“National Treasure?” Update

May 24, 2014

Want the quick summary? Read the Honolulu Star-Advertiser‘s May 24 editorial, “Don’t Abandon Existing Plan For Natatorium

On Tuesday evening, May 20, I received a phone call from Allison Schaefers, a writer for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. She informed me that the National Trust for Historic Preservation had just listed the Natatorium as a “National Treasure” and requested a comment from me as a spokesperson for the Kaimana Beach Coalition. The following is taken from the article which ran on Wednesday morning, with a front page photo of the Natatorium arch under the title of “National Treasure”:

“We have supported this change (for a beach) because the only alternative in redevelopment of the Natatorium would be a complete demolition of the structure. City engineers estimate that rebuilding it from the ground up would cost in excess of 70 million dollars, and it would necessitate commercialization of the structure to pay for the phenomenal amount of maintenance required to operate a salt water pool in the ocean, if they could even get a permit. The other alternative would be let the structure continue to cave into the ocean, which would be a risk to life and to the environment.”

Bernstein said the coalition wants to see the Abercrombie and Caldwell plan, based on the recommendation of the City-sponsored 2009 Waikiki Natatorium Task Force, move forward. “Making it a Memorial Beach rather than a Memorial swimming pool is the right thing to do for the people and for the ocean.”

On Thursday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser did a Big Q poll of readers asking if they preferred a restored Natatorium with a pool or a razed Natatorium with a new beach and the arches moved back. The response was amazing! 4,200 people voted and 90% favored the new beach plan.

John Pritchett's cartoon in MidWeek, June 3, 2014.

John Pritchett’s cartoon in MidWeek, June 3, 2014.

That afternoon, the two representatives from the National Trust for Historic Preservation were the guests on the Town Square radio show with Beth-Ann Kozlovich. The Washington DC based officers of the NTHP, a non-profit, non-governmental lobbying group, extolled the virtues of the Natatorium and described how it sat adjacent to “Waahkeekee”. I called in and asked if they took into consideration the feelings and wishes of the communities they were inserting themselves into. They affirmed that “yes they did”. I then asked if they had seen the results of the Big Q survey that was in the paper that very day and explained to them and the listening audience that the vote was 9 to 1 in opposition to their plan to rebuild the Natatorium. Flustered, they said, “well, it’s not a scientific poll so it doesn’t have much merit or bearing on the issue”. They continued to spin the story to make it sound as if the issue was still up in the air and no decisions had been made. Their interview was a demonstration of Washington D.C. public relations at its worst. Hawaii was treated to some world class spin doctors rarely seen in these parts.

On Saturday May 24 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser opened the editorial page with “Don’t Abandon Existing Plan For Natatorium”.

It seems that the Historic Hawaii Foundation and the Friends of the Natatorium have upped the game in their opposition to a new beach and called in the “big guns”. Unfortunately for them, the community did not take the bait and voted overwhelmingly (9 to 1) against them. They have made noises about bringing a lawsuit against the City and State to stop the planned Memorial Beach. Perhaps this spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment, along with the weight of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial, will dissuade them so that we can move forward and finally have peace in this long suffering war. Perhaps its name, The Waikiki War Memorial, is more perfect than we have ever realized. Since it was built, there has been nothing but war surrounding its presence. Enough is enough. It’s time for a peaceful solution, a Memorial Beach.

Rick Bernstein
Kaimana Beach Coalition