Natatorium pool may go

Honolulu Advertiser
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer


City officials are looking to bring closure to years of debate over what to do with the crumbling Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium. They say they are “seriously considering” demolishing the legendary saltwater pool at the site and will hold discussions with residents as early as this month to discuss the option — along with other possibilities.

Officials stressed that no decision on what to do with the natatorium has been made.

But they said they are eager to bring the facility out of its current state of limbo — deteriorating rapidly, and with the swimming pool closed. Collins Lam, deputy director of the city Department of Design and Construction, said officials will start making presentation on possible options for the natatorium and their costs this month or next.

The possibility of a decision sometime soon on the natatorium’s fate — 30 years after the pool was closed to swimmers because of safety concerns — worries those who want the pool saved. They say it appears officials already have made up their minds to tear down the pool and are concerned a demolition would have more support in these tough fiscal times.

Friends of the Natatorium President Linuce Pang said instead of spending money to demolish the pool, the city should spend money to restore it. “The city is saying that they’re short of money. But if you destroy something, you still have to have money,” he said, adding that the facade of the natatorium shouldn’t be considered a higher priority than the saltwater swimming pool it fronts.

“The pool is the memorial,” he said.

Others say demolishing the pool and keeping its pink facade, with its grand arch, would open up precious beach space and benefit more park users and beach goers. “That pool was not designed to last a long time. It’s a health and safety hazard,” said Jim Bickerton, attorney and member of the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which has opposed efforts to rehabilitate the pool.

He said his group would like to see the facade saved and a beach formed where the pool sits. “We think that makes a lot of sense,” Bickerton said.

Lam, with the city, declined to give details on the information to be included in community presentations on the Waikiki facility. But he said residents will be given an idea of how much each option would cost, and the pros and cons of each alternative. He added that demolishing the pool would cost “significantly” less than renovating it, but he wasn’t ruling any options out.

City officials said they are studying a variety of scenarios for the natatorium, including demolishing the pool and setting the facade farther away from the ocean, dismantling the entire memorial or renovating the entire site.

Officials have not said when a final decision on the natatorium will be made, but observers predict one could come as early as this fall. In addition to seeking public comment through meetings, officials have said they want to convene a working group of interested parties to make a recommendation of its own to the mayor — a process that conceivably could take months.

The mayor said in his State of the City address last month that the “fate of the Waikiki natatorium has dogged the city for decades” and that the back-and-forth between those who want the pool preserved and those who want the beach restored “has led to a standoff.”

He added, “One of the recommendations we’re seriously considering is the demolition of the pool to open up more beach space, and the reconstruction of the facade further inland or at another appropriate location.” But though officials are leaning toward demolition of the Olympic-size pool, city spokesman Bill Brennan said last week that “there’s nothing (that has) been finalized about it yet.”


In Waikiki last week, passers-by offered mixed opinions on what should happen to the memorial.

Some said they didn’t think the pool could — or should — be saved, given the dwindling municipal treasury. “They don’t have the money. Otherwise I’d say rebuild it,” said one man, sitting under a trellis outside the natatorium.

But others said the big pricetag should be put in perspective.

Though it’s unclear just how much it would take to renovate the memorial today, a project kicked off in 2000 aimed at reopening the pool estimated $11.5 million would do it. That project was never finished because officials ran into legal problems over the work.

Lapaka Brandon, 63, of Makaha, said he realizes a renovation of the pool would cost tens of millions of dollars. But, he said, it would be well worth it. “My father used to take us there when we were kids,” he said. “I think we spend a lot of money on a lot of frivolous things anyway. It depends on your priorities.”

Robert and Caroline Hovey, frequent visitors to the Islands from Washington state, also supported saving the natatorium pool — despite the high cost. “They should be preserving as much of the past as they possibly can,” said Robert Hovey, who added that the natatorium is something of a draw for tourists. The spot is mentioned in a host of O’ahu travel guides.


The pool opened in August 1927, with famed swimmer and surfer Duke Kahanamoku diving in for the first swim in front of a capacity crowd. The pool was built with territorial money to honor those who fought in World War I, and in memory of those who died.

The natatorium is on national and state registers of historic places.

The memorial started to show significant deterioration in the 1970s, and the pool deck now sports massive holes where concrete has corroded away or crumbled into the ocean. A report for the city issued in 2004 that detailed the condition of the natatorium said that the concrete deck was in imminent danger of collapse, and that the perimeter sea walls had a “potential collapse hazard.”

That report also warned that the steady deterioration of the swimming pool threatens to undermine the structural stability of the bleachers at the site, the perimeter sea wall and the facade.

Over the last decade, the city has spent millions of dollars on the natatorium.

In 1999, former Mayor Jeremy Harris launched an $11.5 million project to fully restore the landmark. The first phase, completed a year later, included fixing the arch and facade.

But the second phase of work was halted after a court ruling determined the city would have to obtain Health Department permits and adhere to stricter-than-expected standards to open the salt water pool. Then, in 2004, a collapse of part of the site’s deck prompted emergency repairs. That work was never completed, though, because Mayor Mufi Hannemann shelved the $6.1 million repair effort after taking office in January 2005. During his administration, minor repairs have been done to the facade.

Hannemann also gave the go-ahead for a consultant to study possible options for the natatorium. That study is still under way, but is to be completed soon.

Reach Mary Vorsino at

Mayor says he is “seriously considering” tearing down the pool, retaining the facade, and pledges to form a committee of community members to discuss its future.
BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser


1927: Built to honor 101 Hawai’i World War I veterans. Also this year, the site hosts a national outdoor swimming championship event and becomes a popular recreational spot.

1940s: Army uses pool to train for World War II.

1950s and ’60s: O’ahu fifth-grade public school students participate in swimming program at salt-water pool.

1979: Closed to the public because of deteriorating conditions.

1999: Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris initiates plans to restore landmark.

2001: City finishes fixing facade, bleachers and public restrooms.

2004: Part of deck collapses. City begins emergency repairs.

2005: Mayor Mufi Hannemann takes office, halts repair work. He launches engineering studies exploring alternative uses for the site.

2007: Army Corps of Engineers begins studies assessing the condition of shoreline.

2008: Wil Chee-Planning Inc. kicks off study on possible options for the natatorium.

February 2009: Mayor says he is “seriously considering” tearing down the pool, retaining the facade, and pledges to form a committee of community members to discuss its future.

March-April 2009: City plans to take possible options for natatorium to the community, in the form of public meetings.

Replacing an eagle’s head on the facade in 2000.

Honolulu studies work on crumbling memorial

Honolulu Advertiser
By Alyssa S. Navares
Advertiser Staff Writer

The natatorium, increasingly decrepit behind its recently restored facade, is closed to the public but is used as a base for ocean safety officers.

The natatorium, increasingly decrepit behind its recently restored facade, is closed to the public but is used as a base for ocean safety officers.
RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser


1927 — Built to honor 101 Hawai’i World War I veterans. Also this year, the site hosts a national outdoor swimming championship event and became a popular recreational spot with long lines to jump from the 36-foot-high platform and to play volleyball.

1940s — Army uses pool to train for World War II.

1950s and ’60s — O’ahu fifth-grade public school students participate in swimming program at salt-water pool.

1980 — Closed to the public because of deteriorating conditions.

1999 — Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris initiates plans to restore landmark.

2001 — City finishes fixing facade, bleachers and public restrooms.

2004 — Part of deck collapses. City begins emergency repairs.

2005 — Mayor Mufi Hannemann takes office, halts repair work. He launches engineering studies exploring alternative uses for the site.

2007 — Army Corps of Engineers begins studies assessing the condition of shoreline. Wil Chee-Planning Inc. plans to use those findings as it compiles recommendations for City Hall regarding the natatorium’s future.

The city is gearing up to patch the most glaring structural decay at the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, as studies aim to determine the future of the 80-year-old landmark.

“The natatorium is gradually deteriorating, and it’s difficult to predict how much longer it can maintain its present condition,” said city project manager Terry Hildebrand.

City officials three years ago confirmed that the ocean-fed pool and its underlying structure have extensive corrosion and cracking. One report concluded that the entire structure could eventually collapse if the damage is left unchecked.

Hildebrand said the city plans to check on the matter this summer through a four-month project that is expected to include a site survey and various minor repairs. He has submitted a proposal for the project, which will cost $40,000 to $50,000, to the city Department of Budget and Fiscal Services and expects feedback within a few weeks.

The project — an amendment to a standing contract with consultant firm Wil Chee-Planning Inc. — also is scheduled to produce recommendations for the World War I memorial’s future, which could range from full restoration to scrapping everything except the site’s distinctive Beaux Arts arch.

The Army Corps of Engineers this month began a yearlong $300,000 study of shoreline conditions between Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor. Its findings will be factored into the project’s recommendations.

Crumbling concrete has kept the natatorium closed since 1980. Rusted iron gates and wooden boards block public access, but four concrete eagles peering down from atop the natatorium’s grand arch offer a symbol of the site’s past.

A nonprofit citizen group, Friends of the Natatorium, has pushed for years to see the memorial restored to its original glory. Members hope to bring back a learn-to-swim program there, while using proceeds from a snack bar and gift shop for maintenance.

Peter Apo, spokesman for the group, said his chief concern is that the site continues to fall apart. “If we drag out this natatorium situation too much longer, it will be demolished by our neglect,” Apo said.

Walter Burgow, an 85-year-old World War II veteran who sat with friends in front of the structure last week, agreed.

“If the city doesn’t do something soon, everyone will forget about what the memorial really stands for,” Burgow said. “This place is how I remember my fellow brothers who never came back from war.”

While growing up in Kalihi, Burgow said, he would take the bus to the natatorium, where he learned to swim in the 100-meter saltwater pool and enjoyed diving off the two-level towers. Built in the 1920s — during a national craze for natural-water swimming — the natatorium also attracted top-notch swimmers, such as Buster Crabbe and Duke Kahanamoku. The Army used it as a training site during World War II.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann does not want to restore the pool, according to city spokesman Bill Brennan. But depending on study results, leaving the arch as a tribute to veterans and expanding the beach area are possibilities for the site.

Former Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris in 1999 launched an $11.5 million project to renovate the structure and to fix the cracks in its swimming pool. The first phase, which was completed a year later, included fixing the arch and facades. But legal obstacles, including a court ruling that required the city to obtain permits to renovate the swimming pool, halted the second phase of work.

In 2004, a collapse of a portion of the site’s deck prompted emergency repairs. Hannemann shelved the $6.1 million repair effort after taking office in January 2005, saying the city needed to focus on more critical services, such as repairing roads and sewers.

The city’s proposed minor repairs project, which could start in August, focuses on the structural integrity of natatorium areas on the ocean side, including the pool and deck. It also is expected to include a careful look at the decorative arch and concrete bleachers. Two engineers and advisers from Wil Chee-Planning will survey the area.

“We are primarily preparing ourselves for an emergency and don’t want to be caught by surprise,” Hildebrand said.

Upon approval from the city’s Budget Department, the project proposal will be submitted to the state Historic Preservation Division and the Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands. Both will make recommendations before work can get under way.

Susan Tasaki, architecture branch chief of the state Historic Preservation Division, said her office strives to preserve landmarks from earlier times.

“We would support any kind of plans to make sure no one gets hurt and the structure isn’t forgotten,” Tasaki said.

Waikiki Natatorium shore will tell if pool can go

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
By Crystal Kua

Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s administration is exploring alternate uses for the decaying Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, and one option might include getting rid of its controversial saltwater pool.

Yesterday, the City Council Budget Committee approved an agreement between the city and the Army Corps of Engineers to split the $300,000 cost to study the shoreline surrounding the memorial to World War I veterans. The study is expected to be completed in early 2008.

“The results will be incorporated into a bigger planning report that will then give us direction on what to do with the facility,” said Clifford Lau, facilities design chief with the city Department of Design and Construction. “Part of the report will need to address what occurred in the past and what’s possible in the future.”

A final Council vote on the agreement is slated for Dec. 13.

Hannemann has not been a fan of fully restoring the Natatorium, which would include keeping the saltwater pool. He has said it would be better to keep the memorial’s arch to pay tribute to the veterans and expand the surrounding beach.

Former Mayor Jeremy Harris moved to restore the nearly 80-year-old concrete structure along with the pool, but legal obstacles stopped work on the pool and halted the entire restoration.

As one of his first acts as mayor, Hannemann stopped $6.1 million in emergency repairs on the Natatorium in January 2005.

The latest study includes analysis of the shore between Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor.

“It’s computer modeling of waves and currents. So there’s a circulation model and a wave transformation model,” said Tom Smith, a coastal engineer with the Corps of Engineers.

“The goal is to not just to restore the beach, but also to stabilize it so we don’t lose the beach,” Army Corps engineer Milton Yoshimoto said.

Yoshimoto said the corps has about half of the necessary money, with the other half slated to be budgeted next year.

“The Natatorium study would be a high priority for funding,” he said.

The Corps of Engineers study would be forwarded to a planning consultant that the city has hired to come up with a final report.

Lau said the study could lead to several alternatives, including not taking any action, relocating the memorial walls and partial or complete removal of the pool.

“I can’t tell you at this time that that is the exact solution, because one aspect is that there’s existing beaches there that we need to preserve,” Lau said.

Lau said the Natatorium restrooms that were closed because of corrosion and crumbling concrete have been reopened after work was done to correct the problems.

Waikiki lagoon a possibility

Honolulu Advertiser
By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is exploring an idea to create a new lagoon-type beach next to the Waikiki Aquarium.

The lagoon would be between the aquarium and the concession area, said Dolan Eversole, a University of Hawai’i coastal geologist and adviser to the state’s Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands. He added that it would be similar in concept, although a third or half the size of, the lagoons at Ko Olina.

Such a project would involve excavating part of Kapi’olani Park to make way for a lagoon-type beach spanning roughly 200 feet horizontally and about 150 feet inland from the existing shoreline, he said. Breakwater structures allowing for water circulation would likely be in line with the existing shoreline, he said. Eversole estimated the project could cost up to $4 million, but said there are many variables that would affect the cost.

“It would provide a new recreational opportunity — quiet water setting, swimming and recreational beach,” Eversole said.

Eversole emphasized that creating a lagoon is still a concept. He said department officials are bouncing around the idea of possibly creating two smaller lagoons, but are leaning toward one medium-sized lagoon.

The department doesn’t have funding for such a project and has yet to receive feedback from the administration and the community about the idea, he said. If state officials decide to go ahead with the proposal, the department would first need funding from the Legislature for a feasibility study, which could take up to two years and result in different designs for the project, he said.

“We’re a long ways off from actually implementing it, but we’re kind of bouncing the idea around,” Eversole said.

“We’re just thinking of another recreational opportunity and a way to enhance the (Kapi’olani) Park use. This hasn’t really gone through the channels. We want to talk to the mayor about it and the city officials and kind of get their ideas, too.”

The department also is looking at long-term approaches to protect beaches from sand erosion. Officials plan to begin a $500,000, 30-day sand replenishment project this month at Kuhio Beach.

“We’re always interested in protecting existing beaches where we can and enhancing those that are experiencing erosion and coastal damage — trying to enhance those opportunities,” he said. “And Waikiki is kind of a special case because of its social, recreational and economic value as well.”

Reach Lynda Arakawa at

Natatorium faces another study

Honolulu Advertiser
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Next month, the city expects to hire a planning consultant to consider the future of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium. Again.

Crumbling concrete and other hazardous conditions have kept the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium closed to swimmers since 1979. A new study has been ordered to possibly once and for all settle the future of the once-grand waterfront memorial.
Photos by GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

The waterfront memorial to veterans of World War I awaits the next chapter in its 79-year history. The crumbling ocean-water pool remains mired in controversy with supporters still pushing for full restoration of the once-grand swimming pool and opponents arguing for more beach space.

The facility has been closed to swimming since June 1979. The last formal work on the structure ended in 2000 after then-Mayor Jeremy Harris oversaw the completion of a facelift and renovation of the arches and bleachers.

The new study will mark the first city action since emergency repairs in 2004 after a section of the broad concrete pool deck collapsed.

Eugene Lee, deputy director of the city Department of Design and Construction, said Mayor Mufi Hannemann requested and got a total of $500,000 for planning and design in the current budget. A portion of that money will be used to analyze alternate uses for the memorial that all stop short of full restoration.

Lee said the possible uses — including keeping the arches and bleachers — also “will run the gamut from essentially beach restoration or relocation of some of the structures to total elimination of the structures.”

He said the city expects to award a contract to a planning consultant by next month to complete an analysis over the next two years. Lee said the city will not pursue full restoration because of safety worries, cost concerns and the state Health Department’s published saltwater pool regulations, which “would be very, very hard to meet.”

He said the city monitors the crumbling structure and posted signs and erected barriers to keep people out.

In the fiscal year that’s about to begin, Hannemann asked for $40,000 in planning and design and $5.3 million in construction, but Lee said the council cut construction money in half.

City Customer Services Director Jeff Coelho said the Hannemann administration is trying to keep the structure safe while analyzing the best solution. Coelho said that means shoring up the shoreline and trying to stabilize the structure.

“We can’t let it deteriorate to the point where it becomes a public hazard,” he said.

Mo Palepale of Kalihi and Vehi Sevelo of Kane’ohe, both 20, say they like to go to the beach near the memorial. The Natatorium has been closed their whole life.

“Ever since we were little, it’s been locked up,” Palepale said.

Sevelo favors restoration: “They should fix it for the locals; they should make use of the areas.” But they both know that financing the project is a problem.

Lee’s department assured City Council members that the construction money would only be used to fix the memorial if other portions of it fell apart.

Lee said the city also hopes to engage the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a separate contract to study the impact on the coastline of different solutions. That study is estimated to cost about $300,000.

Supporters and opponents of full restoration agree that the Natatorium’s historical facade should be part of any future plans.

The fate of the memorial has been debated for decades. By May 2000, the Friends of the Natatorium group celebrated a big change: the restoration of the historical facade. That cost $4.4 million of the $11.5 million that the City Council had approved to spend on the monument.

But the project bogged down in controversy with concerns about the health and safety of trying to restore the ocean-water pool and questions about how much it would cost to repair, then operate and maintain it. The rest of the money was never spent on the memorial.

Council members backed away from other phases of restoration, and Harris, an advocate for restoration, left office. In a speech in February 2005, Hannemann said, “We’ve suspended work on the Waikiki Natatorium to save us from having to pour more good money after bad.”

Architect Ed Pskowski of the firm Leo A. Daly first started working on the project in 1988 and became a big proponent of full restoration. He remembers swimming in the Natatorium in the 1970s and still hopes for a day when his kids and grandkids could swim there, too.

He fondly recalls the Memorial Day service last month when Hannemann gave permission for the Royal Hawaiian Band to perform, and about 200 people gathered to honor the war dead and enjoy the memorial.

Pskowski said any projects will be complicated by the status of the monument on the national and state historic registers. While some people favor moving the arches, Pskowski said those options range from expensive to impossible.

“The arches are basically stucco over small concrete blocks that are on a foundation,” Pskowski said.”You just can’t separate anything without it crumbling.”

And he suggests that those who ask for beach restoration look to turn-of-the-century photos that show scoured rock rather than beach near where the Natatorium now exists. “The only reason the beach is there is because of the Natatorium,” he said.

The president of the Friends of the Natatorium is Linuce Pang, a 72-year-old Korean War Navy veteran who has been supporting restoration for 20 years.

Pang maintains that the memorial should be preserved as a monument to those people from Hawai’i who died: “These 101 men and women gave their lives to go clear over to Europe, all the way from Hawai’i. This was to honor them.”

Pang sees that political support for full restoration has ebbed and he’s tired of the politics. “We certainly don’t need any more studies,” he said. “What more do they need to know?”

Attorney Jim Bickerton represents the other viewpoint — the Kaimana Beach Coalition — made up of those who believe the pool should be filled in and the area used as a beach park for the many residents who swim and play there.

“We certainly support Mayor Hannemann’s approach of really studying ways to use the area that will benefit everyone but still pay respect to the veterans,” Bickerton said.

But the coalition opposes restoration of the ocean-water recirculating pool, any use that will increase commercialization of the area, and the idea of a freshwater pool as well. “It would be expensive and pointless to have a traditional chlorinated pool there,” he said.

Bickerton would like to see the expanded beach envisioned by the coalition, as a way to preserve and enhance one of the few ocean recreation areas in town favored by residents over tourists.

“We’re fighting to hold on to that and keep it that way,” Bickerton said. “This is one of the few public beaches in the urban area that’s not blocked off by hotels and has parking.”

Nancy Bannick, vice president of the friends group, said anything but full restoration will result in the memorial’s demise.

“There’s no second choice for the friends,” Bannick said. “We’d just have to stand back and watch it be demolished and say ‘shame, shame.’ ”

City Councilman Charles Djou, who represents Waikiki, sees wisdom on both sides. “I think in an ideal world the Natatorium should be restored. I think it’s a fitting tribute to our veterans,” Djou said.

But he also believes Hannemann needs to focus on core city services such as sewers, roads and public safety without spending money on other things.

“In the near term, they’re doing the right thing,” Djou said.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at

Natatorium repairs on hold

Honolulu Advertiser
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Mayor Mufi Hannemann, in one of his first acts in office, suspended repair work at the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium yesterday.


The move signals a major shift in the city’s policy on the memorial built to honor Hawai’i soldiers killed in World War I. During 10 years in office that ended Sunday, former Mayor Jeremy Harris succeeded in restoring the Natatorium’s facade and bleachers but was stymied in attempts to fix its deteriorating pool.

Tim Steinberger, acting director for the Department of Design and Construction, yesterday sent a two-paragraph letter to contractor Healy Tibbits Builders stating, “You are directed to suspend all activities and expenditures for this project until further notice.”

Hannemann could not be reached late yesterday but was expected to comment on the issue today, a spokesman for the mayor said.

Last month, Hannemann promised to halt the emergency repair work initiated by Harris. He has also said he hopes to remove the pool and deck while preserving at least the major arch of the facade and possibly the restrooms, and favors more recreational space at the site.

Peter Apo, a spokesman for the Friends of the Natatorium and one-time Waikiki development director under Harris, said his group is disappointed but not surprised by Hannemann’s decision to suspend work, particularly since a majority of City Council members have also gone on record opposing full restoration.

“We will do everything we can under the law to stop demolition and (attempts) to create a new use at that site,” Apo said.

The city would not need to discuss demolishing the Natatorium because of its poor conditions if government officials had provided the funding to properly maintain it through the years, Apo said.

The Friends group believes the city cannot demolish the pool without the permission of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Legislature, Apo said. What’s more, it will cost $20 million to establish the groins to save the beaches in the area — more than it would take to restore the pool, he said.

Jim Bickerton, attorney for the Save Kaimana Beach Coalition which has opposed full restoration, said his group was pleased by Hannemann’s decision. “We look forward to working with everyone on the next phase which is to make a functional memorial that will expand the beach space available to Honolulu’s public,” he said.

Bickerton said the Harris administration could not provide documents justifying the $20 million estimate for removing the pool and keeping the groins. “We believe Mayor Harris made that up out of whole cloth, it was pure fabrication,” he said.

Bickerton said students at the University of Hawai’i’s College of Engineering recently estimated it would cost “under $3 million” to put a beach at the site of the Natatorium.

He also disagreed that the city would need permission to tear down the pool. “The important thing is to have some form of memorial that Honolulu can afford,” he said.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at or at 525-8070.

Mayor stops all Natatorium work

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
By Crystal Kua

Mayor Mufi Hannemann and wife, Gail, attended a prayer service yesterday at Kawaiahao Church.

Hannemann makes good on his promise to halt repairs on the WWI memorial pool

Opponents pledge legal challenges if the city moves to demolish the structure

Carlisle sworn in to third term

On his first full day at the helm of the city, Mayor Mufi Hannemann carried out his threat to stop repair work on the deteriorating Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium.

“This is to inform you that … you are directed to suspend all activities and expenditures for this project until further notice,” acting city Design and Construction Director Tim Steinberger said in a letter sent yesterday to Healy-Tibbits Builders Inc. President Rick Heltzel. The company could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Hannemann had vowed that one of his first acts as mayor would be to halt $6.1 million in remedial work.

“He’s making good on a campaign promise,” said Peter Apo, spokesman for Friends of the Natatorium, the group that wanted the structure restored. “We’re disappointed but it’s not unexpected.”

But critics of the Natatorium restoration were pleased with the mayor’s decision.

“We are very pleased with the sensible approach of our new mayor. We support his decision completely,” said Rick Bernstein, of the Kaimana Beach Coalition. “There’s finally responsible action being taken, and we celebrate the wisdom of Mufi Hannemann and this action.”

After a prayer session yesterday morning, Mayor Mufi Hannemann and wife Gail gathered with religious leaders on the steps of Kawaiahao Church. They included the Revs. Romeo Gorospe, left, Curt Kekuna, Dan Chun, Ralph Morse (hidden), Wayne Cordeiro and Art Sepulveda.

Former Mayor Jeremy Harris wanted to restore the 80-year-old memorial to World War I veterans, but legal wrangling, including formulation of rules governing the saltwater pool, brought the $11 million restoration project to a standstill.

A section of the pool deck collapsed in May, leaving a crater at the edge of the bleachers on the mauka wall. After the incident, the city hired a contractor to begin work to stabilize the structure.

But the structure’s future remains in question.

Hannemann contends it would be too expensive for the city to continue to maintain the Natatorium and instead wants to keep its arch as a tribute to the veterans. But he wants the rest of the structure — including the pool — scrapped in favor of expanding the beach, a plan endorsed by Bernstein’s group.

Bernstein said he is gathering a group of experts to volunteer to make that happen and, as much as possible, stay with the $6.1 million that has already been set aside for Natatorium work.

He said the pool needs to be dredged, the structure demolished, the groins stabilized, new sand brought in and bathrooms built.

Apo said that if the city proceeds with demolishing the Natatorium, they should expect legal challenges from his group and others, as well as permit approvals that could tie up the project for years.

“It’s not a threat. We will do everything we can to protect the Natatorium, and we’ll see where it falls,” Apo said.

Hannemann was expected to answer questions on the Natatorium at a news conference today.

Also at that news conference, he is expected to name the former chairman of the Hawaii Tourism Authority and former chief executive office of a national teeth-brightening company as his managing director, the person who will run the city in Hannemann’s absence.

John Reed is the retired CEO of the BriteSmile company. According to the San Francisco Business Times, Reed retired as CEO in April and stepped down from the company’s board of directors on Oct. 14.

Prior to joining BriteSmile, he was chairman of Pacific retail development for international duty-free operator DFS Group Ltd.

Reed was also the first chairman of the HTA after the panel was formed by the 1998 Legislature.

Hannemann is also expected to name former state Deputy Comptroller Mary Pat Waterhouse as director of Budget and Fiscal Services, who will be charged with formulating the city’s operating and capital improvement budgets.

Friends fight demolition

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
By Crystal Kua

The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium now more than ever is under threat of being demolished because of the changing political climate at City Hall.

Peter Apo, spokesman for Friends of the Natatorium, talked yesterday at the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium about why the memorial should remain.

“It’s gotten to the point now where we really feel seriously threatened by this attempt to demolish,” said Peter Apo, a spokesman for Friends of the Natatorium. “Today launches the day when we’re going to seriously try to do something.”

Apo and several other supporters who gathered at the Natatorium yesterday fear the days may be numbered for the deteriorating monument to World War I veterans.

Mayor-elect Mufi Hannemann has vowed to stop emergency repair work at the Natatorium. And a majority in the City Council is not eager to spend any more money to restore it.

“We don’t go tearing down war memorials,” said David Scott, executive director of Historic Hawaii Foundation. “We don’t go convert the Arizona Memorial into a volleyball venue.”

Natatorium restoration advocates said they are banding together to muster public support for full restoration.

“God bless them. They’re all good-intentioned people,” said Rick Bernstein of the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which wants to save the Natatorium arches but not the saltwater pool.

“But their information is inaccurate,” Bernstein said. “We don’t wish to destroy the war memorial. We simply wish to adaptively recreate a war memorial, making it a functional memorial beach as compared to a dysfunctional memorial swimming pool.”

Councilman Charles Djou said his district, which includes the Natatorium, is divided, but he can see both arguments. His biggest concern is the cost to taxpayers.

Supporters claim it will be more expensive to tear the structure down to create a new beach. Beach supporters say it will cost more in the long run to maintain an aging structure.

“If we had stayed on track with the construction with the original appropriation, we would be swimming in that pool right now. There’s no question,” said Friends’ member Donna Ching.

But Bernstein said engineers have told him that creating the beach would cost about $6 million to $7 million.

Djou said while it may be less expensive in the short-term to complete the restoration started by Mayor Jeremy Harris than to destroy the pool and make a beach, the city would be hit with untold maintenance costs for an aging facility for years.

Djou said Natatorium supporters have read the political tea leaves correctly because “I think the logjam is going to get broken … in favor of tearing this down.”

The emergency repair work to shore up the Natatorium came after the pool deck collapsed in May. City spokeswoman Carol Costa said a contractor will be installing a perimeter fencing before proceeding with other work.

Natatorium: Time for Harris to let go

Honolulu Advertiser

“It seems completely illogical,” says the director of the Waikiki Aquarium in what may be the understatement of the year.

Dr. Andrew Rossiter was referring to the obduracy of outgoing Mayor Jeremy Harris in the matter of the crumbling Natatorium.

Harris insists he’s going to move ahead with a plan to shore up the sagging structure, even though the City Council and the incoming mayor, Mufi Hannemann, have indicated their opposition to the project.

Hannemann says he’ll halt the project as soon as he takes office.

Given that Harris’ plan involves driving more than 80 pilings into the reef below the Natatorium, it simply doesn’t make sense to undertake this project when it’s sure to be abandoned three weeks later.

Rossiter, meanwhile, warns that the pile-driving will be detrimental to the fish in his charge, and possibly to the structure that houses them.

We’re disturbed by the notion of pile-driving on the reef, and the ecological damage that’s sure to do.

Citing a consultant, Harris says the structure could collapse if it isn’t shored up. But it’s the pool and deck structure that Harris is rushing to save, and it’s the pool and deck structure that likely will be removed in the end, leaving the memorial and bathrooms — and a restored stretch of beach.

Throwing $6 million at this project at this time is “completely illogical” — to say the least.

Harris, Hannemann spar over Natatorium

Honolulu Advertiser
By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The long fight over the crumbling Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium is triggering a mayoral showdown.

Mayor Jeremy Harris’ administration intends to move ahead with a plan to shore up the sagging structure, but Mayor-elect Mufi Hannemann said he would immediately cancel the work after being sworn into office next month.

“We’re talking about millions of taxpayer dollars that are going to be wastefully put out there when in fact the next mayor does not have any intention to go forward with that,” Hannemann said.

He said he hopes to tear down the structure’s pool and deck, but preserve its unique archway and public restrooms.

“This is what I believe the taxpayers want, this is what I know the majority of the City Council will support, and obviously this is what my preference is,” he said.

Harris was not immediately available, but city Managing Director Ben Lee said the work must begin soon, because the structure is at risk of collapsing. The plan includes driving more than 80 pilings into the reef below the Natatorium.

“We’re going forward with the repairs so we don’t endanger the health and safety of our residents and the general public,” Lee said. “If we don’t move forward, we’re subject to liability, and I don’t think that would be responsible. The responsible thing to do is stabilize the structure so it’s safe.”

Hannemann can evaluate the situation after he is sworn in next month, and consider the consequences of not making the repairs, Lee said.

Meanwhile, the director of the nearby Waikiki Aquarium said he remains very concerned that the pile-driving would cause serious problems for the aquarium’s collection of rare fish.

Dr. Andrew Rossiter said city officials had assured him in a meeting last week that the work would not begin if Hannemann made it clear he did not sanction it.

“They stated unequivocally that if Mayor-elect Hannemann indicated he would stop the project when he came into office, they would not pursue it any further from the time he said so, which means they wouldn’t go ahead with anything,” Rossiter said.

City spokeswoman Carol Costa could not confirm that, but said officials had agreed to halt the work immediately if it disrupts the fish, and to not resume it until the aquarium had moved any fish endangered by the work.

Rossiter said many fish and other creatures are extremely sensitive to vibrations, and that the pile-driving could also cause problems for the aquarium structure.

“This is a resource for the entire community, and to jeopardize it for the sake of political pride is, I think, rather foolish,” he said. “When one person says go for it, and another says it’s going to stop in three weeks, I honestly don’t understand it. It seems completely illogical.”

Reach Johnny Brannon at or 525-8070.