The “War To End All Wars” War Memorial war continues

Hawaii Public Radio
The Conversation: Wednesday, May 8th, 2013


Excerpt transcribed by the Kaimana Beach Coalition.

Chris Vandercook: This is The Conversation on HPR2, I’m Chris Vandercook.

Beth-Ann Kozlovich: I’m Beth-Ann Kozlovich.

BAK: Walk carefully in Waikiki and carry a big stick – you’ll need it to draw your line in the sand to keep or reclaim the Natatorium. The four-decades old fight still continues despite last week’s show of solidarity with certain community groups, Governor Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. Will the war memorial turn back to the beach? The mayor hopes so and he’s on the phone with us this morning. Good morning, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell: Hey good morning Beth-Ann, it’s good to talk to you this morning, just got back from selling newspapers for [our] PAC this morning and what a beautiful day out there and a lot of generosity shown by the community and now we’re on the radio with you talking about a very important issue in Waikiki, the Natatorium.

BAK: Just another busy day.

KC: Yes.

BAK: But let’s talk about this Natatorium issue, because it’s not one that we haven’t been talking about for hm, what, 45 years or so? That’s most of your life, since you were a little boy!

KC: You too, you probably weren’t even born yet!

BAK: How then, do we try to move this into some level of reconciliation or compromise or just conclusion?

KC: I think conclusion is the most important thing here. You know, this proposal that we’re talking about – tearing down the pool, moving the arches, preserving the iconic arches, and the memorial itself, is what came out of a task force that worked for almost a year back in 2009 and 10 and this task force is comprised of residents of Waikiki, veterans’ groups, and others, preservationists, and they took a vote, and the overwhelming majority of the people voted [that the] best solution for the Natatorium was to remove the pool, reestablish a beach, and celebrate the best thing about Waikiki, which is open beach-like area, and preserve the memorial, and the arches, near the stone plaque that honors those who gave their ultimate sacrifice in World War I. And that’s what we’re doing.

BAK: In some ways this is really tearing a heart between the realities of cost to either modernize it, restore it in some way, or to say, OK, we’re going to leave the best part of it which is the memorial itself, obviously, relocate it a little bit, and have respect for the monument. But getting caught in between that there are groups of people who say they don’t feel that they were really part of the process. [Honolulu Councilmember] Stanley Chang says well, let’s ask the constituents to weigh in, which is in fact sort of what they’ve kind of already done…

KC: Right.

BAK: …it seems as if there’s always this movement to see if we do it one more time, maybe we’ll find a way to make everybody happy. Is that really possible?

KC: I don’t think so. You know, one thing Beth-Ann, that saltwater swimming pools were the rage back in the 1920’s and 30’s and you could find them up and down the west coast of the United States – some on the east coast, too, and of course we had our Natatorium here in Waikiki. But you look around this country and most saltwater pools have gone by the wayside. The main reason is, the health standards set today are so extreme that [it’s] very expensive. So to rebuild the pool, and maintain it properly, is almost a 70 million dollar undertaking versus demolishing the pool and putting in a beach is about 18.4 million. And, you know, I think we’re doing something that the community wants to see done. At this point, we’ve shown great disrespect, as Governor Abercrombie said, by allowing the pool to decay over the past four decades. And to continue the debate and talk about what else we should do and let’s give it more time to raise money, we’ve had a lot of time for people to raise money to address doing something else with the pool. Not one dollar has been raised. And I believe that this is something that’s affordable, that the taxpayers of the City and County of Honolulu and the State of Hawaii are willing to pay, and think about this: once it’s done, when you stand on Waikiki beach down by the Sheraton or the Royal, and look towards Diamond Head, that iconic image that everyone around the world identifies with Hawaii, you no longer see a bunch of white bleachers blocking out the trees behind it. You’ll see a beautiful beach. With arches that you will actually get to see, with eagles on the top. And people will know, that’s the memorial to those in World War I who gave their ultimate sacrifice for their country.

BAK: All that sounds perfectly lovely, unless you are talking to people who are Friends of the Natatorium, or Kapiolani Park Preservation Society. Is there anything, is there any way of being able to bring them into the fold, if not make them happy, but somehow to do something that would create some sort of compromise for them, or is that really going to be simply out of the question because this has gone on for so long now that cost is just going to be the defining line?

KC: Well, I think it’s – first, the Kapiolani Trust, my understanding could be wrong, but I think one of their Board members was at the press conference and spoke very eloquently about the plan, and so I’m not certain that the Trust is opposed to restoring a beach in that area. They are concerned about building facilities in Trust land, but I’m not certain that they’re opposed. The Friends of the Natatorium are opposed, they have been opposed, the task force was comprised of community input, the very input that they want to have more of, and at the end of the day, I think just like anything in life, Beth-Ann, when decisions are made, not everyone will be in agreement, but as long as it was open, there was discussion and input, we need to move forward, otherwise what can happen here, is we can stall out a decision, spend another 30 or 40 years talking about whether everyone’s concerns have been addressed, and at some point the pool is going to crumble into the sea, it’s on the verge, it has collapsed in areas, and that’s the ultimate disrespect.

So I think this is a decision we can afford, it’s the decision that is supported by the task force as I mentioned, comprised by a lot of different stakeholders in the community, and I think while some people disagree, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to move forward finally after 40 years and restore a beach that everyone can use. I mean, beaches around this island are eroding, there’s very few beaches that people who live in the community go to in Waikiki, Kaimana beach is one of those. And this additional beach I think will be an expansion of Kaimana beach and will allow people to come down and enjoy themselves with their families. Coming from the ahupua‘a of Manoa, McCully, Makiki, Nuuanu, Palolo.

BAK: My. Mayor, do you think it’s possible that we’re going to actually see some conclusion to all this when you’ve got groups still threatening lawsuits that will perhaps protract this even further into the future to where the solution simply becomes, the pool does crumble into the sea? Although you may be saying “enough already,” they may be saying, and certainly are, “not enough.”

KC: Yeah. You know, as you know when I was in private practice for 30 years, clients, people can always file lawsuits. If we follow the procedure appropriately, and the most important thing is doing a thorough, complete, EIS which will address many of the concerns that are being raised by those opposed to the Natatorium being removed, and then we proceed expeditiously and openly through the fund – you know, getting funds from the State and County government, I believe we can move forward as Mayor and working with the Governor we’re going to work really hard to do exactly that.

BAK: Alright.

KC: To finally come up with a solution and make a difference in this part of Waikiki once and for all. To those who want to challenge, we’ll be open to what they have to say. But I think –

BAK: I just hope that we’re all alive so we can see that solution. I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor, we’ve gotta go…

KC: No problem.

BAK: …but thanks so much for your time this morning, I know you have to go too. Thanks.

KC: Yes. Thank you, Beth-Ann.

BAK: Aloha.

KC: Aloha.

BAK: Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell was born in Waipahu and raised in Hilo before leaving Hawaii to study Urban Planning and Economics at Tufts University. He came home to attend the UH Law School, was Managing Partner at Ashford and Wriston and since 2002 has been in public service. How to serve a public divided over the future of the Natatorium has been the issue no mayor has been able to answer though in 45 years.