Sunday, December 5, 2004


Natatorium was promise
to honor war veterans


Mayor-elect Mufi Hannemann has said he will cancel the $6.1 million repair project for the Waikiki natatorium.

A CHANGE in the city administration will bring a new attitude about the preservation of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium. Mayor Harris has been bent on repairing it. Mayor-elect Mufi Hannemann says any further work on the monument will be a waste of taxpayers' money.

While Hannemann is resolute about keeping Harris' promise to Leeward residents to close the Waimanalo Gulch landfill by 2008, he may be overlooking the intrinsic, solemn pledge made when the natatorium was built so many decades ago: to remember and honor the veterans of World War I.

It is an obligation not to be set aside so readily, especially as American troops fight a new war in a foreign land.

Moreover, Hannemann -- as well as the public -- should acknowledge that the memorial would not be in such a ruinous condition had not previous government leaders been remiss.

That it has become an eyesore in Hawaii's landmark district is a shameful testament to the ineffectiveness of elected officials and to a community quick to forget the sacrifices of a generation.

Hannemann regards the $6.1 million cost of stabilizing the memorial, closed since 1979 for health and safety reasons, as throwing good money after bad. Having campaigned on a theme of returning the city's priorities to basic services, of the "must haves" vs. the "nice to haves," he probably sees monument repairs as the latter.

That is an understandable viewpoint, particularly because the city has struggled in recent years to make budgetary ends meet. But during the campaign, Hannemann touted his ability to persuade and could use that skill toward raising funds to restore the natatorium to its former glory.

Waikiki's tourism and hotel businesses that have seen healthy income boosts during the last two years should be prevailed upon to contribute toward a restoration effort. Civic groups, such as the American Legion and other veterans organizations, and members of the public could display their patriotism by joining in.

The Beaux Arts structure that has been marked as one of America's most endangered places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation dates back to 1927. Its crumbling pool where notables such as Duke Kahana-moku once swam laps is no longer a public need, replaced by fresh-water venues. Though the city fixed up the facade, nature and neglect have taken their toll.

Renovating the natatorium will be expensive. It will be difficult. But respect for our past and gratitude to our soldiers demand that it be done.

The natatorium has been devalued by 25 years of inattention. Tearing it down would devalue a nation's word.

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