Natatorium: City should save essence of memorial

Honolulu Advertiser

It’s Waikiki’s most famous symbol of municipal neglect.

The crumbling War Memorial Natatorium — more than 80 years old and closed for the last 30 — remains a silent rebuke to the years of bitter, still unresolved debate over its future, into which millions of taxpayer dollars have been poured.

It’s long past time to make a decision about the natatorium’s fate, painful as it may be. With the exception of the restored Beaux-Arts style arch and facade, the monument has become a deterioriating safety hazard — hardly a fitting tribute to the 101 World War I veterans it was meant to honor.

Salt water, relentlessly wearing down the concrete pool walls and deck, caused part of the pool deck to collapse in 2004. Without action, the structure will continue to slowly crumble into the sea, perhaps taking the bleachers and the facade with it.

So it’s a welcome sign to see Mayor Hannemann administration’s latest efforts to finally resolve this problem. Public meetings that are planned should offer residents clear choices on the pros and cons of various options, including one to fully restore the pool and bleachers — the primary point of contention.

The natatorium’s defenders, including the Friends of the Natatorium, make a reasonable argument that the pool is an integral part of the historic monument, which opened with Duke Kahanamoku’s inaugural swim in 1927.

Nonetheless, it’s unlikely the city can afford to pay for a full restoration. So unless a workable plan involving a public-private partnership can be forged, it’s time to move on: Save what can be saved, pay proper respect to our war veterans, and put the shoreline back to public use, with or without a pool.