Natatorium revival deserves scrutiny


POSTED: Monday, June 01, 2009

Closed 30 years ago as a health and safety hazard, the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium deserves to be restored, if feasible, as a memorial to Hawaii's World War I veterans. A task force named by Mayor Mufi Hannemann should recognize its historical and architectural importance in determining the extent to which it should be renovated and maintained.

Deterioration of the memorial created a battle between city and state governments during the 1990s. On his first day on the job in 2005, Mayor Mufi Hannemann canceled previous Mayor Jeremy Harris' $6.1 million plan to restore the 1927 pool where Duke Kahanamoku once swam laps.

Hannemann said then that any further work on the natatorium would be a waste of tax dollars. But the task force should give more than scant consideration to the solemn pledge made when the natatorium was built in 1927 to remember and honor the veterans of World War I.

In this year's State of the City address, the mayor said he was considering demolition of the natatorium and moving the once-elegant facade. His 17-member task force, including past adversaries on the issue, is to recommend what to do with the landmark.

Restoring the saltwater pool, which was closed in 1963 because of poor water quality, may be difficult and costly. One past design provided for frequent flushing of the pool and daily monitoring of water quality for reducing staphylococcus, a bacteria that causes pus in boils and abscesses. However, retired Navy chief petty officer Fred Ballard, a member of the Friends of the Natatorium, said removing the pool would mean “;destroying part and parcel of the war memorial.”;

An Army Corps of Engineers study offers seven options, all for turning the pool area into a sandy beach, ranging in price from $1.7 million to $6.3 million apart from the cost of keeping or demolishing the facade. The task force should await completion of a study on the feasibility of renovating the natatorium before making its recommendation.

“;I don''t want to put this off,”; Hannemann told the task force, but its work should not be rushed. The group should not allow the current recession to be a factor in determining what to do with the pool after the economy has recovered and Waikiki's tourism businesses can be prevailed upon to contribute toward a restoration project.

Undoubtedly, the task of renovating the natatorium would be difficult and expensive, but respect and gratitude for the sacrifices of a past generation of soldiers and sailors demand that it be given full consideration.