Still standing

Honolulu Weekly, May 2010
Adrienne LaFrance

City moves forward, if slowly, with Natatorium demolition

WAIKIKI NATATORIUM WAR MEMORIAL / More than a year since Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann assembled a task force to determine the fate of the long-closed Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial, the City is taking steps toward implementing that task force’s recommendation to demolish the 83-year-old Beaux Arts swimming pool and memorial.

After scrapping restoration plans that were underway for the site when he took office in 2005, Hannemann in November 2009 said he supports the task force’s recommendation to tear down the memorial and create a beach on its footprint.

“The City has just recently signed a contract with planning consultant Wil Chee Planning to perform the [environmental impact statement],” wrote City spokesman Bill Brennan in an e-mail last week. “[Wil Chee] is finalizing the scope of work before the company begins the EIS process.”

That process requires the City to secure a slew of permits from various City, State and federal agencies. Wil Chee is famously tight-lipped about its dealings with the City, and refers all inquiries back to the Department of Design and Construction, whose deputy director did not return interview requests before press time. Preservationists, however, say their fight to prevent the crumbling memorial from being torn down is just getting started.

”The National Trust for Historic Preservation has made it very clear that they will help invoke whatever federal and state regulations are in place to prevent such an action from being taken,” says Friends of the Natatorium Vice President Donna Ching. “The legal road is a very long and treacherous one for the city. And a costly one. We don’t think that they could ever get there.”

Preliminary estimates by the City’s task force found demolition would cost at least $15 million. While that’s still far less than restoration and ongoing maintenance that restoration would require, Ching notes that just a decade ago, the state spent $1.2 million on an EIS process that led to the decision to restore the memorial.

“I’m not sure how Wil Chee is going to find anything different,” says Ching. “All the ocean conditions are the same. The regulations and constraints on the site, like the marine conservation district, are all the same. It’s all been thoroughly studied. This has all been done.”

Above all, Ching says the historic protections in place–and those willing to fight for them–mean the City won’t be pulling up bulldozers to Kaimana Beach anytime soon.

“I don’t know how the City thinks that they’re going to get the approval to knock down a war memorial that’s a national and historic registered facility,” says Ching. “It’s a big waste of time and an even bigger waste of money.”