News: History in Honolulu: Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial
Story by Kristen Wong
HONOLULU — At the edge of Waikiki, a silent, white structure stands tall, like a gateway to the ocean. Its gates are closed, and a peek through its iron bars reveals only a minimal view of its interior. Tourists, or even many residents who were born after 1979, may be wondering just what lies beyond this gate.
This structure is known as the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial. It was built to honor Hawaii residents who fought in World War I. In his book, “Hawaii in the World War,” author Ralph S. Kuykendall wrote the idea for building the memorial was first conceived in 1918.
It took the time and effort of individuals, groups and leaders to
purchase property, craft a design and execute the plan. The memorial was delayed for a time, prompting a message from then-Honolulu Gov. Wallace Rider Farrington.
“We should not at this time hesitate to establish in enduring form our tribute to the self-sacrifice, courage and patriotism of those who answered the call to service in the day of national emergency,” wrote Farrington in 1927, as cited in Kuykendall’s book.
The memorial officially opened Aug. 24, 1927, sharing its birthday
with legendary Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku, who took the first lap in its saltwater pool. Since then, visitors, residents and famous swimmers have graced its waters.
But the memorial was shut down in 1979 and has been the subject of heated debate ever since. According to the memorial’s website, then-Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris called for renovations to start in 1998, and the memorial received refurbished bathrooms, bleachers, lifeguard offices, a parking lot and volleyball court.
However, Honolulu’s next mayor, Mufi Hanneman, canceled the renovation. Although its future is unknown, the memorial currently remains on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. It provides a backdrop to various annual ceremonies and events,
including Memorial Day, Veterans Day and more recently, the Diamond Head Classic Paddleboard Race, Dec. 8.
For many Hawaii residents, the memorial is a childhood memory. The Hawaii State Department of Education once used the pool for its Learn to Swim Program for a certain number of years.
Donna L. Ching, the vice president of the Friends of the Natatorium, is one of many local residents who remembers the memorial from its earlier days.
“You have a whole generation of people who don’t know what the pool looks like,” Ching said.
Ching used to visit the memorial as a child, with her grandfather. Ching said the memorial has a “magnificent” view, and calls it a “serene place.”
“I just remember it being a place where families could go together
and have a good time,” Ching said. “I think the people who originally conceived [the idea] intended it to be a gathering place for the people of Hawaii as we remember veterans and their commitment.”
For Mo Radke, the memorial not only represents World War I veterans, but also service members like those from 3rd Marine Regiment, who served on multiple deployment to Afghanistan in recent years. He lamented the memorial’s extensive deterioration.
“You want the service members to be inspired,” Radke said.
Radke, who gives golf lessons at the Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course, is a retired Navy command master chief and currently serves on the board of the Friends of the Natatorium. He learned of the memorial while training for a triathlon with his wife at nearby Kaimanu Beach in 2007.
He noticed people were going to the memorial to use the restroom, so he followed and asked them about the structure. They told him it was a war memorial. He found the actual memorial portion locked, and could barely see inside.
“My first impression of the memorial — I wanted to cry,” Radke said. “My second emotion was anger. How could anyone let a war memorial turn into this?”
Radke was inspired to research the memorial, and eventually volunteered with the Friends of the Natatorium before joining the board. He envisions the memorial will someday reopen, enabling families to enjoy a “Sunday afternoon swimming in the clean water, having a good time … watching the sunset.”
“The view of Waikiki is just spectacular from there,” Radke said.
For more information about the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial,