Mayor, Gov. reach deal on Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial


Pool to be demolished; arch to be moved; new beach area to be built


HONOLULU — Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Governor Neil Abercrombie announced plans Tuesday for the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial site.

They said an Environmental Impact Statement will be resumed. There are new plans to demolish the pool, move the historic arch and build a new beach area.

Caldwell and Abercrombie cited cost as a reason for this new plan. It will take $18 million to do the current plan versus nearly $70 million to renovate the historic site.

Officials say they will figure out where the money will be coming from at a later time.

Click here to vote in our online poll on the Natatorium.

KITV4 News reported in January that Mayor Caldwell intended to resume the Environmental Impact Statement that was quietly suspended under Mayor Peter Carlisle’s administration. The city had been talking with the governor about the fate of the controversial historic structure.

Abercrombie was exploring the possibility of turning the salt water pool into a beach volleyball venue.

Click here to see a concept design of what the area will look like after the project is done.

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

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State, city to partner on Natatorium development

Honolulu Star-Advertiser
By Gordon Pang


Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell today announced a partnership to develop a public memorial beach at the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium.

Under the plan, the state will hand over development of the site back to the city, which intends to tear down the pool, move in the archway and create a new beach where the crumbling pool and stadium now stand.

The project is estimated to cost $18.4 million in 2015 dollars, city spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said. Full restoration of the facility would cost $69.4 million, he said.

“The city is open to state funding but is prepared to fund it if necessary,” Broder Van Dyke. He noted that a $2 million earmark appropriation that Abercrombie put into the state budget this session was shot down by the Legislature.

An environmental impact study was paid for and underway, but halted by the Carlisle administration. That process will now restart, Broder Van Dyke said.

The agreement a major turning point in the decades-long, tug-of-war fight between those who want to keep the natatorium, built in 1927 as a monument to World War I veterans, and those who believe the dilapidated structure should be torn and replaced with something more useful.

The pool portion of the facility was closed in 1979 due to disrepair.

Abercrombie, in December, indicated that the pool itself will likely be demolished. “Right now it looks as if removal of the pool itself is a likely outcome,” the governor said then.

Further, he said of the facility’s dilapidated condition: “the natatorium simply can’t go on the way it is. It’s almost immoral.”

According to sources, officials from the state and city have been working together the last several months on a plan to address the future the facility.

Early last year, Abercrombie had indicated a preference for turning the grounds into a beach volleyball facility. He acknowledged in December, however, such a plan not be feasible.

Both the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which favors tearing down the structure, and the Friends of the Natatorium, which supports full restoration, objected to the beach volleyball facility idea.

Waikiki Natatorium pool to be demolished, replaced by public beach

By Ron Mizutani


It’s been the subject of controversy for more than 45 years: What to do with the aging Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial? On Tuesday, the latest plan was unveiled.

The Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial was built in 1927 in honor of the thousands of Hawaii soldiers who served in World War I. That was 86-years ago and the magnificent pool where Duke Kahanamoku once trained is showing its age.

Concrete seawalls are deteriorating and walkways have given way to father time and neglect.

“This is about honoring them and not dishonoring them with a crumbling facility that no one can use and is really is an eyesore for anyone who stands anywhere in Waikiki and looks Diamond Head,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.

For decades, some groups fought for restoration while others suggested demolition. The debate appears to have been settled.

“The pool will be demolished. A beach will be built that will match up with the Kaimana Beach,” Mayor Caldwell said. “And the memorial arches are going to be moved more mauka.”

The public beach will feature two groins to control erosion, a bathhouse, outdoor showers, and a new parking lot.

The cost to rehabilitate the crumbling Natatorium would be an estimated $69.4 million. The alternative is much more feasible at $18.4 million.

“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,” Gov. Neil Abercrombie said.

An Environmental Inventory Survey is expected to be completed in six months and construction could start in two years.

Funding will come from the legislature and City Council.

Those who have fought for this site are satisfied, including 98-year-old Cecilia Blackfield.

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

“I am just delighted that we concluded, that we can give this back to the ocean from where it came and still honor and bless all of the brave soldiers that sacrificed themselves on our behalf,” Kaimana Beach Coalition spokesperson Rick Bernstein said.

“We’re going to show respect and we’re going to show good sense as well, put those two things together that’s what this plan is all about,” Mayor Caldwell said.

From Our Files: Architecture

Honolulu Magazine
A. Kam Napier

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

Our History

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

Honolulu Magazine Feb 2013

November 1920

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

Plans for Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium back on again

KITV4 News


The on-again, off-again plans to do something with the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium seem to be back on again. And the end result could mean the end of the eyesore. KITV4’s Catherine Cruz has new developments for the aging memorial some groups hope can be saved.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell has been in office for less than a month.

But already he’s diving into an issue that’s dogged the previous mayor.

Caldwell says after meeting with the governor twice, he intends to resume the Natatorium’s environmental impact statement.

The EIS had been quietly suspended by Mayor Peter Carlisle last year while the governor explored taking back the structure, which is state-owned.

“The pool is not usable as you know. For a while, the governor talked about a beach volleyball facility, but discovering that we’d have to rebuild the entire platform there, it’s very expensive. So hopefully the option’s gonna be that we remove the pool, put [in] groins, build a beach” said Mayor Caldwell.

The EIS was to study the option of demolishing the memorial. It was close to completion when Carlisle put the brakes on it, and critics say internal emails show the city tried to deceive the public about what was happening.

The watchdog group that uncovered attempts to keep the development under wraps likes the way things are headed.

“It’s very good news – it shows that when people actually get around to studying the issue, and the city did before and now the state has, and they come to the same conclusion,” said Jim Bickerton of the Kaimana Beach Coalition.

The coaltion’s goal is to keep this last area of the Waikiki shoreline free, open and public.

“The governor is concerned about the parking lot. He would like to restore it to a lawn and would I,” said Caldwell.

The demolition plan calls for rebuilding a new arch farther inland.

“The beach solution with the preservation of the arches has been found by the original 2009 commission to be the low-cost solution. So yes, it costs money but less than all the other options,” said Bickerton.

The governor has proposed $2 million in the state budget to go toward the Natatorium project although it may take much, much more than that. In Waikiki, Catherine Cruz, KITV4 News.

Our calls to the Friends of the Natatorium, which had fought to restore the monument, were not returned.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll: 53% support pool removal

Honolulu Star-Advertiser

What should be done with the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium?

  • B. Remove pool and create beach (53%, 882 Votes)
  • A. Full restoration, with pool (27%, 446 Votes)
  • C. Turn pool into volleyball facility (20%, 336 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,662

Start Date: December 22, 2012 @ 12:00 am
End Date: December 22, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

Plans for natatorium favor creation of a beach

Honolulu Star-Advertiser
By Gordon Y.K. Pang / B.J. Reyes

The facade and arches of the Natatorium mask the crumbling saltwater pool behind it. The transfer of the property to full state control, along with a proposal to restore the bleachers and build a beach volleyball court over the pool structure, has renewed debate over the Natatorium’s future.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie is including $2 million in his construction budget for improvements to the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, but indicated Thursday he may be rethinking the idea of refurbishing it as a beach volleyball venue.

“What the $2 million represents … is a marker,” Abercrombie said at a news conference on the state budget.

“We know we’re going to have to spend some money, regardless of what happens,” he said. “Right now it looks as if removal of the pool itself is a likely outcome. So we’ll try to come to a determination as quickly as we can and then work with the city and the mayor to come to a mutual agreement on what to do, not just about the pool and everything, but the whole area, and then do it.”

Abercrombie said he intends to speak to Mayor-elect Kirk Caldwell, who takes office Jan. 2, as well as the City Council to come up with a game plan to “rehabilitate the area.”

Caldwell said in a statement, “I look forward to working with Gov. Abercrombie and the City Council to address the deteriorating conditions of the Natatorium, yet respecting those who served during World War I.”

The natatorium was built as a monument to World War I veterans. It opened in 1927 but has been closed since 1979.

“The natatorium simply can’t go on the way it is,” Abercrombie said, referring to its dilapidated condition. “It’s almost immoral.”

In recent months the governor had indicated a preference for turning the grounds into a beach volleyball facility. On Thursday he reiterated that preference but said such a plan may not be possible.

“The engineering alone, because of the soil, in the water right there, it may prove impossible,” he said.

Instead, he said, the ultimate solution “will probably end up with an attempt to create a beach, if the ocean cooperates.”

As for reconstructing the pool, “it probably would be so prohibitive as to be impossible to achieve,” he said, adding that it will be removed “in all likelihood.”

Any money appropriated would go toward “a down payment on whatever needs to be done in order to resolve the situation once and for all.”

Abercrombie’s comments were received happily by Jim Bickerton, an attorney for the Kai­mana Beach Coalition, which has fought for creation of a public beach instead of a full restoration of the pool.

“The beach is the low-cost solution for keeping the space public, free and open, which is what a memorial should be,” Bickerton said, noting that a study completed by a city task force in 2009 came to the same conclusion.

Bickerton said creating a beach is estimated to cost $10 million to $15 million, while constructing a new pool would cost more than $60 million. The pool now is “too far gone,” he said.

Donna Ching, vice president of the Friends of the Natatorium group that has backed full restoration, also called the inclusion of some money in the state construction budget for the Natatorium good news.

“The governor is moving us toward a solution that is decades overdue,” Ching said in a statement. “We agree completely that continuing to do nothing is unacceptable.”

Ching said her group is confident that after a thorough study, Abercrombie will conclude that restoration is the right thing “from the legal, environmental, cultural, historic and moral perspectives.”

Community leaders discuss vision for Waikiki Natatorium

KITV4 News


Future of aging, crumbling structure still in limbo

HONOLULU — It’s a question state and local leaders have been kicking around for years: What to do with the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium? Thursday night, the community weighed in on plans for the crumbling war memorial that’s been closed for more than 30 years.

“This was a chance to get all the community groups in one room and talk vision,” said Scott Wilson from the American Institute of Architects.

The AIA hosted the forum to bring together six groups and the public to share their views on what to do with the Natatorium. Ben Acohido a representative from the Veterans of Foreign Wars says he doesn’t want the memorial to disappear and believes ” it teaches the younger generations the sacrifices made their warriors and we should keep the facade.”

One of the more vocal groups, the Friends of the Natatorium, agreed with the VFW. It wants the wants to preserve the 80-year-old pool and memorial.

However, many debated concerns about the cost.

“Probably won’t be $100 million dollars, probably won’t be $60 million. We could sit around and throw around numbers until someone does a study to show us how much it is going to be, can we actually have that discussion?” asked Mo Radke from Friends of the Natatorium.

However, the Kaimana Beach Coalition believes it would be less expensive to just turn the dilapidated pool into a public beach park.

“A beach park is a guaranteed thing to stay open and free to the public and that’s why we support that.” said James Bickerton from the coalition.

Representatives from the Surfrider Foundation agree with Kaimana’s views about the beach park.

“To try to build something along the beach and recreate something that was having problems in the beginning would be very foolish,” said Stuart Coleman from the Surfrider Foundation.

Despite the differing views: one thing all the groups agreed upon was not to commercialize the historic site. That’s something many worry could happen if Governor Abercrombie’s plans are put in place. The governor has said he wants to turn the aging structure into a sand volleyball venue.

Many residents also attended last night’s forum. Daisy Murai, who remembers swimming at the Natatorium said the closed off structure is an emotional piece of Hawaii’s history. She hopes, no matter what happens to Natatorium, it is a transparent process with the community’s best interests at heart.

“A lot of the public input should be put in because it’s really for the public,” said Murai. “I know the Natatorium is really important for Hawaii.”

The AIA says city and state officials were invited to the meeting but declined. The architecture group hopes to present these ideas to the state in hopes of moving forward with the Natatorium’s future.

New wrinkle in natatorium volleyball plans

KITV4 News


Land ownership of lands mauka of arch may limit state options

HONOLULU — Beach volleyball may be the fastest growing sport in the world and the city and state officials are weighing its place in Waikiki.

The University of Hawaii made history this spring, adding women’s beach volleyball team to its program.

Around the same time Hawaii’s governor was looking at how to mine the potential of the sport to save an iconic Waikiki structure– fill in the natatorium pool for a sand volleyball stadium.

“I think sand volley ball is a great idea if we can do it so let’s see if we can do it,” said Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

But state land director William Aila told KITV that so far research has found the state owns the pool and land under the memorial arch– but not the parking lot.

“The land with the parking lot mauka of the facade face belongs to the Kapiolani Park trust. That, of course, is going to play into our ultimate solution because it limits what we potentially can do,” said Aila.

City council members sit as trustees of the trust, which means the state might have to convince them the idea of transforming the natatorium into sports venue is a good one.

Aila plans to meet with the city one more time before he lays out what’s possible on the governor’s plate.

“We are finishing our due diligence so we can present a series of solutions he can decide to take,” said Aila.

In the meantime, if volleyball isn’t in the natatorium’s future, could a nearby city facility have volleyball in its future?

Last year, when UH was looking for a place for its games and practice courts, the city offered an under utilized venue, the home of the old Kodak Hula show.

“We saw this as an opportunity for us to create a venue for volleyball to occur,” said deputy director of Enterprise Services Randy Leong.

The area is part of the Waikiki shell facility.

The underutilized 2200 seat venue sits empty with only about a half a dozen bookings or more a year.

“If there are interested parties out there to partner with the city to fund volley ball on the Kodak hula show then, great we will listen to them,” Leong said.

The university has already begun construction the new Ching Athletics Center at the Manoa campus which includes an 800 seat venue with volleyball practice courts.

But if the sport grows like some predict, Leong would like to believe the volleyball idea at the park is still very much in play.

At the time the city and UH were talking it was estimated it could take from $300,000 -$500,000 to convert the Hula show venue to accommodate volleyball.

It was something that neither side could afford.

But if national or international tournaments are in Hawaii’s future, it is likely a big name sponsor would have to be a part of it.

Meanwhile, an exhibition beach volleyball game between Olympic athletes from the U.S. and China gets underway next weekend at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

The game is to be televised at a later date.

The Next Natatorium

Honolulu Star-Advertiser
By Lee Catterall

Abercrombie’s idea to turn the Waikiki landmark into a beach volleyball venue has rekindled the long debate over the crumbling property

As Gov. Neil Abercrombie develops his idea to turn the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium into a beach volleyball court, supporters and opponents once again have lined up for battle.


The facade and arches of the Natatorium mask the crumbling saltwater pool behind it. The transfer of the property to full state control, along with a proposal to restore the bleachers and build a beach volleyball court over the pool structure, has renewed debate over the Natatorium’s future.

While saving the pool is the best alternative, turning the structure into a volleyball facility with bleachers remains a “sensible course of action, financially, environmentally, historically and every way else,” said Donna L. Ching, vice president of Friends of the Natatorium.

Demolishing the Natatorium, moving its iconic arches inland and returning the site to its natural state would create “a last little peaceful oasis and outlet for people who live in a very crowded environment,” said James Bickerton, attorney for the Kaimana Beach Coalition.

While their solutions are radically different, everyone involved in this debate seems to agree that leaving the crumbling facility to slowly rot — in other words, the status quo — is not an option. There also is broad agreement that elements of the memorial should be preserved in some form. Other than that, the debate over the Waikiki landmark’s future has been bitterly divisive.

The memorial was built in 1927 to honor the veterans of World War I and is included in the National Register of Historic Places. The pool where Duke Kahanamoku swam was closed in 1979 after being deemed a health and safety hazard. In 1998, then-Mayor Jeremy Harris authorized $11.5 million for complete restoration, but the next mayor, Mufi Hannemann, canceled the plan and assigned a task force in 2009 to assess the issue. The task force recommended that the memorial’s arches be reconstructed and moved inland and that the pool and bleachers razed to create additional beach space.

Since then, not much has happened. The state owns the Natatorium, but the property has been operated by the city under executive order. Abercrombie and Mayor Peter Carlisle have agreed to return control of the Natatorium to the state, and Abercrombie intends to put the site to better use than its current state of virtual abandonment.

In one of numerous e-mails involving Abercrombie aides obtained by Bickerton, Michael Ng, a policy adviser for the Abercrombie administration, wrote in August that the governor “wants to keep the main structure intact and create a world-class venue for beach volleyball. We probably can’t keep the pool — we’d need to do something like build the volleyball court on piles IN the pool.”

To restore the structure to some measure of its former glory will cost money; how much is anyone’s guess. The task force estimated that rebuilding the pool would cost $60 million. Rebuilding the structure in any way would be expensive, Bickerton said. He suggested that a $100 million estimate “doesn’t seem out of line.”

Besides the cost, there’s the question of the impact of various alternatives to this slice of Waikiki.

With “large capital costs and heavy ongoing maintenance,” Bickerton said, state officials can be expected not to allow the natatorium to be idle, deciding, “We should do something with it. We should have shows there.”

“Well,” he added, “when you have shows there, where do I park when I want to just go with my kids for a swim lesson, or launch my one-man canoe, or just sit and watch the sunset, which people can do right now? What happens to all that?”

Kapiolani Park is like New York City’s Central Park, Bickerton said. “It’s a public resource and it’s for the public by the public, and there’s no commercial activity in the park.”

Ching said Bickerton’s concern is “a red herring.” She noted that 300,000 people a year visit the nearby Waikiki Aquarium, most of them walking because there is no parking on that property. Other events occur at Kapiolani Park, which “is the center of lots of events that happen that are very large-scale and attract a lot of people to the park.”

Bickerton maintains that replacing the Natatorium with a volleyball court would reduce precious shoreline access in an area where little exists. “I can build a sand arena anywhere for volleyball,” he said, “but there’s only so many places where I can get to the ocean to swim, because it’s sandy, because it’s calm, or it’s because it’s near my house or where people live.”

However, Ching said restoring the Natatorium site to its original condition would not bring back sand. Photographs show rocks in that spot, because “that’s the natural state of the shoreline in that area. If you look at pictures that were taken before the Natatorium was built, there was no sand there.”

“There’s not really a restoration of the beach to be done,” Ching said. “You’d be building an artificial beach along the shoreline there. You’d have to reconstruct something.”

Bickerton said he expects the Abercrombie administration will use the new Public Land Development Corp., which is exempt from many land use and zoning rules, to achieve its ends, and idea that Abercrombie himself has recommended.

“This is a whole coterie of people, and it’s some of the same people who are behind the PLDC, and this is actually one of the reasons the PLDC was brought in, because this is the most expensive piece of real estate that the state owns,” Bickerton said. “It’s the most valuable, and it’s been coveted by commercial interests for years, and this is their chance to get it with minimal environmental and regulatory oversight.”

E-mail communication on the issue with the governor’s office has included the Peter Apo Co., a corporate consulting firm; and Leo A Daly, an architectural company where Ching is director of business development. However, Ching said she has not been motivated by the association. She said she took the position with Friends of the Natatorium in 1994, a decade before beginning work at Daly.

“Restoring the pool and letting people swim in it would be a touchdown,” Ching said. But she recognizes that may be too difficult: “We’re on our own 20-yard line, and just need first down at this point,” she said. For Friends of the Natatorium, that means supporting the governor’s plan.

“We just want to move the chains down the field. … whether it’s going to be a pass play or a run, whether it’s going to be a pool or volleyball or something else, then you huddle up with your people and you decide we’re going to give the ball to this guy or we’re going to throw it this way and this is what we’re going to do.”