The True Story of an Accidental Preservation Advocate
by Tanya Harrison
I’m the last person I thought could ever make a difference. Shy and inexperienced at advocacy, I initially had difficulty convincing others that the Neal Blaisdell Center is indeed Honolulu’s war memorial auditorium. I was completely out of my element. As a former Hawaii resident turned Oregon wildlife biologist, I was more adept at dodging bears than corresponding with officials.
Yet my dream of a new memorial plaque at Blaisdell Center came to fruition.
Advocacy isn’t restricted to the experts. What I learned through this process is if you’re passionate, persistent, and believe in your objective; anyone can make a difference.
Develop a passion for your place
Passion fueled the fire that compelled me to work tirelessly on this project. Raised in a family of veterans, I was taught that memorials are sacred places never to be forgotten. Although I learned about the Blaisdell’s war memorial heritage by accident in 2010, once I realized this was lost to society, I couldn’t live with myself if I did nothing. The original memorial plaque, now missing, needed to be replaced and rededicated.
I thought a simple phone call to the right person would suffice and I’d be done with it. Little did I know….
Persistence and perseverance
Not knowing where to start, I began contacting any entity even remotely related to Blaisdell Center, a strategy akin to throwing stuff up in the air and seeing what sticks. The only thing I seemed to accomplish was perfecting the art of being a subtle pain in the rear. It didn’t help that I was doing this from nearly 3,000 miles away. I needed to find someone to introduce me to the right people.
By 2014, I was immensely frustrated and considered dropping the whole thing. It was then that I caught the attention of members of WWII veterans clubs, who introduced me to veterans who agreed to take this under their wing.
If you can’t do it, find someone that can
What plagued my effort was ignorance of protocol: who to contact, how to approach them, and what procedure to follow. With members of the veteran’s community, we approached City officials, who took this on as their own project. They funded, designed, and installed the new memorial plaque and planned and implemented a rededication ceremony. I was amazed at how many had become involved with the effort, and relieved that it was finally out of my hands.
Persistence, patience, a clear objective, and a high tolerance to frustration – these qualities kept me going. But in the end, it was finding the right people that got the ball rolling, and a new war memorial plaque was rededicated at Blaisdell Center on November 10, 2015.
The goal posts are always moving
After the rededication I thought I’d be done with the Blaisdell. But somewhere along the way, this became a kuleana. Blaisdell Center is a “living memorial”, akin to the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium and Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall, both sacred and secular. It’s hard to image you’re at a sacred place while attending an auto show, so one must be reminded of the memorial nature of such places through its name or by a plaque. Although the Blaisdell Center war memorial has been re-awakened and re-introduced to society, vigilance is needed to educate the public about its memorial heritage and prevent it from being lost again
So what’s next? Work is ongoing to nominate the arena and concert hall to the State and National Register of Historic Places. While touring the facility for the nomination, we visited some areas closed to the public. This included climbing catwalks in the darkened “attic” of the arena, where I felt like I was clinging to a giant steel spider web. I didn’t imagine I’d be doing that when this project started!
Preservation is never ending….
As of this writing, the City is considering redeveloping Blaisdell Center. I find it important that its memorial aspect is part of that discussion. And I’m still searching for the original memorial plaque, for people that remember its memorial history, and am collecting stories about it in general.
Blaisdell Center has been an important part of Honolulu’s collective cultural consciousness for over 50 years. So if you have anything to share about this special place, please do! Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This project, resulting in the installment of a replacement memorial sign to recognize Neal S. Blaisdell Center as Honolulu’s war memorial auditorium, received a 2016 Preservation Award for Achievements in Interpretive Media from Historic Hawaii Foundation.
Tanya Harrison, a member of Historic Hawaii Foundation since 2015, is the founder of the Blaisdell Center War Memorial Project. Raised on Kauai, Tanya worked in the rural inland Pacific Northwest for many years in natural and cultural resources. She has a lifelong passion for researching and preserving history and is currently enrolled in the graduate program for Natural Resources and Environmental Management at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Photos by Tanya Harrison taken in March of 2016 when Harrison and local architectural historian Don Hibbard received a private tour of the Neal Blaisdell Center.