Waikiki natatorium should be torn down, task force decides

Honolulu Advertiser
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

The facade of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium might be preserved but moved elsewhere.
Advertiser library photo

A city task force voted yesterday to recommend a dramatic change to Waikiki’s shoreline: The demolition of the 82-year-old Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium and creation of a beach in its place.

The recommendation will go to the mayor, who has supported demolition.

If it goes forward, the plan would end a 30-year back-and-forth over what to do with the crumbling natatorium, which has long been called a collapse hazard. But natatorium supporters said they are not ready to call it quits and pledged yesterday to use legal or other means to try to save the historic site.

“Despite the outcome … we will continue to pursue the preservation of the structure,” said Donna Ching, Friends of the Natatorium vice president and a task force member.

Ching voted in favor of stabilizing the structure and restoring its deck and swimming pool with private funds when they become available.

Two others on the task force also voted in favor of stabilization. But nine members voted to demolish the structure, build a beach in its place and relocate the natatorium’s landmark arches to another location.

A city employee on the task force also supported demolition, but his vote wasn’t counted. It was only to be used to break a tie.

City estimates put the cost of stabilizing the natatorium at $14 million.

The total cost of rehabilitating the natatorium would be about $57 million, according to the city.

Meanwhile, the city said, demolishing the site and building a beach would cost about $15 million.

The city formed the 17-member advisory task force in May, largely in hope of bringing the long discussion over what to do with the natatorium to an end.

The fate of the war memorial, with its swimming pool, bleachers and arched facade, has been in limbo since 1979, when it was shut down for safety reasons.

Since then, it has continued to deteriorate, creating a multimillion-dollar headache.

DECAYING LANDMARK

Today, the natatorium’s deck has massive holes where concrete has corroded or fallen away.

The landmark is on the national and state registers of historic places.

At the meeting yesterday, several community members made impassioned pleas to save the structure.

“Look at it as an asset, not as a liability,” said Kaimuki resident Carla Von Wiegandt.

Peter Apo, Friends of the Natatorium president, said the memorial is as sacred as a burial place.

“It is unconscionable that we should even think of taking one stone,” he said.

But supporters of demolition said the community would get more use out of a public beach.

They also argued it will be cheaper to tear down the structure than repair it.

Task force member Rick Bernstein, of the Kaimana Beach Coalition, said the vote was a “noble thing.”

Others added that they are excited the issue is finally moving forward.

“It’s an eyesore,” said Jean Pierre Cercillieux, general manager of the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel.

“Status quo is not an option. One thing is for sure, we have to think about the community.”