It was 86 years ago today!
On Aug. 24, 1927, our Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium opened. There was a huge crowd of 6,000 in the stands and — according to reports from the time — spectators in every tree with a view of the pool.
And the man who took the ceremonial first swim? There could not have been a more appropriate choice. He was the pride of Hawai’i and an Olympic swimming medalist (three golds, two silvers in the 1912, 1920 and 1924 games). And that was his 37th birthday. Yes, the first man in the water on the Natatorium’s first day was Duke Kahanamoku!
That ceremony kicked off the four-day AAU National Outdoor Swimming Championships, a meet studded with stars like Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe and Japan’s Katsuo “Flying Fish” Takaishi. After the meet, an international swimming official called the Natatorium “one of the best, if not the best, swimming arenas in the world.”
The Natatorium had been built as a living memorial to more than 10,000 men and women from Hawai’i who served, and more than 100 who died, in what we now know as World War I. The 1921 Legislature’s Act 15 decreed that the memorial should include “a swimming course of no less than 100 meters” to perpetuate Hawaii’s storied swimming legacy.
Through the years, many other Olympians, celebrated swimmers and watermen followed in the Duke’s wake at the Natatorium. Generations of children learned to swim in its waters; it was one of Waikiki’s most beloved gathering places.
So, happy birthday to two of Waikiki’s greats, Duke Kahanamoku and the Natatorium!
If you’re in Waikiki today, please stop by and pay the Natatorium a birthday visit. Of course, you can’t go in. But imagine what it will be like when we finally succeed in getting this grand old monument restored, reopened and revitalized. Wow — that will be terrific!
You can leave a birthday greeting in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter. (Our Twitter handle is @Natatorium.)
If you wish, you can also make a birthday contribution to the Friends of the Natatorium to support restoration and reopening.
Tune in Tomorrow!
And if you’re interested in giving the gift of time to the Natatorium, check this blog tomorrow. We’ll have an announcement of a terrific new volunteer opportunity.