Natatorium Named a "National Treasure" by National Trust

Big, big news! The National Trust for Historic Preservation announces today that the War Memorial Natatorium is now a National Treasure.

That designation means that the National Trust is (pardon the expression) diving headfirst into the effort to preserve, revitalize and reopen our amazing, historic 100-meter ocean pool in Waikiki. They’ll provide manpower, resources, partnerships, planning, expertise. Whatever it takes.

Why? The president and CEO of the National Trust, Stepanie Meeks, says the Natatorium is a “one-of-a-kind resource.”

“There is no comparable structure elsewhere in the nation,” Meeks says. “This Treasure designation reflects our commitment to developing a collaborative preservation plan to once again make the Natatorium a vibrant aquatic facility for future generations to enjoy.”

“The National Trust,” she says, “supports the rehabilitation of the Natatorium as an environmentally and historically responsible choice – one that offers the best opportunity to return this iconic structure to its status as a world-class public amenity.”

1928 Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial near Kaimana Beach

The Natatorium, a year after its 1927 opening

What’s does a ‘National Treasure’ Designation Mean?

The Trust’s National Treasures program identifies endangered, irreplaceable, historically important places — “from one-room schoolhouses to inspiring monuments, from ancient sites to modern masterpieces.” The Trust then assigns experts in preservation, organizing, fundraising, and community collaboration to each project. They work with local preservationists, government bodies, supporters nationwide and financial backers to put a plan in place and make it work.

Why the Natatorium?

The Trust’s chief preservation officer, David Brown, flew to Oahu for today’s announcement. He cites the Natatorium’s role as Hawaii’s official World War I memorial, its place as a cultural and historical icon of Waikiki, and its recreational value to residents and tourists as reasons why it is a National Treasure.

“A rehabilitated Natatorium will honor the selfless service of Hawaii citizens in the First World War by once again providing a public venue for recreation, recuperation and reflection,” Brown says. “The pool will also offer individuals protection from open ocean currents, allowing the disabled and small children a chance to experience the water.”

The Friends of the Natatorium are Grateful

Built in 1927, the Waikiki Natatorium pays tribute to the 10,000 residents of Hawaii who served in World War I, including soldiers, sailors, Red Cross workers, emergency responders and missionaries.

“Mahalo to the National Trust for recognizing that the Natatorium truly is a treasure, and one that our state and our country would be far the poorer for losing,” says Mo Radke, president of the Friends of the Natatorium.

“We look forward to working with the Trust as a partner,” Mo says. “We’re going to bring our community together behind a project to restore and reopen this remarkable place. We have to; it’s such an important part of our history and culture here in Hawaii and such a unique landmark and monument for our nation.”

Designed by nationally renowned architect Lewis Hobart, the Natatorium features a soaring archway leading to a saltwater pool that pays tribute to Hawaii’s indigenous swimming traditions and its role in Olympic history. Recognized as an architectural landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, the Natatorium is remembered as the place where generations of Hawaii residents learned to swim, spent time with family and enjoyed ocean sports. “The Tank” was also the venue for historic national and international aquatic meets and for training, competition and exhibitions by legendary swimmers such as Duke Kahanamoku, Esther Williams, Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weissmuller and dozens of members of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

More Natatorium “National Treasure” News Live!

National Trust chief preservation officer David Brown will appear at 7:40 this morning – Wednesday, May 21 – on Hawaii News Now’s “Sunrise” (on KHNL and KGMB, OC 1007 and 1008) to discuss the National Treasure announcement.

And there will be two National Trust appearances on Hawaii Public Radio. NTHP senior field officer Brian Turner will visit “The Conversation” on HPR2 (89.3 FM) today at 8:05 a.m. On Thursday at 5 p.m., both David and Brian will appear on HPR2’s “Town Square.”

Help Spread the Word about our Natatorium!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has posted this web page describing its newest official National Treasure. Please go to the page, click on the “Share Your Story” link at the top and tell the world — and preservationists everywhere — what the Natatorium means to you. Stories of learning to swim, watching the world’s greatest competitive swimmers, or just enjoying a day at The Tank. Stories of the soldiers and sailors that we remember at the Natatorium. Bring ’em on! Mahalo to you, and mahalo to the National Trust for Historic Preservation!

Categories: Friends of the Natatorium, National Trust for Historic Preservation, News coverage, and Uncategorized.


  1. Emjay Carlos

    This is great news! What a crime it would have been to do ANY of the suggestions made to alter or move the original design. Hope I live to swim in the pool!

  2. Sonny Tanabe

    Just when I thought that the historical Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium was going to be demolished, (to me it would have seemed like taking down the Aloha Tower) the National Trust for Historical Preservation came to the rescue to preserve this splendid structure.

    Some of my best memories were spending time competing and training in the Waikiki Natatorium with athletes from all over the world. I competed in swimming from 1950 to 1956 in the Keo Nakama, Hawaiian A.A.U. Outdoor and International Swim meets. This was during the peak of Hawaii Swimming. Mahalo Niu Loa to the National Trust for Historical Preservation and the Friends of the Waikiki Natatorium for their support in saving this historical site.

    I look forward to once again swimming in the Natatorium. Respectfully, Sonny Tanabe

    • admin

      Sonny, thank you so much for sharing this. I hope that you’ll consider contributing to our oral history project! You are part of Hawaii’s storied Olympic swimming legacy!

  3. Sonny Tanabe

    I would be honored to participate in the oral history project. Thank you for your kind words. Sonny Tanabe