- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

HONOLULU (AP) — The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, meant to stand for the ages as a memorial to Hawaii’s World War I veterans, has suffered decades of neglect, leaving it crumbling and almost forgotten.

Now it’s at the center of a debate that pits Honolulu’s new cost-cutting mayor against historical preservationists.

Natatorium supporters want to save the memorial’s rare oceanside swimming pool, while opponents want to replace it with a beach. It’s not at all clear which would cost more.

The memorial, listed in 1995 as one of the nation’s 11 Most Endangered Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, includes stadium seating above the saltwater pool christened in 1927 with a dive by Hawaiian surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku.

Some of the past’s most famous swimmers — including Olympian Johnny Weissmuller and movie star Esther Williams — swam at what was once a popular island swimming hole and competitive swimming stadium. But the now-murky pool is steadily slipping into the sea.

The pool area at the War Memorial has been moldering and unvisited since the state Department of Health closed it in 1979.

Two decades later, the memorial, located in the shadow of Diamond Head adjacent to a row of luxury high-rises and hotels known as the Gold Coast, became part of the massive two-term push by then-Mayor Jeremy Harris to revive the popular Waikiki tourist district.

The project quickly touched off a struggle between community groups and officials as those who supported the memorial’s preservation squared off with those who would rather see the pool replaced with a public beach or other recreation area, leaving the war memorial facade standing off the shore.

Monuments to history are not built to eventually be destroyed, said Peter Apo, spokesman for the Friends of the Natatorium, a community group that wants to see the memorial preserved in its entirety. “A promise should not be diminished because a lot of years have passed,” he said. “I’ve never heard of a short-term memory memorial.”

Cost is central to each argument: each group contends the other’s plan will require more taxpayer money, but no one has done a study that says exactly how much either plan would cost today.

More than five years after restoration work ceased on the pool area, the future of the memorial still remains unclear. Emergency repair work that began last year to stabilize the crumbling pool area was officially suspended by the new mayor on Monday.

The suspension was one of Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s first official acts, making good on a campaign promise to scuttle Harris-era public projects he perceived as unnecessary luxuries. The city spent $4.6 million to renovate the memorial’s facade more than four years ago. Another $6.1 million had been earmarked to pay for fixing the remainder of the monument.

A community group that opposed the project said it would be too costly and would further expand the tourist district into territory frequented mostly by locals. Meanwhile, those who support restoration say any new plan will take years to get the right permits. They put a $28.3 million price tag on turning the land under the pool into a beach.

But without a plan in hand, it’s impossible to project how long or what it would take to approve a demolition and beach-building project, said Peter Young, director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees historic preservation, land conservation and water resources.

City Councilman Charles Djou, whose district includes Waikiki, said that while demolition of the pool appears to be the least expensive option, the finances are unclear.

“What makes me a little uncomfortable here is I don’t feel that I have gotten good independent numbers from either side,” Mr. Djou said, adding that he wants to see a cost analysis of the project as promised by Mr. Hannemann.

“The easiest thing to do is just do nothing, which is exactly what the city and state government did for a quarter of a century,” he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide