Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

*logoA recent study, conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and commissioned by the city of Honolulu, has rekindled a decades-long debate concerning the deteriorating condition of the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial.

According to an article published in the May 17 edition of the Honolulu Advertiser, the Army Corps of Engineers' study presented seven ways to create a sandy beach at the site where the memorial now stands.

While all of the plans would require the eventual demolition of the landmark's 100-by-40-meter saltwater swimming pool, several of the proposals involved maintaining the memorial's facade and bleachers.

Opened Aug. 24, 1927 -- the birthday of surfing legend and Olympic gold medal swimmer Duke Kahanamoku -- the Natatorium was dedicated to Hawaiian soldiers who served and died during World War I. Currently listed on both the national and state registers of historic places, the memorial was closed to the public in 1979 due to health and safety concerns.

Much of the controversy surrounding the Natatorium has since involved questions about who should pay to restore the site. Many solutions have been proposed over the last 30 years: everything from a multimillion-dollar, comprehensive renovation to demolishing the landmark entirely.

"It's been a long battle between the state and the city and county about who's going to take care of it and who's going to pay to renovate it," said Fred Ballard, president of the Oahu Veterans' Council. "Some years ago the Friends of the Natatorium, with the help of ... others, designed a new and improved, renovated swimming pool, and we've been trying to promote that, but nobody wants to spend the money on it."

Ballard, who is also secretary for the Friends of the Natatorium, opposes the plans outlined in the recent study because each option would first require the demolition of the Natatorium's saltwater pool.

"The swimming pool is the memorial," Ballard insisted. "That's our viewpoint ... and we feel, as veterans, that it's just a slap in the face to tear it down."

Members of the Kaimana Beach Coalition, an organization that has consistently opposed plans to renovate the memorial's saltwater pool, felt many of the proposals in the study offered reasonable solutions.

"Our position has always been that the only sustainable feature that you can have at that location is a public-access-type, traditional Hawaiian beach park," said Jim Bickerton, a representative for the coalition. "The reasoning is that doing anything else is very costly ... and it would have to be commercialized in order to be viable. And what that inevitably means is restricted local access to people who live here."

According to the Advertiser report, the city of Honolulu is currently funding a study on the cost of renovating the Natatorium.

Collins Lam, deputy director for the Honolulu Department of Design and Construction, said both studies were steps in an ongoing effort to ultimately decide the Natatorium's fate, but he was quick to mention that community input would also play a key role.

"The mayor has said we are going to form a task force for the Natatorium, and right now we are in the process of doing just that," Lam said. "It will be made up of a variety of people, from veterans to the Friends of the Natatorium to Kaimana Beach people."

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