, create beach and move arches (90%, 3,811 Votes)
  • A. Full restoration, including pool (10%, 484 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,252

Don’t abandon existing plan for Natatorium

Honolulu Star-Advertiser, May 24, 2014

Editorial: Our View

After decades of disagreements over what to do about the crumbling and long-closed Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, the city and state governments joined forces last year on an affordable and respectful plan that would preserve the memorial’s distinctive arches and demolish the dangerously corroded swimming pool and stadium and replace those elements with a public memorial beach.

That plan, which is now under environmental review, is consistent with the 2009 recommendations of the Waikiki Natatorium Task Force, a city advisory group comprising a diverse group of stakeholders. The group heard impassioned pleas from community members who want to fully restore the Natatorium at all cost, and others who were equally insistent that the once-grand structure had degraded into an inaccessible eyesore, so should be torn down before it collapses into the ocean off Kaimana Beach.

The task force heard from all quarters and completed laborious reading and research before voting 9-3 on what should be considered a meaningful compromise that serves current and future Hawaii taxpayers as well as the memories of the World War I veterans to which the landmark is dedicated.

The task force’s recommendation was to restore the Beaux Arts arches and move them slightly inland, tear out the decaying saltwater pool and surrounding grandstand seating, and devote the newly available land to expanding the adjacent public beach.

This plan is the right one and the city and state should continue to pursue it, despite the intervention this week of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The national preservation group added the 87-year-old Natatorium to its list of “national treasures,” re-energizing opposition to demolishing any part of the monument and raising hopes that major donors might emerge to help fund a restoration.

But this action should not deter the state and city from moving ahead. Similar help has been sought in the past, and the Natatorium is already recognized as an architectural landmark on the National Register of Historic Places and has a place on Hawaii’s Register of Historic Places.

The Natatorium has been closed since 1979, off limits to swimmers as too risky. Those who claim that partial demolition would disrespect the memories of Hawaii’s long-departed World War I veterans ignore the fact that to allow the Natatorium to persist in its present squalid state is a much greater insult. Nor is it fair to ask Hawaii taxpayers to pay the estimated $70 million it would cost to fully restore the site — which does not include what would be very costly upkeep that likely would require commercializing the facility.

By contrast, tearing out the pool and bleachers and developing a free, public memorial beach are estimated to cost $18.4 million.

The Waikiki Natatorium’s place in Hawaii’s historical record is secure, but it must adapt to the current landscape. It is inconceivable that such a saltwater stadium would be built in Waikiki today, with all we know about the science of beach erosion and climate change. Fully restoring the Natatorium would be akin to building it anew, which is neither a sound financial nor environmental decision.

The community must move forward with the fair compromise embraced by the city and state.

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.

Welcome!

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.

National treasure

Honolulu Star-Advertiser
By Allison Schaefers

A long-suffering landmark receives added recognition, renewing debate over what to do with the historic site

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, May 21, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 08:29 a.m. HST, May 21, 2014

The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, photographed Monday, was closed in 1979 due to disrepair.

The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, photographed Monday, was closed in 1979 due to disrepair.

Fred Wong: The 88-year-old compares the plan to raze the Natatorium to “digging up a grave”

Fred Wong: The 88-year-old compares the plan to raze the Natatorium to “digging up a grave”

CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

A nearly three-decade battle to preserve the neglected Wai­kiki War Memorial Natatorium is getting added ammunition from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which is adding the landmark to its list of “national treasures” — a move that harnesses the support of thousands of preservationists from coast to coast.

Built in 1927, the Natatorium’s memorial arches, 100-meter saltwater pool and stadium bleachers were meant to honor Hawaii’s 10,000 World War I veterans. It has been recognized as an architectural landmark on the National Register of Historic Places and for a few generations was the place where Hawaii residents learned to swim and great watermen like Olympic medalist Duke Kaha­na­moku and his contemporaries trained. However, those glory days ended in 1979 when the Natatorium was closed due to disrepair.

The trust’s new campaign aims to pre­sent alternatives to an $18.4 million plan announced in May 2013 by Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Mayor Kirk Caldwell to demolish the pool and bleachers and develop a public memorial beach at the site, said David J. Brown, the National Trust’s executive vice president, who plans to announce the designation in Hono­lulu on Wednesday.

“The Natatorium is an important war memorial from a period that Hawaii has lost a lot of its history. … It really has the opportunity to be the place that continues to honor the service of WWI veterans,” he said. “We think a restored Natatorium could once again become a place of recreation, recuperation and reflection.”

Caldwell and Abercrombie have said their plan would be better for the community than spending the estimated $69.4 million it would take to fully restore the memorial.

AT A GLANCE
Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium

  • Built in 1927 to honor Hawaii men and women who served in World War I
  • Consists of a 100-meter saltwater pool, stadium bleachers and Beaux Arts arches
  • After decades of debate, Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Mayor Kirk Caldwell joined forces last year to announce plans to demolish the crumbling pool and stadium, replace them with a public beach and move the arches inland.

The Natatorium is the latest on a list of about 45 historically significant places that the trust has made a commitment to preserving in the three years since it began its National Treasures Campaign, which secured $2 million from program partner American Express. “We started the program about three years ago as a way to go deeper and provide more time and staff resources and sometimes financial resources to endangered places,” Brown said.

Success stories for trust treasures include Colo­rado’s Chimney Rock Archaeological Area and Paterson, N.J.’s Hinchcliffe Stadium, one of the few remaining Negro League ballparks, he said. In 2012 President Barack Obama established Chimney Rock as a national monument, and the trust’s efforts at Hinchcliffe recently attracted about 700 volunteers who spent a day shoring up the stadium.

By channeling preservation experts and philanthropists nationwide, Brown said, the trust’s treasures have an improved chance of securing government money, grants and private funding. “We almost always can come in and provide a small-size grant to provide planning help and then work on major fundraising to help local groups expand their community of potential donors,” Brown said.

The nonprofit preservationist group Friends of the Natatorium began advocating for the historic structure’s restoration in 1986 and had seemed to gain traction in 1995 when the trust listed the structure as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The designation, which does not have as much teeth as the latest one, led to a partial $4 million restoration by then-Mayor Jeremy Harris.

However, more recently the trust’s efforts had become something of an uphill battle as more key decision-makers in Hawaii came to see the crumbling monument as a safety hazard, whose rust-covered walls blighted Wai­kiki’s shoreline.

Eighty-eight-year-old Fred Wong said he’s optimistic that the new designation will be equally benefical to the Natatorium, which is where he learned to swim as an 8-year-old in 1934 and where he watched exhibitions of his classmate Bill Smith, who later went on to win two Olympic medals.

“We made special memories there,” Wong said, adding that his understanding of the Natatorium’s significance deepened after he spent seven years in the military.

Wong, who has shared his thoughts about the Natatorium in an oral-history video proj­ect that will soon be posted on YouTube, said any plan to dismantle the memorial is disrespectful to the veterans whom the Hawaii Territorial leaders sought to honor.

“They wanted to do something really big,” he said. “Now we say that was 100 years ago, we can forget about them. … It’s very much like digging up a grave.”

But Rick Bernstein, who heads the Kai­mana Beach Coalition, cautions against getting swept up in the “good old days.” Bernstein estimates that the coalition has been supporting a new beach as a replacement for the “failed Natatorium structure” for the past 25 years.

“We have supported this change because the only alternative in redevelopment of the Natatorium would be a complete demolition of the structure. City engineers estimate that rebuilding it from the ground up would cost in excess of $70 million, and it would necessitate commercialization of the structure to pay for the phenomenal amount of maintenance required to operate a saltwater pool in the ocean if they could even get a permit,” Bernstein said. “The other alternative would be to let the structure continue to cave into the ocean, which would be a risk to life and to the environment.”

He said the coalition wants to see the Abercrombie and Caldwell plan, based on the recommendation of the city-sponsored 2009 Wai­kiki Natatorium Task Force, move forward. “Making it a memorial beach rather than a memorial swimming pool is the right thing to do for the people and for the ocean,” he said.

In May 2013, Caldwell and Abercrombie proposed razing the swimming pool and bleachers to create open beach space, and moving the arches inland.

City Director of Design and Construction Chris Taka­shige said Tuesday that Caldwell will wait for the results of the plan’s draft environmental statement, which is slated to be completed before the end of 2015, to determine whether the beach expansion plan is the appropriate path forward.

In a statement Tuesday, Abercrombie said, “We are working and coordinating with the mayor, his administration and the City Council to resolve all outstanding issues with the Natatorium as we wait for the results of the environmental impact statement.”

NATATORIUM TIMELINE

  • 1896: Sanford B. Dole deeds land where the Natatorium now sits to William G. Irwin.
  • 1919: Hawaii’s territorial government buys land for $200,000 from the W.G. Irwin Estate for a memorial park to honor isle residents who served in World War I.
  • 1921: Territorial Legislature authorizes Territorial War Memorial Commission and $250,000 in bonds to build the memorial.
  • 1922: Commission chooses design submitted by Lewis Hobart of San Francisco.
  • 1927: Opening ceremonies include Duke Kahanamoku making the inaugural swim.
  • 1949: Natatorium renovated by territorial government for $82,000.
  • 1972: Army Corps of Engineers releases draft environmental statement recommending demolition of Natatorium.
  • 1973: Natatorium placed on Hawaii Register of Historic Places. State Supreme Court rules that demolition of the Natatorium would be an “illegal act.”
  • 1989: City Council mandates that the Department of Parks and Recreation operate the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium.
  • 1998: Funding of $11.5 million provided by the city for restoration of the Natatorium.
  • 1999: The Kaimana Beach Coalition sues the city and the state Department of Health to have the Natatorium classified a “public swimming pool,” requiring a permit from the Health Department. Judge Gail Nakatani grants the plaintiffs’ request, and a restraining order is issued to the city to halt all restoration until a permit is issued. Circuit Judge Gary Won Bae Chang lifts the restraining order and says the city has received all necessary permits for the land portions of the restoration. Work on the pool section remains halted.
  • 2000: The restoration of Phase I is completed.
  • 2002: Final Health Department rules for obtaining permits for saltwater pools go into effect.
  • 2004: City proceeds with $6 million emergency repair of the pool walls. Engineering study concludes that sea walls and decking of the Natatorium are at risk of collapse but that the bleacher structure is in good condition.
  • 2005: Mayor Mufi Hannemann stops all work on the Natatorium.
  • 2006: City orders a study of alternatives for the site.
  • 2009: Waikiki Natatorium Task Force recommends demolition of the Natatorium and construction of a beach.
  • 2013: Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Mayor Kirk Caldwell announce partnership to develop a public memorial beach at the Natatorium, including tearing down the pool, relocating the archway and creating a new beach in place of the pool and stadium.

Sources: National Trust for Historic Preservation, Star-Advertiser