Group votes to tear down Natatorium

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
By Rosemarie Bernardo

Members of the Friends of the Natatorium will continue their uphill battle to save the historic structure despite a task force vote to tear it down.

“We’re still committed to pursuing a full restoration,” said Peter Apo, the group’s president. “We’re going to do everything we can in our power to see that full restoration happens.”

Task force members voted 9-3 yesterday to demolish the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium and build two groins for a beach. The monument’s arch will be preserved and relocated to the hao tree arbor site.

The recommendation now goes to Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who will make the final decision.

Task force Chairman Collins Lam, deputy director of the city Department of Design and Construction, also voted for the demolition plan, but his vote was only to be counted if there was a tie. Four members did not attend the meeting.

The Natatorium was closed in 1979 because of poor water quality. Today the structure is in disrepair with large holes in the deck that surround the pool.

Members have held meetings since May to come up with recommendations on the future of the structure, a continuing debate in the community since it was closed. Those who voted to rebuild and restore the Natatorium said it represents World War I veterans as well as old Hawaii.

Members who voted for demolition acknowledged the importance of remembering the war dead but contend the Natatorium is deteriorating and that costs to stabilize and restore it would be prohibitive.

The city estimated costs to demolish the structure, relocate the arch and build a beach at $15.1 million, while the cost to stabilize and restore was estimated at $57 million—$14.1 million for stabilization work and $42.9 million to rehabilitate and restore the saltwater pool.

Task force member Kiersten Faulkner disputed the city’s estimate on restoration costs, saying that stabilizing the structure, not including restoration of the pool, would be cheaper than demolition. Disappointed about the vote, Faulkner said, “I do think it’s the wrong thing to do.”

Member Fred Ballard said veterans have told him that tearing down the monument and relocating the arch is a “slap in the face.”

Member Tim Guard said he has heard overwhelming reaction from many to demolish the structure and preserve the arch, adding that it is “unconscionable” to spend more than $40 million of taxpayers’ money on restoration work.

“I’m not going to be a party to a decision that advocates spending that amount of my dollars and our citizens’ dollars for a project that I think can be done with reverence, taste and good judgment,” said Guard.