How To Save Natatorium Memorial

Bob Hogue
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Wednesday - April 01, 2009
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Keep the archway, fill in the pool for beach volleyball

It seems ironic that on the same weekend I decided to take a stroll near the diamondhead end of Waikiki, including sauntering past the decaying, but still spectacularly ever-present Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial, that the much-debated issue of the future of this incredible monument should once again make front-page news.

But here it is all over again, and probably just as controversial as ever - just what do we do with the natatorium?

First off, I’ve always seen merit in what the Friends of the Natatorium are trying to protect. It is, after all, a memorial.

And in my humble view, memorials should be ever-lasting, even if those whom we are memorializing are long forgotten by many.

My grandfather and his brothers served in World War I, so I understand it from that perspective. And later, when my grandfather moved from Scotland to these beautiful islands and settled in Manoa, my mother and her sisters enjoyed the Natatorium festivities and swam many times in the old pool. It was definitely an exciting time in what many cherish as the good old days of Waikiki.


 

But I also see the practicality today from those who want more beach space, and who view the historic edifice as an unfortunate eyesore and a safety hazard. Despite some nice repair work to the front archway a few years back, the concrete structure is slowly falling apart, and the saltwater pool has been unusable for three decades.

One side says restore it, the other side says tear it down to make more beach space available. Both sides believe they are right.

Maybe they’re both right. Can that possibly be?

Here’s another viewpoint - and perhaps, just maybe, it offers a bit of the middle ground in which both sides come away with some of what they want.

Ten years ago or so, my former colleague in the state Legislature, Sen. Fred Hemmings, offered up an idea that many had privately espoused.

I’m sure he wasn’t the only person saying it, but he said it quite often on a public stage, and so he deserves some of the credit. Why not keep the memorial and turn the pool area into beach volleyball courts? At the time I wasn’t so sure, but now a decade later, and with no end in sight to the controversy, I can see much merit in his proposal.

Much like then-hugely popular ocean-swimming events in the days of Duke Kahanamoku and the opening of the Natatorium, nowadays beach volleyball has reached new heights in popularity.

Why not recognize that the public’s taste for sports on the beach has changed?

Just look at what’s been happening on the national and international stage in recent years. How many hours of television did NBC-TV devote to beach volleyball in the last Olympics?

How many beach volleyball events now end up on ESPN and other networks throughout the summer schedule?

The answer to both questions: many.

Hemmings suggested that preserving the memorial, but turning the beach space into sand volleyball courts, could bring nationally televised events to Waikiki.


And why not? There already are a huge amount of tournaments that play out on the sand just a few hundred yards up the beach at Kuhio. Why not move those tournaments and the people they bring in down to the Natatorium? Wouldn’t the new historic setting attract many more?

Hemmings had an additional idea that also seemed kind of fun. He imagined covering the sand in the evening for use by ball-

room dance classes or for dining and receptions. Why not for that, too? What better way for people to enjoy one of the most romantic spots on the island under the stars, with a chance to appreciate and revel in the true spirit of the memorial and what it means?

Taking his idea a step further, why not bring in people from the Friends of the Natatorium, the volleyball and ocean sports clubs, and members of the Waikiki Community Association and other neighborhood groups to work together to preserve the best parts of all ideas presented?

That would be a true memorial, and one worthy of the sacrifice of our beloved ancestors, and still true to the aloha spirit that lives on the beach today.

Just a thought as I go out for another stroll.

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