Mayor supports plan to demolish Waikiki Natatorium; vets group vows fight

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Insight logoHonolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann announced that he intends to move ahead with a recommendation to raze the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium's crumbling bleachers and saltwater swimming pool.



His Nov. 29 decision follows September's 9-3 vote by the city's Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium Task Force, created by Hannemann in May, that endorsed a plan to preserve the memorial's arches and move them farther inland while demolishing the pool and bleachers to create more beachfront.

"The 17-member task force ... concluded that the best way to honor the memory of the men and women who served in World War I, resolve the long-standing issues over the facility's upkeep and meet the needs of our resident and visitors for more beach space was to rebuild the memorial arches and demolish the aging structures," Hannemann said in a statement.

Task force member Fred Ballard, president of the Oahu Veterans Council and a longtime proponent of the Natatorium's complete restoration, voted against the plan and insists his organization's efforts to save the memorial are far from over.

"There are a lot of hoops [the mayor] is going to have to jump through if he's going to tear down something that's a national treasure," Ballard told Travel Weekly. "And some of those will probably include legal issues and the courts. He's got a long battle ahead."

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.

Ballard is also the secretary for Friends of the Natatorium, a 501(c)3 nonprofit group pushing for government funding to stabilize the memorial's rundown structures so an aggressive fundraising effort to restore the Natatorium with both private and public money can begin in earnest.

"We have had a very difficult time raising funds as Friends of the Natatorium because there's never been support from the city or the state," Ballard said. "Who's going to donate money to something that everybody up at that level is saying needs to be torn down? ... If we had the ability to say, 'Yes, the state is in agreement that we need to stabilize and preserve it,' then we could go out and be very aggressive with our fundraising."

Hannemann's plan to refurbish the memorial's arches while demolishing the Natatorium's bleachers and pool will reportedly cost about $15 million. Ballard said he's not convinced that restoring the complete memorial would cost much more than that but conceded the Natatorium is in pretty bad shape.

"We fully understand what a detriment it is to that beautiful beach area down there," Ballard said. "Waikiki is prime country, and right now [the Natatorium is] a big eyesore. But if it was restored, it would be a wonderful destination point."

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