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Hawaii’s Natatorium War Memorial Declared a “National Treasure” — What’s Next for the Waikiki Landmark?


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Photo: Courtesy National Trust for Historic Preservation

Do you have fond memories of swimming in the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial before it was boarded up and declared a safety hazard?

One group has been working to collect memories of the historic site for an oral history video project hosted on YouTube.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to talk story about the Natatorium and why it’s so important to preserve it,” says Mo Radke, president of the Friends of the Natatorium, a local nonprofit committed to the preservation and restoration of the memorial.

In a related move this week, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a national organization that works to save endangered historic places, declared the Natatorium to be a “National Treasure.”

Stephanie Meeks, the National Trust’s president, said, “The Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial is a one-of-a-kind resource that is unique to both Hawaii and the nation.”

Built in 1927, the Natatorium pays tribute to the 10,000 residents of Hawaii who served in World War I, including soldiers, sailors, Red Cross workers, emergency responders and missionaries.

In 1979, the Natatorium was closed to the public because of severe disrepair. In 1995, it was listed as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic places. The designation helped to launch a restoration effort led by former Mayor Jeremy Harris, but was halted four years later by lawsuits arguing that the state did not have saltwater pool regulations to guarantee public health and safety.

Complex saltwater pool regulations were eventually established and repairs to the archway were completed at a cost of $4 million. In 2009, a local task force was created to provide recommendations on the future of the Natatorium. The National Trust wrote a letter opposing the demolition of the memorial and The Honolulu Advertiser ran an op-ed by the Trust favoring preservation. Despite these efforts, the task force recommended demolition.

In 2012, Gov. Neil Abercrombie explored the feasibility of converting the pool to a beach volleyball venue but that plan was abandoned in 2013 when the governor and Mayor Kirk Caldwell jointly announced their support for demolition of the memorial.

Preserving the Natatorium War Memorial had long been a goal of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye. In 1973, Inouye expressed his strong support for rehabilitation on the floor of the Senate, stating, “As I believe we have destroyed enough of pre-World War II Hawaii, I am fully supportive of current efforts to preserve, restore and improve this historic landmark.”

For more information about the oral history project, contact Mo Radke at moradke@gmail.com.

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Honolulu Magazine April 2018
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