Letters to the Editor

Plan for Natatorium doesn’t make sense

Honolulu Advertiser

I understand Mayor Harris, who has little time left on his term, has arbitrarily elected to proceed with restoration of the War Memorial Natatorium immediately by inserting more than 80 cement pilings into the pool area. Shouldn’t there be a total plan before permanent structures are imbedded into the beach? Shouldn’t the plan be acceptable and affordable to the electorate?

So far, the initial cost will be $6.1 million for the pilings and patch-up, with a low estimate of $50 million to restore the bleachers and restrooms for use. And since the ocean will always have its way, the costs of repairs and maintenance will be eternal.

Would we, the electorate, rather minimize the memorial and instead use our tax dollars in more practical, needed ways: properly repair the sewer system, make the roads safer, lower taxes? Wouldn’t a more modest, more appropriate, more beautiful memorial plan be more justifiable? And appreciated?

If you feel $50 million is more than we can afford and does not make realistic sense, speak up, call or write the mayor — and your City Council representative.

Barbara Hanson

Re: Short Term Memorial Loss

Honolulu Magazine

“Short Term Memorial Loss,” August 2004
A. Kam Napier’s Afterthoughts proposing a memorial to the crumbling Natatorium, should it fall.

Since your article, the Harris administration has announced plans to spend $6.1 million to repair the Natatorium seawalls and pool deck. The 10-month project will not create a new swimming pool. When the project is completed, the complex will again be locked up.

With the help of ocean engineers, we have a plan that will save millions of tax dollars and protect this valuable public recreation area from commercialization. With our plan, a memorial beach would replace the memorial swimming pool. New, low-profile groins would be placed at either end of the old swimming pool to stabilize sand, creating a new beach adjacent to Kaimana Beach.

Makua of the existing structure would site a moved or recreated memorial arch, bathrooms, lifeguard office and memorial areas for the Veterans of World War I and for Duke Kahanamoku and the swimming heroes of the 1920s and ’30s.

Imagine swimming across Kaimana Beach, through the existing Natatorium pool and into the already dredged channel that leads to the Queen’s Surf groin, all the while being only 100 feet from shore. This 500-yard channel will surely become the premier ocean swim course in Hawai‘i.

[The city’s recent report on the Natatorium reveals that the work] that was completed four years ago, and cost $4.4 million, has failed. The Kaimana Beach Coalition believes that spending $6.1 million on this project is throwing goos money after bad. As taxpayers, we should express our concerns by letting our City Council members know how we feel. We believe our memorial beach plan shows proper respect for our honored veterans, swimming heroes, historical preservationists and the community-at-large.

Rick Bernstein
Kaimana Beach Coalition

Napier replies: My Afterthoughts characterized the Kaimana Beach Coalition as opposing any aspect of the Natatorium’s survival. That was incorrect.

Let’s rethink ways to honor WWI dead

Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Our city fathers never would have intentionally built a saltwater pool on the beach, had they known it would be impossible to maintain. A saltwater pool was the only technology available at time. We now have beautiful freshwater pools in Manoa, Makiki and Kailua, just to name a few. If we must have a swimming pool to remember the sacrifices of our World War I dead, why not make it a new, state-of-the-art freshwater pool?

If we want to reclaim the beach, maybe a new pool could be built in an area other than Waikiki. Waianae, Kapolei? Or let’s use the millions of dollars that might be misspent restoring the Natatorium, to upgrade and maintain the pools we have. Above all, let’s do something sensible. I think that’s what the veterans would have wanted.

Amy Conners

Natatorium repair defies frugality, common sense

Honolulu Advertiser

Forty years ago the Waikiki Natatorium of my youth was in general disrepair. Other than youth braver than I who would cannonball into the water, I never saw anyone swim in the bright green water that obscured the bottom. A swimmer, I imagined, would meet with a shallow coral bottom or with sea monsters slithering in this algae soup.

It is curious that the costly repair and then ongoing maintenance of a decayed structure continues to be a persistent issue with the mayor’s office. With the great many priorities needed by the people of Ho-nolulu such as solution-based programs for the homeless, drug-related law enforcement and treatment programs, road restoration and reasonable upkeep of our public parks and restrooms, there appears to be overwhelming public consensus for returning the pool to its highest and best use: as much-needed beach space, while keeping the facade as a fitting and honorable memorial to our World War I veterans.

On a crisp morning jog last fall in Stockbridge, Mass., I paused at the flagpole area of the town meeting hall. There on a large bronze tablet imbedded in a granite boulder were the names of hometown veterans who served in World War I. It was a solemn, enduring and eternal tribute to these men from a historic area of our country — one that required minimal maintenance after its installation about 90 years ago.

Perhaps Yankee frugality contributed to the design of this dignified memorial. With respect to the Natatorium, this same frugality married to common sense should be exercised: When would you spend $5,000 to fix a $500 car, or $500,000 to fix a $100,000 home? Probably when the money doesn’t come from you and potentially benefits special interest groups.

Good stewardship — the prudent and effective use of another’s resources — should always entail two questions: “Do we really need this?” and “If this were my money, would I buy or build this?”

The mayor’s office may have answered the first question, “Not really” and the second, “But it’s not my money.” In this time of fiscal limitations due in good part to government overspending, it is really time for common sense priorities — and taxpayer opinion — to prevail regarding the huge uncertain costs of rebuilding and maintaining the crumbling Natatorium.

John W. Nakao

Once more into murky waters we swim

Honolulu Advertiser

In the years of wrangling about the Natatorium, nobody ever mentioned that the large boulder with the bronze plaque sitting in the park fronting the Natatorium is the real memorial. On the plaque are the names of those from Hawai’i who died in World War I.

The Natatorium is architecturally unredeeming, an eyesore on the shoreline, and of questionable entertainment value as a passive pool, not to mention the possible health hazards.

If it is ever restored it will be extremely high maintenance, something which our government in Hawai’i has a poor reputation for doing adequately.

The $6 million or so that the mayor would like to spend just to keep it from falling into the ocean will no doubt be followed by millions more.

The late Everett Dirkson got it right. A million here, a million there: what…boddah you?

Edward L. Bonomi

Natatorium can be altered

Honolulu Advertiser

Contrary to the Harris administration’s assertions, historic preservation laws would not prevent the creation of a War Memorial Beach at the Natatorium site along the lines proposed by the Kaimana Beach Coalition to replace the crumbling, outdated and unhealthy pool. Although the Natatorium is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Hawai’i Register of Historic Places, these designations are not the end of the story.

Preservation laws do not preclude change to the Waikiki Natatorium.
Advertiser library photo

First, it is important to remember that not every registered historic place is preserved forever. In fact, the Harris administration recently demolished 15 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Properties as part of the ‘Ewa Villages Redevelopment project because the buildings were no longer viable due to economic and health and safety concerns.

Further examples include Tustin, Calif., where two World War II blimp hangars listed on the National Register were to be demolished despite being among the largest wooden buildings in the world — because the community wanted to develop a regional park. And in Minnesota, demolition of a historic bridge, also listed on the National Register, was planned because traffic had increased and a new bridge was required.

“Adaptive re-use” occurs when, as with Honolulu’s Natatorium, a community wishes to preserve, rather than demolish, essential historic features and beauty of the place, but must modify the structure to meet current economic realities or health and safety standards.

Despite the mayor’s assertions, the administration’s current plans are actually an example of “adaptive re-use” because they propose a modified Natatorium with different features than the original. The Harris plan eliminates a tall diving tower and two large reflecting pools, both of which were prominent features of the original site. Due to modern health standards and Department of Health rules, the Harris plan must also now include a pool with a hard bottom and cleanable sides (rather than the original sandy bottom). The pool must also use large motorized pumps to flush water through the pool (rather than rely on the original passive tidal flushing). These changes already add up to “adaptive re-use”; the only question now is of degree.

The Kaimana Beach Coalition’s proposal to create a memorial beach by modifying some of the walls of the pool is simply another type of “adaptive re-use.” It is far superior, however, because it will save the community millions of dollars in construction and upkeep, eliminate the public health risks of an untreated pool, reduce commercialization and bring final resolution to the Natatorium issue.

In short, the Kaimana Beach Coalition believes that a memorial beach would be entirely consistent with the letter and spirit of federal and state historic preservation laws, which allow for the “adaptive re-use” of historic properties to accommodate public health and safety concerns, local economic realities, and evolving community needs and values.

James J. Bickerton

It’s time we stopped wasting more millions

Honolulu Advertiser

Cheers to Paul Mizue for his Aug. 21 letter, “Fixing Natatorium would be a waste.”

If this “bit by bit” repair is allowed to go on for the future years, we are going to be looking at millions and millions, and since the salt air will continue to tear at the structure forever, we will have to set aside money every few years for the continued upkeep of this memorial.

There is no end to this repair bill. For what?

Yes, we love our memorials, and we are steeped in traditions of the past. Yes, Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe trained there, and it was once a glorious swimming pool, fondly remembered by a previous generation. But Duke Kahanamoku has a wonderful statue right on the sidewalk. We don’t need any more expensive memories.

And didn’t we spend millions recently on it?

The point is, it will never end. And it doesn’t even work. In fact, if you read your history books, it never did work properly.

So, if it will never work, and we will forever be spending millions of dollars in repair work, why is it kept there? How much nostalgia is Honolulu willing to pay for?

It’s right smack dab in the middle of the most expensive and most visited real estate in the world.

We desperately need more beach and park areas and more parking. What we don’t need is wasting more millions of dollars on this ugly, crumbling and hopelessly outdated drain on our taxes.

As World War I fades into memory, and the Olympics of the 1920s is relegated to the history books, it’s time to think of the future, and our new young athletes and schoolchildren, and what they need to make them competitive in the modern world. And that’s not memorials.

Bob Buscombe

Dearth of parking condemns renovation

Honolulu Advertiser

Your Aug. 16 editorial on the Natatorium was right on! Tear it down and restore the beach. Preserve the facade for a memorial.

Others would have us believe that the only group standing in the way of complete restoration is the group that uses the beach. Nonsense.

If we spent $50 million restoring the whole thing and building an Olympic-sized freshwater pool for competitions, no one would use it. Why? There is no parking available.

Evanita Midkiff

Fond memories, but pool’s time has come

Honolulu Advertiser

I remember going for my junior lifesaving merit badge as a Boy Scout at St. Augustine’s in 1950. Every day we jumped from the towers at the Natatorium and swam laps. (Anyone from Troop 51 out there?) Those days are gone, and so is the Natatorium.

Six million dollars to do a partial restoration, and the whole thing is falling apart. Making the Natatorium what it was is like making us who used it 55 years ago young again.

Clear the area, plant some explosives in it and destroy it. Make it a contiguous part of the shoreline with a small plaque on the shore that acknowledges its existence.

Fritz Amtsberg

New memorial would replace existing ones

Honolulu Advertiser

Three articles appeared in the July 28 edition of The Honolulu Advertiser about war memorials in Hawaii honoring those veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
We already have a befitting memorial for those veterans who died in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Wouldn’t it be a good thing to honor those veterans who died in World War I and World War II with a new memorial on the grounds of the State Capitol?

This new memorial would replace the natatorium and the memorial at Punchbowl and King streets.

If possible, the design would be a continuation of the Korean War and Vietnam War memorials.

Lester Nakata