Natatorium named official WWI Centennial Memorial

The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium has been named one of America’s official World War I Centennial Memorials, in advance of next year’s observance of the 100th anniversary of the end of the first global conflict.

The Natatorium is the only Hawaii site among the first 50 official World War I Centennial Memorials.

The Natatorium is the only monument in Hawaii on the list of the first 50 World War I memorials nationwide announced this week by the federal World War One Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. Another 50 will be selected next year.

“We’re very pleased to be among the first sites selected for by the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission as part of the 100 Cities/100 Memorials program,” says Arthur Tulak, chairman of Hawaii’s World War I Centennial Task Force.

World War I started in Europe and raged around the planet from 1914 to 1918; it remains one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. In 1917, the United States entered the war, which ended on Nov. 11, 1918. The 100th anniversary of the Armistice will be observed globally next year, including in Hawaii.

And if That Wasn’t Enough

The Natatorium’s Centennial Memorial designation comes with a grant of $2,000 for maintenance or repair. The task force will apply the grant to a project combining history education with replacement of a dilapidated 130-foot wooden wall around part of the (for now) shuttered coastal swim basin.

The planned new wall will replace security fencing made from 32 unsightly 8-foot-by-4-foot plywood sheets. The replacement will feature public art highlighting Hawaii’s contributions in World War I. It will honor the service of more than 10,000 war volunteers from Hawaii, actions on the home front and the outpouring of support from the then-territory for the U.S. war effort.

The informative new World War I history wall will replace the unsightly security barrier seen at the bottom right of this image. The wall will also wrap around from the Diamond Head side to the mauka side of the Natatorium.

“The goal of Hawaii’s centennial commemoration is to share and honor Hawaii’s World War I history,” says Tulak, a retired U.S. Army colonel. “It’s our hope that Hawaii’s outdoor ‘World War I History Wall’ will educate and instill civic pride leading up to and going beyond the centennial capstone events on Veterans Day weekend 2018.”

Tulak thanked the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation for its close cooperation with and support for the project.

Also a Treasure

In addition to its new status as a Centennial Memorial, the Natatorium has for several years been designated as a National Treasure, named by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. NTHP is working with the Friends of the Natatorium and other local and national supporters toward city and state adoption of a plan to renovate, repair and reopen the landmark Natatorium as a public swimming venue and place of reverence for Hawaii’s World War I volunteers.

Opened in 1927 as the territory’s official monument to the Great War, the swimming basin was meant as a living memorial to the sacrifices of Hawaii’s volunteers and as an exemplar of the way of life they fought to preserve.

For decades, the War Memorial was the site of both recreational aquatics and major events in competitive swimming. The facility’s first swimmer was Olympic gold medalist Duke Kahanamoku, and numerous Olympians trained and competed there over the decades. Generations learned to swim there and enjoyed the venue with their families.

The facility closed in 1979, however, due to decades of neglect. Dedicated supporters have sought ever since to reopen it. The city of Honolulu is now conducting an environmental impact study of several proposed courses of action, including renovation and reopening of the memorial.

Categories: Friends of the Natatorium, History, and National Trust for Historic Preservation.



    I’m so glad this has happened. I learned to swim at San Souci and the ‘the tank’ as it was originally referred to in1951. I spent many weekends at the Natatorium jumping off the Towers (just 1st thru 3rd decks….seldom from Tower deck). Felt sad when I returned after college to see the disrepair that the Natatorium fell into during the early to mid 60’s and later years thereafter.

    Hope this is a new lease on life for the location

    Byron Bader Fremont, CA Punahou ’58