HONOLULU (AP) — Preservationists are applauding Honolulu’s proposal to restore a World War I memorial on Waikiki beach.
The Natatorium is a salt water pool built in 1927 as a memorial to 10,000 Hawaii soldiers who served in World War I. Olympic swimmer and surf icon Duke Kahanamoku swam there, but it’s been closed due to disrepair since 1979.
The city on Thursday proposed to demolish less visible sea walls, rebuild the pool deck and rehabilitate bleachers. The plan would allow for the free flow of water between the ocean and the pool.
The proposal comes just as Hawaii marks Veterans Day and the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I today.
The city will accept comments on the idea through Dec. 24. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell estimates it will take six to nine months for the city to finish a final environmental impact statement for the project.
Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of the Historic Hawaii Foundation, said she’s still reviewing details in the draft proposal but she likes what she sees so far.
“It appears to be a wonderful solution with an elegant balance between preservation and practicality,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner said the proposed action “retains the major character of this very important war memorial” and “opens up public access to a part of Waikiki that has been closed off for 40 years.”
Caldwell and then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie in 2013 proposed demolishing the pool and bleachers and develop a beach at the site. The Kaimana Beach Coalition supported the plan but it proved unpopular with preservationists.
Caldwell said selection of the perimeter deck plan was partly about money and partly about reaching compromise on a very controversial decision.
Cost for the perimeter deck plan has been estimated at about $25.6 million, while estimates put the beach plan at $28.8 million and full restoration at $42.7 million. Not acting was expected to cost up to $1.4 million for emergency repairs.
“We listened to everyone and added additional alternatives to avoid a lawsuit,” Caldwell said.
“I’ll go with the proposed action, but the beach guys may be upset and the preservationists may be upset. If I had my own way, I’d make a beach. But I’m respecting the process.”
Donna L. Ching, vice president of the Friends of the Natatorium, said the proposal retains most of the Natatorium’s physical and historic integrity.
“We commend Mayor Kirk Caldwell for looking at the evidence carefully and coming to the right conclusion about preservation,” Ching said.