MidWeek: Lifestyle/Island Matters, June 4, 2014
By Mufi Hannemann
A crumbling structure with faded memories is the focus of a newly designated national treasure in Hawaii, which continues to serve as a setting to remember those who lost their lives in the armed forces during the first World War. Last week, on Memorial Day, dignitaries, residents and visitors alike had a chance to hear moving tributes at the Natatorium War Memorial in Waikiki.
Now a ruin and one of the last standing architectural landmarks of old Hawaii, the island icon has received a great deal of attention both nationally and locally this month. It has just been named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which comes on the heels of demolition and preservation plans — pending further review.
“To be demolished or not to be” has long been a subject of controversy over the decades. I applaud the City and County of Honolulu and the state of Hawaii, which are following through on plans that stemmed from a task force I commissioned as Honolulu mayor back in May 2009. I accepted the findings back then made by a 16-member task force to demolish the historic site and build two groins in order to create a beach, and restore/rebuild the arches inland. In its place would be a public memorial and a stadium, ensuring that we always pay proper tribute to our World War I heroes, and also providing our water enthusiasts with an expanded Waikiki beach area.
This dual commitment by both the city and state governments showing collaborative restoration efforts is a positive step forward to getting beyond the status quo predicament in which we have been mired for much too long. For those who feel that the $18.4 million price tag delves too deeply into the pocketbooks of Hawaii taxpayers, a full restoration of the natatorium would cost nearly $69 million! Moreover, a recent Honolulu Star-Advertiser online poll resulted in 90 percent of the respondents in favor of the plan recommended by the 2009 task force. The work is expected to begin in 2015 with a timeline completion of two years.
I would like to personally acknowledge again Collin Lam (my former deputy director at the city’s Department of Design and Construction) who chaired the Waikiki Natatorium Task Force, and all the community members who laid the groundwork with the help of city and state officials and consultants for the plan that is being lauded today. Other members are Lt. Gen H. C. Stackpole (veteran), Rick Bernstein (Kaimana Beach Coalition), Jean Pierre Cercillieux (Kaimana Beach Hotel), Dr. Chip Fletcher (UH professor of ocean engineering), Edgar Hamasu (veteran), state Rep. Ken Ito (veteran), Dr. Andrew Rossiter (Waikiki Aquarium), Rick Egged (Waikiki Improvement Association), Donna Ching (Friends of the Natatorium), Kiersten Faulkner (Hawaii Historic Foundation), Fred Ballard (veteran), Art Caleda (veteran), Brian Keaulana (waterman), Hannie Anderson (paddler) and Tim Guard (businessman and military affairs advocate).
Their recommendation was no easy task. The other options thoroughly studied were: 1) Keep the natatorium as is; 2) Relocate the arches to a different site on Oahu; 3) Conduct a full restoration; or 4) Turn it into a beach volleyball and aquarium site. The final vote was nine to three — seven members were in favor of the creation of a new beach, three raised their hand for full restoration and two voted for the demolition and construction of a world-class aquarium.
* Since we are on the subject of national treasures, William W. “Bill” Paty Jr., a veteran of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, is himself a living treasure. He was an Army captain and member of the 101st Airborne Division during World War II, who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day with thousands of other soldiers. He was captured as a POW, had two failed attempts at fleeing the enemy and was later decorated with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his bravery and survival.
Paty, a former agricultural executive and chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources in the Waihee administration, will be the guest of honor Friday at the Home of the Brave Brewseum. It is the newest edition to Glen Tomlinson’s World War II museum located at 909 Waimanu St. in Kakaako. Tomlinson features one of the largest collections of WWII memorabilia that you will ever see in the Pacific. How fitting it is that Paty, who rarely speaks of his combat experience, will be recognized there for his valiant military service on the 70th anniversary of D-Day this Friday.
On behalf of his countless admirers, I send a special salute to a very deserving patriot of our times.