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.


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”



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.

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.”


  • 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

The “War To End All Wars” War Memorial war continues

Hawaii Public Radio
The Conversation: Wednesday, May 8th, 2013


Excerpt transcribed by the Kaimana Beach Coalition.

Chris Vandercook: This is The Conversation on HPR2, I’m Chris Vandercook.

Beth-Ann Kozlovich: I’m Beth-Ann Kozlovich.

BAK: Walk carefully in Waikiki and carry a big stick – you’ll need it to draw your line in the sand to keep or reclaim the Natatorium. The four-decades old fight still continues despite last week’s show of solidarity with certain community groups, Governor Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. Will the war memorial turn back to the beach? The mayor hopes so and he’s on the phone with us this morning. Good morning, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell: Hey good morning Beth-Ann, it’s good to talk to you this morning, just got back from selling newspapers for [our] PAC this morning and what a beautiful day out there and a lot of generosity shown by the community and now we’re on the radio with you talking about a very important issue in Waikiki, the Natatorium.

BAK: Just another busy day.

KC: Yes.

BAK: But let’s talk about this Natatorium issue, because it’s not one that we haven’t been talking about for hm, what, 45 years or so? That’s most of your life, since you were a little boy!

KC: You too, you probably weren’t even born yet!

BAK: How then, do we try to move this into some level of reconciliation or compromise or just conclusion?

KC: I think conclusion is the most important thing here. You know, this proposal that we’re talking about – tearing down the pool, moving the arches, preserving the iconic arches, and the memorial itself, is what came out of a task force that worked for almost a year back in 2009 and 10 and this task force is comprised of residents of Waikiki, veterans’ groups, and others, preservationists, and they took a vote, and the overwhelming majority of the people voted [that the] best solution for the Natatorium was to remove the pool, reestablish a beach, and celebrate the best thing about Waikiki, which is open beach-like area, and preserve the memorial, and the arches, near the stone plaque that honors those who gave their ultimate sacrifice in World War I. And that’s what we’re doing.

BAK: In some ways this is really tearing a heart between the realities of cost to either modernize it, restore it in some way, or to say, OK, we’re going to leave the best part of it which is the memorial itself, obviously, relocate it a little bit, and have respect for the monument. But getting caught in between that there are groups of people who say they don’t feel that they were really part of the process. [Honolulu Councilmember] Stanley Chang says well, let’s ask the constituents to weigh in, which is in fact sort of what they’ve kind of already done…

KC: Right.

BAK: …it seems as if there’s always this movement to see if we do it one more time, maybe we’ll find a way to make everybody happy. Is that really possible?

KC: I don’t think so. You know, one thing Beth-Ann, that saltwater swimming pools were the rage back in the 1920’s and 30’s and you could find them up and down the west coast of the United States – some on the east coast, too, and of course we had our Natatorium here in Waikiki. But you look around this country and most saltwater pools have gone by the wayside. The main reason is, the health standards set today are so extreme that [it’s] very expensive. So to rebuild the pool, and maintain it properly, is almost a 70 million dollar undertaking versus demolishing the pool and putting in a beach is about 18.4 million. And, you know, I think we’re doing something that the community wants to see done. At this point, we’ve shown great disrespect, as Governor Abercrombie said, by allowing the pool to decay over the past four decades. And to continue the debate and talk about what else we should do and let’s give it more time to raise money, we’ve had a lot of time for people to raise money to address doing something else with the pool. Not one dollar has been raised. And I believe that this is something that’s affordable, that the taxpayers of the City and County of Honolulu and the State of Hawaii are willing to pay, and think about this: once it’s done, when you stand on Waikiki beach down by the Sheraton or the Royal, and look towards Diamond Head, that iconic image that everyone around the world identifies with Hawaii, you no longer see a bunch of white bleachers blocking out the trees behind it. You’ll see a beautiful beach. With arches that you will actually get to see, with eagles on the top. And people will know, that’s the memorial to those in World War I who gave their ultimate sacrifice for their country.

BAK: All that sounds perfectly lovely, unless you are talking to people who are Friends of the Natatorium, or Kapiolani Park Preservation Society. Is there anything, is there any way of being able to bring them into the fold, if not make them happy, but somehow to do something that would create some sort of compromise for them, or is that really going to be simply out of the question because this has gone on for so long now that cost is just going to be the defining line?

KC: Well, I think it’s – first, the Kapiolani Trust, my understanding could be wrong, but I think one of their Board members was at the press conference and spoke very eloquently about the plan, and so I’m not certain that the Trust is opposed to restoring a beach in that area. They are concerned about building facilities in Trust land, but I’m not certain that they’re opposed. The Friends of the Natatorium are opposed, they have been opposed, the task force was comprised of community input, the very input that they want to have more of, and at the end of the day, I think just like anything in life, Beth-Ann, when decisions are made, not everyone will be in agreement, but as long as it was open, there was discussion and input, we need to move forward, otherwise what can happen here, is we can stall out a decision, spend another 30 or 40 years talking about whether everyone’s concerns have been addressed, and at some point the pool is going to crumble into the sea, it’s on the verge, it has collapsed in areas, and that’s the ultimate disrespect.

So I think this is a decision we can afford, it’s the decision that is supported by the task force as I mentioned, comprised by a lot of different stakeholders in the community, and I think while some people disagree, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to move forward finally after 40 years and restore a beach that everyone can use. I mean, beaches around this island are eroding, there’s very few beaches that people who live in the community go to in Waikiki, Kaimana beach is one of those. And this additional beach I think will be an expansion of Kaimana beach and will allow people to come down and enjoy themselves with their families. Coming from the ahupua‘a of Manoa, McCully, Makiki, Nuuanu, Palolo.

BAK: My. Mayor, do you think it’s possible that we’re going to actually see some conclusion to all this when you’ve got groups still threatening lawsuits that will perhaps protract this even further into the future to where the solution simply becomes, the pool does crumble into the sea? Although you may be saying “enough already,” they may be saying, and certainly are, “not enough.”

KC: Yeah. You know, as you know when I was in private practice for 30 years, clients, people can always file lawsuits. If we follow the procedure appropriately, and the most important thing is doing a thorough, complete, EIS which will address many of the concerns that are being raised by those opposed to the Natatorium being removed, and then we proceed expeditiously and openly through the fund – you know, getting funds from the State and County government, I believe we can move forward as Mayor and working with the Governor we’re going to work really hard to do exactly that.

BAK: Alright.

KC: To finally come up with a solution and make a difference in this part of Waikiki once and for all. To those who want to challenge, we’ll be open to what they have to say. But I think –

BAK: I just hope that we’re all alive so we can see that solution. I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor, we’ve gotta go…

KC: No problem.

BAK: …but thanks so much for your time this morning, I know you have to go too. Thanks.

KC: Yes. Thank you, Beth-Ann.

BAK: Aloha.

KC: Aloha.

BAK: Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell was born in Waipahu and raised in Hilo before leaving Hawaii to study Urban Planning and Economics at Tufts University. He came home to attend the UH Law School, was Managing Partner at Ashford and Wriston and since 2002 has been in public service. How to serve a public divided over the future of the Natatorium has been the issue no mayor has been able to answer though in 45 years.

Natatorium: Is The Fight Over? Glory Days Are Pau

Currents May 8, 2013
Ron Mizutani

MidWeek 5-8-2013 1

The locked wooden doors slowly opened and my heart began to race. We were stepping back in time, but instead of feeling excitement, I found myself overwhelmed with sadness.

A gaping hole greeted all of us. A huge chunk of the aged walkway had collapsed into the saltwater pool. Rusted rebar now laced the crumbling cement walls that once stood proud.

The Waikiki Natatorium was showing all of its 86 years.

It’s hard to believe that this once proud memorial, which was built in 1927 in honor of the thousands of Hawaii soldiers who served in World War I, was a symbol of strength and freedom. But after years of neglect, it was falling apart with little dignity.

As I carefully walked along the fragile grounds, my mind raced back to a sunny summer day in 1973. The natatorium was packed with visitors and local residents. My father, a veteran of the U.S. Army, shared the history of the natatorium and what it meant to veterans and the military. He also told my sister and me about the great swimmers who had trained there, including Buster Crabbe, Bill Smith, the Kahanamoku brothers and many more.

The level of disrepair at the natatorium is stunning | Ron Mizutani photos

The level of disrepair at the natatorium is stunning | Ron Mizutani photos

His story struck a nerve. You see, my grandmother nicknamed me Duke as an infant, and growing up I would often pretend to be the great Duke Kahanamoku. Never did I imagine that I would get the change to swim in the same pool that he did – it’s a day I will never forget.

So when Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced plans for the future of the natatorium, I found myself feeling mixed emotions.

“The pool will be demolished and a beach will be built that will match up with the Kaimana Beach,” says Caldwell. “The memorial arches are going to be moved more mauka.”

Caldwell says the public beach would feature two groins to control erosion, a bathhouse, outdoor showers and a new parking lot.

He adds that the cost of the project would be $18.4 million, much lower than the $69.4 million it would take to fully restore the memorial.

New plans call for moving the arches farther inland

New plans call for moving the arches farther inland

“The plan that is before us right now is the only practical way that we can honor the memorial’s purpose and provide the celebration of joy and life that the memorial was originally intended to provide for all of the people of Hawaii,” says Abercrombie.

An environmental impact statement (EIS) could be completed in six months, with construction starting in two years. Funding would come from the state Legislature and City Council. Many who have fought for this site are satisfied, including 98-year-old Cecilia Blackfield.

“I called everyone on that stone whose families are still alive, and they said return it to the beach,” Blackfield says.

But The Friends of the Natatorium, an advocate for restoration of the memorial, is disappointed. Members say multiple studies already have been conducted, and demolishing the pool and building a new beach would break state and federal laws. A message on its website is a clear indication that the fight is far from over. “The Natatorium represents our debt to our veterans. It represents our history. It represents our culture. It must be renewed and reopened.”

“This is about honoring them and not dishonoring them with a crumbling facility that no one can use, and is really is [sic] an eyesore for anyone who stands anywhere in Waikiki and looks Diamond Head,” says Caldwell. He understands the city cannot prevent further legal challenges and he hopes community concerns can be addressed during the EIS.

The governor went a step further.

“The ultimate disrespect is to continue this argument,” he says. “I hope everybody agrees that now is the time on behalf of what the memorial was about in the first place to say pau.”

Or is it?

War In Waikiki? The Fight Over The Natatorium Is Far From Over

Civil Beat
By Nick Grube | 5/7/2013

Nick Grube/Honolulu Civil Beat

Nick Grube/Honolulu Civil Beat

Angst abounds after last week’s joint announcement from Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell about demolishing the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial, highlighting deep rifts that don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

The divide between what the governor and mayor want to do with the historic property and those who detest their plan could also lead to significant delays and political infighting when the time comes to actually raze the swimming pool.

Friends of the Natatorium is a nonprofit that wants to see the World War I memorial restored, and has already threatened lawsuits and other regulatory delay tactics that its members hope will derail the $18.4 million beach expansion plan.

And the nonprofit — which is the main proponent of modernizing the Natatorium and its saltwater swimming pool — isn’t alone in its concern.

Honolulu City Councilman Stanley Chang is asking his constituents to weigh in on the proposal after learning about it last week.

The Kapiolani Park Preservation Society is also trying to distance itself from the project after one of its prominent members spoke out in support of it at the behest of Abercrombie and Caldwell.

Abercrombie and Caldwell’s proposal includes ripping apart much of the war memorial and turning it into a new beach area adjacent to Kaimana Beach. The archway would be preserved and moved further inland while the swimming pool and stadium seating would be removed.

Current designs also show a new parking lot could be built in the area next to Kaimana Beach that’s now used as a picnic area.

KPPS President Alethea Rebman said her group has not developed an official stance on the project, but, like others, was disturbed that no one reached out to KPPS about the proposal before the announcement.

“It’s very clear the impact on the park is secondary to the city, if it’s even on the city’s radar,” Rebman said Monday. “When you are constructing something new and taking out green grassy area and turning it into a parking lot we have a problem with that.”

Decades of fighting and venomous debate preceded last week’s announcement that the Natatorium will be dismantled. That long history is one reason Chang wants to survey those who live in his district, which includes Waikiki.

“We wanted to make sure that the community understood what the proposals were and we wanted to know what the feedback was in the community,” Chang said. “We think that for any type of proposal that affects as many stakeholders as this does, it’s very important that we hear from everyone.”

So far, he said the feedback has been mixed. Chang, who has announced a run for U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s seat in Congressional District 1, wouldn’t say what he would like to see happen to the Natatorium. He says he needs to do more research.

Rising opposition to the proposal means there might be some unanticipated wrangling ahead for Abercrombie and Caldwell as they try to push their idea through.

Both have said they’re committed to completing the project, and that they’re hoping they can get the money it will take from the City Council and the Legislature.

Cost is their biggest ally, they say.

Modernizing the Natatorium has been estimated at $69.4 million while their plan is only $18.4 million.

But if this message from the Friends of the Natatorium website is any indication, they’ll have a fight on their hands.

“There’s plenty left to fight for, and plenty of fight in us,” the message on the home page reads. “Whether it’s in the State Capitol, in Honolulu Hale, in the court of public opinion or in a court of law, remember: This is not over.”

Natatorium Announcement April 30, 2013

By the Kaimana Beach Coalition


Transcript of video taken by the Kaimana Beach Coalition

This video was taken on a cell phone and only partially captured the event; apologies for the quality.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell: …make it with grass through syncrete blocks, so it’s, the water can run though, and that’s going to be environmentally friendly. Now some people say, now why don’t we just do the full restoration? And this is where, as the Governor mentioned, there is debate – we welcome that debate, we have a task force that looked at various proposals. Here is part of the reason: to rehabilitate the crumbling Natatorium, 69 million dollars in 2015 dollars. 69 million. Versus what we’re proposing, 18.4 million. So a tremendous savings. Now if we were to spend the money for a full restoration, for anyone who swam in that pool, when you’re in the water, there’s about four feet of wall before you can see the ocean. So it’s like you’re swimming in a tank.

In its day it was a great thing. We had a lot of saltwater pools around the country. Today most if not all are gone. So we’re bringing back the beach that once existed along here. Where people can come, like the Governor’s wife, and swim laps, and many of the rest of us, some of us paddle out to go surfing, …from here, the point is, it’s about making it look different and better and open to everyone and particularly those who love to be on the ocean. So this is why we’re going forward with this project.

And it couldn’t have happened unless the Governor said, “let’s work together.” There was a period of time because this land is state land that was given by Executive Order over to the City and County of Honolulu. So we’re going to work together to move the project forward. I want to thank the Governor and his administration for his participation, thank you so much.


Governor Neil Abercrombie: And I would like to conclude my remarks by saying that if the groin and the beach idea works, please give the credit to the Mayor, and the Governor, and everybody here. Except if it doesn’t work, please blame Chip Fletcher and Robert Lucas of Geology, Geophysics, and Oceanography at the University of Hawai‘i.


Rick Bernstein: …it’s been a very emotional situation for many people and I’m just delighted that we’ve concluded that we can give this back to the ocean from where it came and still honor and bless all of the great soldiers that sacrificed themselves on our behalf. Thank you Mayor, thank you Governor, [I] appreciate it so much, and it’s nice to see unity between the City and the State.

I want to thank all the people that have helped us through the years, and it’s been a tough, tough going sometimes emotionally, through all the meetings, and it’s just always hard to take on an issue as large as this but sometimes, something as important as the ‘āina, the ocean, the beach, and our wonderful community that gathers here, it’s so important that we fight for it because if we lose this, we have nothing. So thank you so much and aloha.


KC: …we need to do it right, turn over every stone, answer every concern, mitigate any potential impacts, and then move forward with design and construction and funding of this project, so that in the coming years, generations to come, can come here, see the arches, see the pōhaku, and the memorial, and swim on a beautiful new beach on Waikiki. So with that, Makana, do you want to come up and play?

Makana: I’ll sing Hawai‘i Aloha, I thought the words were very appropriate for today. So sing along…


…Mau ke aloha, no Hawaiʻi

KC: …from veterans, guys for preserving the Natatorium to those who wanted to tear it down and build the beach, and everything in between, the recommendation was to do what we’re talking about here. I’m committed one hundred percent …the Governor said the greatest issue …sit around for another forty years, we’re gonna get a big Kona storm, southern swell, it’s gonna knock down a wall, small earthquake, the arch is gonna crumble. We need to do something. I’m committed. I have four years to push this thing forward. And I believe that working with the Governor the partnership we have…

NA: I don’t think you’re going to see these circumstances come about again so we have to take advantage of it. And obviously you can’t command the Legislature and you can’t command a city council, but what you can do, man, is have the respectful attention of people of goodwill.

Reporter: Architecturally, is it feasible to actually move the arch, or will you have to rebuild it?

KC: Some of it is going to have to be torn down, we’re going to keep as much as we can.

Waikiki War Memorial Complex Concept
April 30, 2013
(PDF format, 1.1MB)

Abercrombie Teams With Caldwell To Tear Down Waikiki Natatorium

Honolulu Civil Beat
By Nick Grube

Nick Grube/Honolulu CivilBeat

Nick Grube/Honolulu Civil Beat

Is a 45-year fight finally over? Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell say the walls of the Waikiki Natatorium will be torn down.

The two unveiled their plan Tuesday to rip apart the dilapidated World War I memorial and replace it with a new beach and park area.

It’s going to cost $18.4 million, they said, which is a fraction of the $69.4 million alternative to restore the memorial and modernize its amenities, namely the saltwater pool and bleachers that have been off-limits to the public since 1979 due to neglect and safety concerns.

Abercrombie and Caldwell plan to keep the war memorial arches, but they want to move them away from the water, and closer to Kalakaua Avenue. In essence, the governor and mayor are pursuing a complete overhaul of a popular stretch of waterfront real estate wedged between Waikiki and Diamond Head.

“I don’t think you’ll see these circumstances come about again so we have to take advantage of it,” Abercrombie said. “This Natatorium’s reconfiguration and rejuvenation time has come.”

But while Abercrombie and Caldwell’s joint press conference was marked by sunshine, smiles and a singalong of “Hawaii Aloha,” the announcement came as a surprise to those who have advocated for decades to restore the Natatorium.

They say they weren’t notified of the new plan before the announcement, and feel like they were shut out of any final decision making.

Legal Challenges Coming

“It just seems to me to be a dishonest thing to do and morally corrupt,” said Peter Apo, president of Friends of the Natatorium. “It’s such a slap in the face the way they’re going about doing this. They’re basically giving us the middle finger, which is really disappointing.”

Nick Grube/Honolulu Civil Beat Hawaii Gov. Neil Amercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell sing with local musician Makana.

Nick Grube/Honolulu Civil Beat
Hawaii Gov. Neil Amercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell sing with local musician Makana.

Friends of the Natatorium is a nonprofit that has spent the past 30 years pushing city and state officials to restore the the war memorial. They want it maintained to preserve the memory of the soldiers from Hawaii who fought and died in World War I.

Apo said that up until recently Friends of the Natatorium has always been involved in discussions about the memorial’s future. That all changed, he said, when Caldwell took office and Abercrombie apparently abandoned his plans for replacing the memorial with sand volleyball courts.

Meanwhile, Abercrombie and Caldwell were surrounded by supporters of their plan, namely members of Save Kaimana Beach and the Kapiolani Park Preservation Society. Save Kaimana Beach, in particular, has been pushing for the memorial to be demolished to make way for more sand that would abut their namesake and increase the size of the beach area.

Apo said the governor and mayor have essentially “thrown down the gauntlet” by ignoring the concerns of Friends of the Natatorium. The group is now considering legal action as well as other avenues to slow down the project.

“It’s not over until the fat lady sings,” Apo said. “There are going to be some legal challenges that we hope to mount.”

Swimming In A Tank

Neither Abercrombie or Caldwell feigned ignorance about possible lawsuits, and instead pointed to the feasibility of restoring the Waikiki Natatorium.

It’s more expensive, they said, and also doesn’t make sense from a recreational standpoint. Caldwell even likened swimming in the Natatorium to swimming in a tank because of the four-foot-tall walls that block views of the ocean.

Nick Grube/Honolulu CivilBeat A view of Kaimana Beach from inside the Waikiki Natatorium.

Nick Grube/Honolulu Civil Beat
A view of Kaimana Beach from inside the Waikiki Natatorium.

“In its day it was a great thing, we had a lot of salt water pools around the country,” Caldwell said. “Today, most if not all are gone, and so we’re bringing back a beach that once existed along here.”

Abercrombie was more stern, and said it’s time for the bickering to end.

“We believe that people of good faith will conclude that we’ve made the best possible decision that we can here, and now is the time to end it,” Abercrombie said. “The ultimate disrespect is to continue this argument. We’ve gone as far as humanly possible to respect everyone’s point of view. A conclusion had to be made and the mayor and I decided this is it and that’s where we’re going. I hope everyone agrees that now is the time on behalf of what the memorial was about in the first place to say, ‘Pau.’”

What’s Next

Abercrombie and Caldwell’s plan is light on details at this point, but it seems to be the furthest along of anything that’s come forward since the Natatorium was closed.

The project gained momentum when Mufi Hannemann was Honolulu’s mayor, but sputtered out under the Peter Carlisle administration.

In some ways, Caldwell is picking up where he left off when he was Hannemann’s managing director. Caldwell said Tuesday that he helped form the task force that ultimately chose the plan he and Abercrombie agreed upon for the memorial.

Now the city will continue working on a $1.2 million environmental impact statement that was halted last spring, a controversial decision that had many crying foul about wasted resources and a lack of transparency.

Caldwell said the money has already been set aside to complete the study, which is expected to take another six months. At that point there will be another opportunity for public review.

Beyond that details are fluid. Officials hope demolition and construction can begin in 2015, and they expect that work to take a couple of years.

The money isn’t secure either. Abercrombie will have to convince the Legislature to include funds in a future budget. Caldwell will have to do the same with the Honolulu City Council.

It’s also unknown who will pay for what, since both the city and state have responsibility for the Natatorium.

Here’s an artist rendering of Abercrombie and Caldwell’s proposal:

Waikiki War Memorial Complex Concept
April 30, 2013
(PDF format, 1.1MB)

Shuttered Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial slated for renovation as new beach area

By Maureen O’Connell

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

A plan is moving forward for renovation of the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial complex, the site of a now-dilapidated 86-year-old saltwater-fed swimming pool and monument to Hawaii residents who served in World War I.

A news release issued yesterday by the office of Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced that city and county officials are forging a partnership with the State of Hawaii through which the natatorium will undergo a $18.4 million makeover. According to the plan, the crumbling pool structure will be removed and a new public beach (Memorial Beach) will be created. The site’s famous archway will remain intact and moved inland. Built in 1927, the memorial honors the nearly 10,000 Hawaii residents who served in World War I (101 residents died in the war).

“The future of the natatorium has been discussed and debated for years, and it’s time to get the job done,” Caldwell stated in the news release. He continued, “The current structure is an eyesore and a safety hazard, and does not honor our veterans as intended. Preserving the arches and creating a new beach is a respectful and more economical way to resolve the situation.” Complete restoration of the natatorium site is estimated at more than $69 million, according to city officials.

Chuck Painter/Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)

Chuck Painter/Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)

During its early years, several world-class athletes swam in the natatorium’s pool, including legendary Hawaii surfer and Olympic swimming star Duke Kahanamoku. (Kahanamoku was the first swimmer to try out in the pool when it opened on Aug. 24, 1927.) Fellow Olympians Buster Crabbe and Johnny Weismuller also swam at the natatorium.

Due to disrepair, the pool was closed in 1979. In 1995, the National Trust for Historic Preservation included the natatorium on its list of the 11 most endangered historic sites in the U.S. The memorial’s facade was partially refurbished in 2000.

Renovation ideas have long been debated by groups such as the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which has favored tearing down the pool structure and replacing it with a beach area, and the Friends of the Natatorium, which supports full restoration of the site. A city-sponsored task force evaluated various options during a series of public meetings held in 2009. The group voted to recommend the type of renovation that city and state officials are now pursuing.

Before the proposed renovation can get under way, an environmental impact study will be conducted at the site. For more information about the plan, click here.

Governor and Mayor announce $18m plan for Natatorium

Hawaii News Now (KHNL)


WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Natatorium in Waikiki was built in 1927 as a tribute to those who served in World War I. Then it closed in 1979. There has been plenty of fighting about what to do with the site since then. In the meantime the facility has been disintegrating into the ocean. Now the Governor and Mayor are guaranteeing their new plan will get done.

“Yeah I guarantee it,” said Governor Neil Abercrombie.

“I’m committed 100 percent to moving forward,” said Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu Governor.

The plan is to demolish the salt water pool and grandstands and build a new public beach with a parking lot, bathrooms and showers. The War Memorial arch will be moved closer to a Roll of Honor plaque already in place to honor the veterans.

“Some of (the memorial) is going to have to be torn down. We’re going to keep as much as we can, the eagles, some of the arch work. But a lot of it is cement that is falling apart. Obviously that will have to be rebuilt but when it’s finished it will look as good as when it was first built,” said Mayor Caldwell. “This is about honoring them and not dishonoring them with a crumbling facility that no one can use and is really an eyesore for anyone who stands in Waikiki and looks Diamondhead.”

“We’ve been through everything. Everyone has been taken into account. In good faith we gave the best possible consideration to its preservation and to its restoration,” said Governor Abercrombie. “The plan that is before us right now is the only practical way we can honor the memorials purpose and provide the celebration of joy and life that the memorial was originally intended to provide.”

The Mayor and Governor say it will cost $18.4 million. That’s compared to the $69.4 million they say it would cost to keep the pool and rebuild the facility.

“Ultimately this plan will prevail. It makes sense. It’s economically responsible. It’s aesthetically pleasing and it’s feasible,” said Rick Bernstein, Kaimana Beach Coalition.

“I called everyone on that stone who has family still alive and they all said return it to the beach,” said Cecilia Blackfield, Kapiolani Park Preservation Society.

However it’s still unclear exactly where the money will come from or what permitting or environmental issues will surface.

It being the treasure that it is it deserves a better fate than is proposed,” said Peter Apo, Friends of the Natatorium.

The Friends of the Natatorium opposes the plan and wants the pool and memorial rebuilt. While the group admits it has limited resources it plans to fight the plan in court.

“To take it down in order to create another 100 feet of beach along a stretch of coastline that already has over one mile of beach is just insane public policy in my opinion. It’s insensitive and immoral,” said Apo. “I don’t think the die is cast yet. They have a long long way to go.”

The city needs to finish the environmental impact statement and have a public comment period. Construction isn’t expected to begin for two years. That is of course if a legal challenge doesn’t slow it down.

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