Deck’s collapse closes restrooms at Natatorium

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
By Crystal Kua

The war memorial’s bathrooms were renovated in 1999

A section of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium’s pool deck has collapsed. The structure’s exterior is shown here.

City officials have closed the newly renovated restrooms outside the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium because of fears that the crumbling structure will continue to collapse.

A section on the pool deck collapsed in the past couple of weeks, leaving a big crater at the edge of the bleachers on the mauka wall.

Portable toilets are near the closed bathrooms, which were renovated four years ago as part of a $4.6 million project.

City officials worry that the historic facility could fall apart. It is a memorial to World War I veterans that opened in 1929.

“The closure is a precautionary move that we need to restrict access while engineers are doing the assessment,” Managing Director Ben Lee said in a statement. “And once the assessment of the structural integrity of the memorial is completed, we will know what steps need to be taken to prevent further deterioration of the historic structure.”

The hole can be seen through the Natatorium’s ornate metal gates that are locked. A sign reading “Danger Keep Out” is posted.

“We’re still concerned with people that ignore the warnings and trespass in the pool deck area, so HPD and the parks staff will increase their efforts to stop the trespassing,” Lee said.

Signs saying “Natatorium closed until further notice” are also posted at the entrance of the bathrooms.

A sign at the women’s bathroom of the crumbling Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium kept people out yesterday.

“It’s time to rethink this and go back to a plan that’s not going to cost an arm and a leg and lead to the commercialization of the area,” Jim Bickerton, the attorney representing the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which filed a lawsuit to stop the city’s restoration plan. “We definitely think that no more money should be put into this.”
A Circuit Court judge in 1999 allowed the city to continue with part of the restoration, but not with restoring the saltwater pool until the city abides by state rules for saltwater swimming pools, a requirement that’s stalled the rest of the $11 million restoration.

It was Memorial Day 2000 when the Natatorium was rededicated after the partial restoration was completed.

Bickerton said the coalition fought to have the whole restoration put on hold until the city could have a proper assessment of whether the pool should be replaced. The coalition wants to see a beach replace the pool.

Bickerton said the concrete structure is succumbing to time and the elements.

Donna Ching, spokeswoman for Friends of the Natatorium, continues to push for full restoration, including the pool.

“The pool is the memorial,” Ching said.

Memorial Day services will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Natatorium, and it’s a perfect opportunity to remember “why memorials are important,” she said.

“This is a national monument, this is a war memorial. It should’ve never been allowed to fall into disrepair in the first place, and obviously we will not be satisfied until we see a full restoration.”

City Councilman Charles Djou, who represents the Waikiki area, said something should be done with the structure.

“We can’t have this Natatorium that we completely built, spent millions of taxpayers dollars on and then nobody uses, and then we have to spend more taxpayer money to maintain,” Djou said. “That’s the only bad solution.”

Djou said that while he favors the original plan to restore the saltwater pool, “it has engendered so much litigation and so much controversy, at this point I’m concerned about just fixing the darn thing and getting it opened and stop this continual bleeding of taxpayer resources.”

Raynard Hoke, 52, of Manoa, was about to go swimming near the Natatorium when he found out the bathrooms were closed.

“With the lavatory closed, that’s going to make it more inconvenient for the people and probably make it less desirable for anybody to come down here,” he said.