In a surprising change of direction, Honolulu is opting to preserve the historic landmark as a usable open-circulation saltwater swimming pool. That after the City and County of Honolulu released their environmental impact statement on the Natatorium late last year.
The much-loved Natatorium, located next to Sans Souci Beach, is Hawaii’s official state World War I memorial. It first opened in 1927 to honor Hawaii citizens in the war but was closed in 1963 due to massive repairs needed. When it opened, Duke Kahanamoku took the very first ceremonial swim. Others who have graced the pool include Johnny Weissmuller, Esther Williams, and Buster Crabbe.
The Natatorium was designed by architect Lewis Hobart and features a grand archway that leads to the pool. There is an abundance of interesting and historic ornamentation that includes statues, cornices, pediments, and friezes.
The Natatorium is one of the only saltwater natatoriums in the world, and the only one in the US. The city originally planned to demolish the venerated but decaying structure.
Sans Souci Beach and the Waikiki Natatorium are inseparable.
Sans Souci “Without Worry” Beach, also called Kaimana Beach, has been a Beat of Hawaii favorite for years. Fronting the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, it sits on the Diamond Head side of Waikiki, directly adjacent to the Waikiki Natatorium. Sans Souci is popular with both locals and visitors and offers great swimming.
Kaimana Beach needs the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial to stay “worry-free.” It has been widely reported that if the Natatorium was removed, Kaimana Beach would, by nature’s action, also be gone. It turns out that it is the Natatorium itself and its position in the ocean which created the beach, and studies say that without the structure, the beach would vanish.
The latest proposal for Waikiki Natatorium.
After years of discussion and numerous proposals, the latest proposal from the National Trust was put forth.
“The water quality was bad, so to provide a design that allows it to be clean and safe and open to the public is exactly what we’re looking for, and this is it.” — Mo Radke, Friends of the Natatorium.
The proposal calls for the Makai seawall being replaced with concrete walls and chevrons, together with new openings to allow more water flow. The national trust presented the proposal to the City of Honolulu. In turn, they hired a consultant who prepared the environmental impact study with options.
Honolulu Mayor Caldwell has had various preferences, including demolishing the pool and replacing it with a public beach. He indicated several years ago that the demolition plan would cost $18 million compared with nearly $70 million to rebuild it.
Another alternative previously proposed by an engineering company is to install a replacement device, or groin, to create a new “Memorial” beach replacing the Natatorium. It isn’t clear what complexity that project might involve, not the least of which would be substantial if not insurmountable regulatory and environmental issues.
We are happy to see the direction of the restoration of the Natatorium and to retain it as a public resource for every reason, from its social and historical importance to the preservation of Sans Souci beach.