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 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 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.