Historic Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial Named National Treasure

The National Trust for Historic Preservation adds iconic structure to its portfolio

The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced today that it has named the Natatorium War Memorial as the organization’s newest National Treasure. The National Treasures program identifies endangered historic places across the country and implements plans to save them.

“The Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial is a one-of-a-kind resource that is unique to both Hawaii and the nation,” said Stephanie Meeks, president and chief executive officer for the National Trust. “This Treasure designation reflects our commitment to developing a collaborative preservation plan to once again make the Natatorium a vibrant aquatic facility for future generations to enjoy.”

Meeks added, “The National Trust supports the rehabilitation of the Natatorium as an environmentally and historically responsible choice – one that offers the best opportunity to return this iconic structure to its status as a world-class public amenity.” 

David Brown, executive vice president and chief preservation officer for the National Trust said, “A rehabilitated Natatorium will honor the selfless service of Hawaii citizens in the First World War by once again providing a public venue for recreation, recuperation and reflection.” Brown added, “The pool will also offer individuals protection from open ocean currents, allowing the disabled and small children a chance to experience the water.”

Natatorium War Memorial Oral History Project:

Collaborating with the Friends of the Waikiki Natatorium, the National Trust will commemorate the naming of the Natatorium as a National Treasure by asking members of the community to participate in an oral history video project. 

On May 20, 21, and 22 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. members of the community are invited to come by to the Kainalu Room at Elks Lodge 616 (2933 Kalakaua Ave.) to record their memories of learning to swim or competing at the Natatorium or just enjoying it with their families. “This is a wonderful opportunity to talk story about the Natatorium and why it’s so important to preserve it,” said Mo Radke, President of the Friends of the Natatorium. The oral history vignettes will be uploaded to a YouTube channel hosted by the Friends, a local nonprofit committed to the preservation and restoration of the Natatorium. Those wishing to contribute memories to the oral history project may contact Mo Radke at moradke@gmail.com for information.

About the Natatorium War Memorial

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. It is recognized as an architectural landmark on the National Register of Historic Places and remembered as the place where generations of Hawaii residents learned to swim and spent time with family.

In 1979, the Natatorium was closed to the public because of severe disrepair. In 1995, it was listed as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic places. The designation helped to launch a restoration effort led by former Mayor Jeremy Harris, but was halted four years later by lawsuits arguing that the state did not have saltwater pool regulations to guarantee public health and safety. 

Complex saltwater pool regulations were eventually established and repairs to the archway were completed at the cost of $4 million. In 2009, a local task force was created to provide recommendations on the future of the Natatorium. The National Trust wrote a letter opposing the demolition of the memorial and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser ran an op-ed by the Trust favoring preservation. Despite these efforts, the task force recommended demolition. 

In 2012, Governor Neil Abercrombie explored the feasibility of converting the pool to a beach volleyball venue but that plan was abandoned in 2013 when the governor and Mayor Kirk Caldwell jointly announced their support for demolition of the memorial. 

Preserving the Natatorium War Memorial has long been a goal of Hawaii’s late Senator Daniel K. Inouye who in the 1973, expressed his strong support for rehabilitation on the floor of the Senate, stating, “As I believe we have destroyed enough of pre-World War II Hawaii, I am fully supportive of current efforts to preserve, restore and improve this historic landmark.” 

About the National Treasures campaign

National Treasures are a portfolio of highly-significant historic places throughout the country where the National Trust makes a long-term commitment to finding a preservation solution. As the Presenting Partner of the National Treasures program, American Express has pledged $2 million to help promote and enable the preservation of these cultural and historic places.

About the National Trust for Historic Preservation
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places. www.PreservationNation.org 

Media Availability for May 21, 2014 Announcement:

The following representatives from the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be on Oahu for this announcement and are available for interviews: 

David J. Brown, Executive Vice President and Chief Preservation Officer

David J. Brown directs the Trust's comprehensive array of preservation programs: direct action to protect America's national treasures, advocacy for preservation incentives and laws, support for local preservation leadership, building of new historic site models, and promotion of preservation’s role in environmental sustainability. He served as founding executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Virginia and as executive director of Historic Staunton Foundation in Staunton, VA. Among the first graduates of Middle Tennessee State University's preservation program, David also holds a master's in planning from Georgia Tech. He served as chairman of the Governor's Commission to Study Historic Preservation in Virginia, has written extensively on preservation, and currently serves on the Executive Committee of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO). 

Brian R. Turner, Senior Field Officer and Attorney

Brian R. Turner is a Senior Field Officer and Attorney at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, based in its San Francisco Field Office. The National Trust is a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to save America’s historic places. Mr. Turner represents the National Trust in its goal of facilitating public participation in the preservation of sites, buildings, and objects of national significance. He graduated from Grinnell College in 2002 as a history major and is an enthusiastic advocate for creating a cultural legacy that is as diverse as the nation itself.

To arrange for an interview with David Brown or Brian Turner, please contact:

Shawn E. Nakamoto (Honolulu Contact), 808-741-2267



The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places. PreservationNation.org, @SavingPlaces