By Ron Mizutani
It’s been the subject of controversy for more than 45 years: What to do with the aging Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial? On Tuesday, the latest plan was unveiled.
The Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial was built in 1927 in honor of the thousands of Hawaii soldiers who served in World War I. That was 86-years ago and the magnificent pool where Duke Kahanamoku once trained is showing its age.
Concrete seawalls are deteriorating and walkways have given way to father time and neglect.
“This is about honoring them and not dishonoring them with a crumbling facility that no one can use and is really is an eyesore for anyone who stands anywhere in Waikiki and looks Diamond Head,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.
For decades, some groups fought for restoration while others suggested demolition. The debate appears to have been settled.
“The pool will be demolished. A beach will be built that will match up with the Kaimana Beach,” Mayor Caldwell said. “And the memorial arches are going to be moved more mauka.”
The public beach will feature two groins to control erosion, a bathhouse, outdoor showers, and a new parking lot.
The cost to rehabilitate the crumbling Natatorium would be an estimated $69.4 million. The alternative is much more feasible at $18.4 million.
“The plan that is before us right now is the only practical way that we can honor the Memorial’s purpose and provide the celebration of joy and life that the memorial was originally intended,” Gov. Neil Abercrombie said.
An Environmental Inventory Survey is expected to be completed in six months and construction could start in two years.
Funding will come from the legislature and City Council.
Those who have fought for this site are satisfied, including 98-year-old Cecilia Blackfield.
“I called everyone on that stone whose family are still alive and they said return it to the beach,” Blackfield said.
“I am just delighted that we concluded, that we can give this back to the ocean from where it came and still honor and bless all of the brave soldiers that sacrificed themselves on our behalf,” Kaimana Beach Coalition spokesperson Rick Bernstein said.
“We’re going to show respect and we’re going to show good sense as well, put those two things together that’s what this plan is all about,” Mayor Caldwell said.