Donna L. Ching, vice president of the Friends of the Natatorium, submitted this letter to the editor of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser marking today’s 85th anniversary of the opening of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium.
Eighty-five years ago, on Aug. 24, 1927, Duke Kahanamoku dove in to take the ceremonial first swim at the War Memorial Natatorium. In his wake came other Olympians, swimming celebrities and generations of keiki and kupuna swimmers.
The Natatorium was the jewel of Waikiki and the pride of Hawai’i. It was the site of international swimming competitions. It was a place of relaxation and fun for families. It was a place of wonder for visitors to our state.
It was both special and sacred, our official memorial to more than 10,000 from Hawai’i who served – and many who died – in World War I.
Somehow, we let all this start to slip away. Somehow, the Natatorium deteriorated to the point where it had to be closed.
But it isn’t gone yet. It can still be saved. It can be great again. In fact, it can be even better than it was. We just need to work together to make it happen. Mahalo to Gov. Abercrombie for taking action to get things moving again.
I’m old enough to have swum at the Natatorium with my grandfather. I’m young enough to hope to swim there again. I’m optimistic enough to believe we will support the governor and do the right thing.
Donna L. Ching
Friends of the Natatorium
Judith Strauch Diess
We were the last of the swim teams to practice at the Nat. Kaimuki High, Before we had our own pool. Later I worked for the City and County Rec Dept as a swim teacher for the summer fun program. We taught at Queens surf beach and then tested the little keiki in the old Natatorium pool. That was in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I remember also, meeting a girl, I still know, who had a bad accident from one of the diving platforms. I remember the barnacles and things that bit me and made me swim much faster. I was always afraid of what might be at the bottom of the old pool. Changing clothes in the gallows of the Nat was another experience. Always a bit frightening. Spooky! And then I met an old Hawaiian singer, a friend of the family, who actually lived in the belly of the Nat. with her mom. Her mom had the job of scheduling lifeguards. She had some amazing stories. The Nat. has an incredible history! The Nat. has hosted some famous and successful people in it. Did it make us stronger? I think so. Judith Strauch Diess M.Ed.
Judith, thanks so much for sharing this memory. Yes, so much great history and so many colorful characters and stories!
I also remember the sense of adventure I had when my grandfather used to take me and my sisters to the Nat to swim when we were little. The plans for the renovated pool would be quite a change from what we remember from those days.
For one thing, the pool would have a level depth of 6-8 feet, depending on the tide. The old pool was 22 feet deep under the old diving platform.
The new pool will also have a special engineered silica sand bottom that won’t degrade into sediment like the old natural bottom. So no more mysterious, dark, murky water.
But there would be floating docks that would make the pool ADA-accessible for the elderly and disabled.
Have a look at this rendering for a sense of what the new pool would look like, full of life and people.
Mahalo for your support and interest in the Natatorium.
Donna L. Ching
Friends of the Natatorium
Aloha e Donna–
Bryan Nakamura here, remember me? I’m a facilitation and conflict resolution student of Professor Bruce Barnes (you and Skip, too!). I’m “stoked” that the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium’s restoration is headed in the proper direction. I would like to see another swimming facility built instead of a beach volleyball court because it is an ocean and swimming-oriented facility and should rightfully remain so–or it wouldn’t be a natatorium anymore. Thank you for your work in helping to preserve this Kapiolani park monument.
We’ve had discussions about the Natatorium on Jeffery Akaka’s Facebook page ‘Waikiki and Honolulu in the 50s and 60s’, and th consensus is that it should be restored…Judith’s brother is Hawaiian surfing icon Paul Strauch, who belonged to the Duke Kahanamoku Surf Team in the 1960s. The ‘Nat’ means a lot to me since my days as a member of Dr. John Kelly’s Save Our Surf and I still surf the two breaks adjacent to the facility–Castle’s and Public Baths. Mahalo again for all you do, Donna!
—Bryan Nakamura, MPA ADR and Ho’oponopono practitioner
Bryan, thanks for this update on your activities and for your continued advocacy for the Natatorium. Please encourage Jeff and others to keep sharing their stories and memories on our FB and website as well as in letters to the editor and elected officials. I didn’t know about Judy’s brother! We need to get theses stories and connections saved so that we don’t lose them as the generations pass. Aloha!
My wife Ellen Ruona lived over there with her folks in 1962-63 and was wondering if there are any photos left of the whole pool from end to end with diving platforms. Please send any you have to my email email@example.com.
Thankyou Chris and Ellen Ruona Reno Nevada
Chris and Ellen, thanks for your note. If you look at our Flickr photo stream, there are number of photos from the State Archives. I know there are some of the diving platforms and there are shots across the pool. But not sure of exactly what you are looking for. Check it out at natatorium.org