On Veterans’ Day 2016, the National Trust for Historic Preservation unveiled its proposal for revitalizing the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium —one of the most unique structures in the country commemorating those who served and gave their lives in World War I. The rehabilitation concept, designed by Hawaii’s globally-renowned engineer Dr. Hans Krock, is a simple, innovative and long-term solution that would ensure a clean and safe swim basin for the endangered memorial.
“This concept proposal is part of our ongoing commitment to develop a collaborative preservation plan that once again allows the Natatorium to operate as a vibrant aquatic facility, community resource and ‘living memorial’ to be enjoyed by future generations,” said Barbara Pahl, senior vice president of field services for the National Trust. “We’re excited to contribute an environmentally responsible alternative—protecting public health and safety—and encourage the City and County of Honolulu and Hawaii locals to take a close look at the design and the opportunity to restore one of the state’s most recognizable historic sites.”
The National Trust’s concept proposal for the Natatorium is the result of a collaborative effort with local experts and preservationists, which began with the site’s National Treasures designation in May 2014. The concept, developed by Dr. Hans Krock, Emeritus Professor of Ocean and Resources Engineering at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Dr. Alfred Yee, foremost authority in the design of concrete structures and consulting engineer for Pearl Harbor’s USS Arizona Memorial, addresses core issues with the site’s existing conditions, including: poor water quality; insufficient circulation and restricted water flow; aging pipes; and deteriorated concrete deck. Additionally, the design preserves the Natatorium’s eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Waikīkī War Memorial Natatorium
Built in 1927, the Natatorium pays tribute to the 10,000 residents of Hawaii who served in the First World War, including soldiers, sailors, Red Cross workers, emergency responders and missionaries. Designed by nationally renowned architect Lewis Hobart, the Natatorium features an iconic archway leading to a saltwater pool that pays tribute to Hawaii’s indigenous swimming traditions and its role in Olympic history. The Natatorium was listed on the National Register in 1979. It was designated on the Hawai‘i Register of Historic Places in 1973. It is remembered as the place where generations of Hawaii residents learned to swim and spent time with family.
The central distinguishing feature highlighted by the unveiled rendering is the replacement of the Natatorium swim basin’s makai seawall with individual chevron units topped with decking. The chevrons would serve as a breakwater to prevent wave action against the bleachers, yet allow for sufficient water to circulate in the swim basin. The main features can be described as:
- CLEAN. A combination of wave energy, allowed into the swim area through chevrons that comprise the seawall, and circulation through openings in the side walls nearest to the bleacher structure would fully exchange the Natatorium with ocean water at least six times per day.
- CLEAR. To avoid murkiness in the water, silt would be dredged from the swim basin and replaced with an inert material, such as gravel, that could then be contoured to allow for a shallow and deep end, and covered with precast concrete panels. The use of silicone dioxide sand on top of the panels would be a safe and long-lasting solution.
- SIMPLE. The relative simplicity of this design—essentially a sheltered ocean environment—is its major advantage. The Natatorium could be regulated as a “marine pool” or “protective cove” and would not require the addition of special pumps or drainage infrastructure and related maintenance.
“We think this option addresses all major issues that have bedeviled the Natatorium for decades,” said Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of Historic Hawai‘i Foundation. “We hope that the City & County of Honolulu’s environmental impact statement will give it a fair hearing and evaluate it for its historic, cultural, environmental and financial benefits.”
“I’m excited about this fresh idea and think it solves an entrenched issue in a way that respects and honors everyone’s concerns and input,” Faulkner said. “We hope to see it move forward, especially during the current centennial observing World War I in 2017-2019.”
The concept has been refined following discussions with a team of allied preservation groups over the last year and a half to meet or exceed the criteria set for selecting a way forward— and the National Trust will continue to work with community members and other local partners and stakeholders to present a clearer picture of proposed solutions and raise awareness of preservation alternatives for the Natatorium.
In addition to retaining and preserving the character and integrity of the historic structure, the National Trust’s proposal remains the simplest and most cost-competitive solution among current preservation alternatives, including the City and County of Honolulu’s proposal, which is a closed-circuit pool requiring extensive mechanical systems, chemicals and maintenance. By using natural systems and wave action for water circulation, the swim basin in the National Trust’s proposed concept would not rely on pumps and would, therefore, not have ongoing energy costs.
Now, the National Trust is recommending the City and County of Honolulu study Dr. Krock’s design in-depth and take the vital steps needed in planning an appropriate future for preserving the Natatorium’s important role. Principally, an engineering model of the design is required if the city is to move forward in exploring the proposed concept’s low-cost potential.
“After many years, we now have an option that answers the concerns and reasons that previously kept us locked in a circle of inactivity,” said Mo Radke, president of Friends of the Natatorium. “This new, realistic solution gives the preservation option added strength in the Environmental Impact Statement and meets our charter for remembrance, respect and renewal of this magnificent venue.”
Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium is part of a growing portfolio of irreplaceable, diverse places—from ancient sites to modern monuments—that have been designated National Treasures. The public is encouraged to learn more about the Natatorium and show support at: The National Trust for Historic Preservation.