Natatorium plans viewed

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
By Rob Shikina

Some members of a special task force say their work will help the city make a decision on the fate of the Waikiki War Natatorium Memorial.

NATATORIUM THROUGH THE YEARS

The Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial consists of a pool twice as large as an Olympic-size pool, bleachers, restrooms and the iconic three-arch facade. The chronology:

  • 1927: Built with $178,050 to honor 101 soldiers killed and nearly 10,000 others who served in World War I.
  • 1928: First water quality problems begin occurring.
  • 1963: Natatorium closed because of poor water quality.
  • 1979: Site officially closed.
  • 1980: Natatorium placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • 1999: Lawsuit stops demolition.
  • 2000: Natatorium restoration starts.
  • 2001: Suit is filed to stop restoration.
  • 2002: State comes out with new regulations for saltwater pools.
  • 2004: Lawsuit stops the restoration.

Source: Wil Chee—Planning Inc., a consulting company for the city

“It’s a good process to put it all on the table so we can make a fair decision,” said Rick Egged, president of the Waikiki Improvement Association, who is one of 17 task force members. “It’s not an easy task because there’s so many differing opinions.”

The task force met for about 90 minutes yesterday at its first meeting and grilled the city’s consultant about four options.

The options were to demolish the Natatorium, do nothing, remove the pool and relocate the facade and renovate completely.

The city invited community leaders—including veterans, community volunteers, business representatives, a scientist and a state legislator—to serve on the task force.

The task force will meet once a month and present its best option on the Natatorium to the city in September.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann had said in his State of the City address that he is considering demolition of the memorial’s pool and moving the facade to another location.

“I wanted to do this community process,” said Hannemann at the meeting, adding that he recognized the purpose of the memorial. “Even though you feel instinctively that this is the way to go, nothing beats the validation of the community to ensure that all hands are on board.”

He told the task force that he did not want them to study the issue to death.

“I don’t want to put this off. I’d really like for us to do this,” he said. “This in many instances remains an eyesore.”

Donna L. Ching, vice president of the Friends of the Natatorium, who is on the task force, said the panel will bring out information on the site that has been previously limited.

“I think the task force will round out the discussion,” she said. “I’m very hopeful.”

Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of the Historic Hawai’i Foundation, said she believes the city should restore the memorial.

“It’s on both the national and the state register of historic places,” said Faulkner. “It’s played a critical role in marine history as well as military history as well as the development of Waikiki as well as a place where keiki go to swim and to learn ocean safety. It’s an amazing place. It should be again.”

But she supported the task force.

“I think it’s a really important step to bring all the stakeholders together to evaluate what is it that matters to us and how that plays out on this particular site,” she said. “I commend the city for taking this step, and I hope that it will truly be an honest look at all the alternatives and what appeals for us as a community.”