The story behind the story

The latest Honolulu Weekly looks at local news media’s less-than-aggressive coverage of the Natatorium issue… and what happened when the Weekly’s managing editor, Adrienne LaFrance, tried to ask the tough questions. Read her story here and then tell us in the comments what you think. Have Honolulu’s reporters covered the Natatorium story adequately? Should the mayor be more responsive to questions about his position?

Categories: News coverage and Uncategorized.


  1. Trase Wagner

    How about they fill in the pool area with cement and turn the nadatorium into an outdoor concert venue. It would be one of its kind in the world lying on one of the most famous beaches in the world. Honolulu does not have a diverse selection of concert venues pretty much Waikiki Shell, Blaisdell, and Pipeline Cafe. It would be an awesome small intimate venue with the ocean in the background.

    • Trase, although converting the facility as a concert venue may seem like a great adaptive re-use, there a number of reasons why it is not feasible. First and foremost being that the Act 15 of the 1921 Territorial Legislature of Hawaii specifically designated the “living memorial” contain a “swimming course.” Altering the use of this National and State Historic Registered facility would trigger a host of legal problems. In addition, area residents have made it clear that a concert or “show venue” would meet with vocal opposition. The Friends of the Natatorium, Historic Hawaii Foundation, 85,000 member Oahu Veteran’s Council and National Trust for Historic Preservation are all advocating the Natatorium be preserved and reopened as the community swimming venue it was intended to be.

  2. Tsarkie

    This was printed in The Honolulu Advertiser on Saturday, February 6, 1999 in the Hawaii Section Reader’s Journal column. You have my permission to print or link.

    I was a child of the 1950s and a teenager of the 1960s growing up in Waikiki and Kaimuki. I remember, even from diaper days, going to  public baths every Friday evening to potluck with friends and family.
    At these outings we were able to explore the beach, Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu Zoo, Kapiolani Park, and one of my favorite places, the World War I Memorial Natatorium.
    It was there that my calabash uncle asked me at age 4 if I knew how to swim. I honestly told him no. He picked me up and threw me into the saltwater pool. I gulped a few mouthfuls of seawater and dog-paddled toward the edge of the pool, where there were grooves in the cement that acted as ladders.
    Uncle asked me if I now knew how to swim and I said no again. He threw me into the pool for the second time in my short life. I gulped some more water, swam to the edge of the pool and climbed out once more.
    Did I know how to swim? I finally told him yes.
    The natatorium had a tower with four levels of diving platforms. My dad told me stories about some of the great diving competitions he and my uncle participated in.
    Growing up, I felt it took a lot of courage to dive from the tower's fourth level. The very first time I climbed up to it, I must have been about 7. I crawled on my hands and knees to look over the edge. I took a breath as soon as I leaped, but it was a while before I hit the water. I felt my feet touch the muddy bottom and as I rose, it seemed I was holding my breath forever. I learned to take a breath just before I hit the water from then on.
    Occasionally, a barracuda would enter through one of the puka that flushed the pool. Someone would yell "kaku" and everyone would jump out. We used to dare each other to dangle our toes in the pool whenever one took up residence for an afternoon.
    There was also a stainless steel slide at the tower's second level. After an afternoon of free slides, we liked to lie on the concrete bleachers that were always so warm from the sun.
    When I was a teenager, a  young girl fell from the tower onto the concrete and died. City officials had the tower dismantled. From that moment, the pool went into disrepair and degenerated into the eyesore it is now.
    My parents are no longer alive. Their ashes are scattered at sea a couple of miles straight out from the natatorium. On each of their birthdays and on their wedding anniversary, I scale the two fences at the natatorium. I walk to the wall past the pool and toss two lei, intertwined, into the ocean and watch them drift out to sea. There was only one time that the lei didn't drift away, but came back. I'd forgotten to have the florist tie a green ribbon around the lei. Green was my mother's favorite color.
    Do I hope they restore the natatorium?  Yes. I won't have to scale the fences, but I can also lie on the warm concrete bleachers, close my eyes and dream about the good old days.

    • Roberta Akamu

      Loved your story. So touching. I’ve been to the natatorium after I’ve gotten older, but never did swim in it because it was already in disrepair. I’ve heard, but don’t know if it’s true that Duke Kahanamoku used the natatorium as his training ground for his swimming competition.