Let’s Face It: Natatorium Arch Is Ugly

MidWeek: Politics: Just Thoughts, September 24, 2014
By Bob Jones

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Hawaii’s first World War I casualty is honored at Oahu Cemetery. BOB JONES PHOTO

Hawaii’s first World War I casualty is honored at Oahu Cemetery. BOB JONES PHOTO

I just don’t understand the reasoning by those who say we cannot demolish Waikiki Natatorium because it was erected as a memorial to World War I soldiers from here.

I mean, we’re not suggesting tearing down the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or unearthing the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

This is … well, let’s approach it honestly:

It’s a rather unattractive cement arch. Nobody’s buried there. Nobody even knows to whom, individually, it’s dedicated.

There’s a stone and plaque mauka of it that hardly any visitors bother reading. It’s a weathered cement arch and nothing more.

If Frank Fasi were still mayor, you’d probably wake up one morning and find the natatorium no longer there, and in its place a wonderful beach and family picnic area.

Of course, my critics will say, “That was the problem with Frank Fasi. He didn’t follow the democratic process. He just did things.”

I had my problems with Fasi “just doing things,” and I can’t recommend that method of governance. We used to call it fascism.

But, in this case, we’ve had studies; we’ve taken the issue out to communities. I’d say it’s past time for the governor and the mayor to quit playing Mr. Nice Guy, make a decision and go with it.

The sensible decision is to demolish the pool. That’s for sure.

The other decision should be to gauge just how strong public opinion is against either taking down or moving that so-called “historic arch.” I sense that there’s about a 5 percent gang that says no. Most people who don’t live near it would vote “who cares?” It does not affect their lives one way or the other.

But, realistically, look at that facade. I cannot fathom why any organization favoring historic sites considers that one of them. It is grotesque architecture not even admired for the time in which it was built. It looks like something done with leftover cement from some nearby high-rise project. Check out those “bottles” on top made to look like ancient Greek amphoras. Cheesy.

A compromise would be to commission some appropriate — and small — sculpture adjacent to the memorial stone and plaque honoring our few WWI dead.

We did not suffer heavily in that war. It was far away and involved very few soldiers from Hawaii. It did not interrupt our social or economic life for a single day. It’s not intertwined with our history.

So let’s quit mythologizing Waikiki Natatorium and get on with restoring that area as a much-needed beach access area for today’s families.

I’m thinking that even Pvt. John Rupert Rowe, the first from Hawaii killed in combat in WWI, might agree with that because we already honor him at Oahu Cemetery, not at the natatorium.

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