Mayor backs plan to raze Natatorium

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
By Pat Gee

Mayor Mufi Hannemann has accepted a recommendation to demolish the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium’s dilapidated swimming pool and bleachers, but supporters of the historic landmark are not ready to surrender.

Hannemann announced yesterday he will move ahead with the recommendations of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium Task Force to preserve the memorial’s arches, but raze the pool and bleachers to create additional beach space. Under the plan, the arches would be reconstructed and moved inland to preserve the memorial as an entryway to the new beach.

Fred Ballard, president of the Oahu Veterans Council who voted against the plan as a member of the 17-member task force, said: “I fully expected the mayor to go along with the task force’s decision. We (the supporters of full restoration) knew we’d be outvoted. But we put up the best fight we could.

“It’s not over yet. It won’t happen, not without a battle,” he added.

Indeed, Hannemann noted that there is a long way to go, saying the process would require an environmental impact statement, permits, planning and design work, and appropriating funding before work can begin.

“The entire process could take eight years or so, and there will be plenty of time for citizen input into the process,” the mayor said. “However, it is my administration’s goal, endorsed by the task force, to cease what has been an interminable investment of tax dollars in this decaying public facility. My decision will enable the city to proceed with the next step of developing plans and beginning the environmental impact study process.”

The Natatorium was built in 1927 to honor the 101 Hawaii residents who died in World War I. It was closed to the public in 1979 and deemed a safety hazard a year later.

Hannemann praised the task force, which “concluded that the best way to honor the memory of the men and women who served in World War I, resolve the long-standing issues over the facility’s upkeep, and meet the needs of our residents and visitors for more beach space was to rebuild the memorial arches and demolish the aging structures.”

The task force was created by Hannemann in May and, after several public meetings, voted 9-3 in September in favor of the plan to restore the entryway arches and move them inland, and to demolish the pool and bleachers. Four members did not attend the vote and the chairman’s vote in favor of the plan was to be counted only if there had been a tie.

Ballard said that after the vote, three other members joined the dissenters in opposing the plan.

The city estimates that the cost to demolish the structure, relocate the arch and build a beach is $15.1 million, while the estimated cost to stabilize and restore the existing structures is $57 million, a figure disputed by the dissenters.

Ballard said the Oahu Veterans Council comprises 35 veterans organizations representing about 85,000 members. “The Natatorium is a war memorial to those who died in World War I and all veterans in Hawaii and elsewhere,” he said. “It should not be torn down. It’s a slap in the face to the nation’s military; it’s just not right.”

He predicted the city will face legal obstacles to the plan.