A memorial service will be held this Saturday, April 12, for one of the Friends of the Natatorium’s first members and most dedicated activists, Ron Yasui. Ron died March 15 at age 78.

Ron Yasui

A 1953 St Louis School graduate, Ronald Hiroshi Yasui joined the Marine Corps after high school and served in combat during the Korean War. After the war, he had a long career as an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Ron was a gung-ho Marine and always for the underdog,” his younger brother Byron recalls. “He was that kind of guy.”

Natatorium Activist

Ron channeled that passionate support for underdogs into action, standing up for the honor and dignity of fellow veterans, including all those honored at the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium.

He poured decades of personal energy into the work of the Friends of the Natatorium.

How Ron Got Involved

Joan Sheeran Apo, the first executive director of the Friends, met Ron about 1970. They were both among a “huge group of people” who frequented the Natatorium volleyball courts and the adjacent beach and park, she said, and they became lifelong friends.

Ron is on the right in this undated family photo, taken inside the walls of the War Memorial Natatorium.

When the Friends were founded in 1986 and Joan organized a concert to promote awareness of the Natatorium issue, Ron attended and said, “Joan, I want to help you in a serious way,” she recalls.

“Ronnie and I, we were chosen to do public speaking engagements … and … work on ‘educating’ the legislature,” Joan says. “We went to the legislature every single [week]day from about 4:30 until about 8:30 at night for about five months.

“It was an amazing experience,” she says. “We learned so much.” And they accomplished a lot. Joan’s husband, Peter Apo, who later became president of the Friends, recalls that Ron and Joan “haunted the halls of the legislature and helped to secure $1.8 million in state funds to kick start the planning and design for the full restoration of the Natatorium.”

“A Hui Hou”

Whether it was lobbying, attending planning meetings, helping out at events, or writing letters to politicians, Ron could be counted on for ardent advocacy. He was determined always to win dignified remembrance of our war dead; honor for our veterans; and restoration for the Natatorium, Hawai’i’s official World War I memorial. It hasn’t happened yet, but that is decidedly not for lack of commitment and perseverance by Ron Yasui.

“Ron’s dedication, which helped ‘pave the path’ towards full restoration of our War Memorial Natatorium, will embrace us forever with gratitude and aloha for his years of commitment with the Friends of the Natatorium,” says FoN board member Frank Weight, grandson of final Natatorium superintendent Walter Napoleon and of Kay Napoleon. “A hui hou, my friend,” Frank adds.

Survivors and Services

Ron was a lifetime member of the Elks Club and an active volunteer for the Episcopal Church and St. Andrews Cathedral.

He is survived by two younger brothers, Alvin (Jane) and Byron; by three sons Kerry, Keith (Ruthie), and Kevin (Jo Ann); and by two daughters, Ronnie Lynn (Kendall) Lemn and Rachel. He had eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at Nuuanu Memorial Park and Mortuary. Visitation is at 4 p.m. and the service at 5 p.m.

A Final Mahalo

Aloha, Ron, and mahalo for all you did to restore life to the Natatorium and dignity to those it honors. We continue your fight.

Semper Fi.

There was an important story in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend about a major challenge faced by historic preservationists nationwide.

Natatorium photos

Among those facing that challenge are those of us working so hard to restore and reopen the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium.

And, in fact, the Natatorium gets a prominent mention in the Journal story.

The focus of the piece is the recent scarcity of government financial support for historic preservation. Says the Journal:

Save America’s Treasures, a federal grant program that provided more than $300 million to help preserve some 600 historic structures around the country since its creation in 1998, has gone unfunded since 2010 as part of a budget-cutting move proposed by the Obama administration. Congress is now weighing a tax-reform proposal released last week that does away with tax credits for the restoration of historic buildings, a tool preservationists said has helped fuel many projects. Finding funds at state level is also challenging, as officials in many places seek to tighten state budgets.

The story mentions several case studies, including a Buffalo Soldier fort in New Mexico, the Baltimore home of a signer of the Declaration of Independence… and our own Natatorium.

In Hawaii, officials plan to demolish the Waikiki Natatorium, a saltwater pool off the Honolulu shore built as a memorial for World War I veterans in 1927. The city wants to turn the Beaux-Arts monument, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, into a beach.

[The story also refers to the city and county's grossly inflated cost estimate for restoring the Natatorium. We’ll have more to say soon about why that cost estimate is just not accurate.]

So, situation’s hopeless, right? Far from it. We’re still working hard to put together a public-private coalition to save the Natatorium. And we’re supporting efforts to save or restore government financial support for historic preservation nationwide.

What you can do

You can help. And you can start by supporting the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s fight to save the federal historic tax credit. Read more here, and then take action here.

When you’ve done that, look here for more information on how you can help to save the Natatorium. Let’s fix it and swim there again!

Packed Bleachers at the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium near Kaimana Beach Mahalo!

Great news! The Honolulu chapter of the American Institute of Architects – in a guest column in the Nov. 17 Honolulu Star-Advertiser – issued a strong, eloquent call for restoration of the War Memorial Natatorium, our “living and permanent memorial” to Hawaii’s World War I soldiers and sailors.

The AIA cites the observation of Arthur Frommer: “Tourism does not go to a city that has lost its soul.”

“By restoring the Natatorium,” the AIA concludes, “we will fulfill our original promise to honor those who served in The Great War, preserve an essential piece of our soul, and allow the public to use and enjoy a unique ocean resource in Hawaii.”

If you have a Star-Advertiser subscription, please read the op-ed here and leave a comment on the newspaper’s website. If you don’t, you can read the text below. Please share this with your ohana and friends!

And mahalo to our friends at the AIA for taking this principled and important stand for our island’s architectural and cultural heritage.

From the Star-Advertiser:

Restore Natatorium and restore our soul

As stated in its public policies, the American Institute of Architects Honolulu Chapter (AIA Honolulu) supports the preservation of Hawaii’s significant historic buildings, sites and districts. Hawaii’s rich cultural past is represented by the structures constructed by various populations over the course of the islands’ habitation.

1973 Star-Advertiser photo of the Natatorium

1973 Star-Advertiser photo of the Natatorium.

These physical remains of the past act as landmarks of our history and anchors for our future. They are part of the soul of our state, transcending generations and conveying multi-sensory messages to current and future generations about our past. Based on this policy, AIA Honolulu supports the preservation and restoration of the Waikiki Natatorium in its present location.

The War Memorial Natatorium, as it was officially known, was built as a living and permanent memorial to honor the men and women of Hawaii who served in The Great War (WWI).

After its opening, the Natatorium became an icon of the Waikiki shoreline and of Hawaii’s ocean sports legacy. The [100-meter] pool was a training venue for local Olympians, including Duke Kahanamoku, who swam the first lap and won a total of five medals — including three golds — in three different Olympics. The pool is a place where generations of Hawaii’s keiki have learned to swim.

The ocean sunset-facing bleachers and broad pool deck were a popular public gathering place and promenade whose design was unique among war memorials of its era. Its arched entrance facade and sculpted plaster ornaments are among the few remaining examples of Beaux Arts architecture in Hawaii.

The Natatorium is listed on both the National and Hawaii Register of Historic Sites. In 1996 it was named one of the “10 most endangered” historic sites in the country by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Full restoration of the Natatorium was begun in 1999 by Mayor Jeremy Harris but was stopped in 2001 over questions of water quality in the pool. The bleachers, colonnade, lifeguard offices and restrooms were restored, but the pool deck and ocean walls were not addressed.

Since that time several ideas for the pool have been raised, from using circulated ocean water, to using fresh chlorinated water, to covering the entire pool with a “beach” for volleyball or sightseeing.

AIA Honolulu favors a solution in which the original Natatorium structure and design are retained so that the public can walk through it and enjoy it as a living memorial. The first step in retention is the stabilization of the ocean walls and pool deck. With this underway, the treatment of the pool can be debated and evaluated using the latest scientific and medical information and most cost-effective marine construction methods.

Author and tourism expert Arthur Frommer has written, “Tourism does not go to a city that has lost its soul.” Given the importance of tourism to our state, we should heed that advice. The Natatorium was a prominent part of Hawaii’s history for more than half a century, and it should be treasured as both a waterfront memorial and a public amenity. Its unique style and structure have far greater value to residents and visitors than the alternative of creating a new beach.

AIA Honolulu encourages the state of Hawaii, the City & County of Honolulu, private and philanthropic interests to work together to stabilize the ocean portion of the Natatorium in order to preserve as many options for returning the memorial to public use and access as possible.

By restoring the Natatorium, we will fulfill our original promise to honor those who served in The Great War, preserve an essential piece of our soul, and allow the public to use and enjoy a unique ocean resource in Hawaii.

Louis Fung is 2013 president of The American Institute of Architects-Honolulu Chapter.

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