Memorials are an important way of remembering. They are not just part of the past; they help shape attitudes in the present and thus act as a guide for the future. (Ireland)
According to statistician Robert Schmitt, of the 9,800 Hawai‘i residents who served in World War I: 102 died – 14 overseas during the war, 61 in Hawai‘i or North America or after the armistice, and 27 in unknown circumstances.
Twenty-two of the 102 recorded deaths occurred among Island residents serving with the British. Actual battle deaths of persons in the US armed forces whose preservice residence was Hawai’i numbered six: seven others were wounded.
As early as March, 1918, the Daughters and Sons of Hawaiian Warriors proposed the erection of a shaft of Hawaiian lava with polished sides, on which would be carved the names of all the island boys who gave up their lives in their country’s cause during the Great War.
In November, just after the signing of the armistice, a similar suggestion was made by Colonel Howard Hathaway, his idea being that a monument should be raised by public subscription and be made a feature of the civic center in Honolulu.
The suggestion was taken up by the Honolulu Ad Club, which on November 20, 1918, appointed a committee consisting of Colonel Hathaway, Ned Loomis, and WD Westervelt to make an investigation and confer with other organizations in the city on the subject. (Kuykendall, 1928)
A bill passed with practical unanimity by the legislature for the acquisition, for park and other public purposes, of the William G Irwin Waikiki beach property using Territorial bonds. It received the approval of the governor on April 29, 1919. The act provided that the name of any park created out of the property should be ‘Memorial Park.’
Governor McCarthy, at the suggestion of the American Legion, appointed A. Lester Marks, John R. Gait, and A. L. C. Atkinson as members of the Territorial War Memorial Commission (when Atkinson left the Islands 2-3 years later, JK Butler was named to the Commission.)
“This Commission shall serve without pay and shall make arrangements for and conduct an architectural competition for the design of the memorial provided for in this Act, and shall decide upon and designate the scheme of memorial to be adopted.”
“These plans shall include a swimming course at least 100 meters in length, and such other features as the Commission may designate.” (Senate Committee Report, March 3, 1921)
The competition was held under the general rules of the American Institute of Architects. Three architects, Bernard Maybeck of San Francisco, Ellis F Lawrence of Portland and WRB Willcox of Seattle, were selected to judge the competition.
“In the competitive designs for Hawai‘i’s War Memorial to be erected at Kapiʻolani Park, of the seven submitted by local and mainland architects, the award of first choice and prize went to Mr Louis P Hobart, of San Francisco.” (Thrum, 1922)
“The design was approved and highly commended by architects of national and international standing. They considered it to be most appropriate, and especially in keeping with the tropical and architectural atmosphere of Hawaii.”
“We should not at this time hesitate to establish in enduring form our tribute to the self-sacrifice, courage and patriotism of those who answered the call to service in the day of national emergency.”
“It has been a source of regret that interest in this enterprise has seemingly lagged. I trust that the construction of the first unit will be a signal for renewed enthusiasm to guarantee the completing of the whole project.” (Governor Farrington, 1927)
The construction contract was awarded to JL Cliff; an incentive to speedy completion of the project for the Hawaiian Association of the Amateur Athletic Union featuring the National Senior Men’s Outdoor Championships for 1927 and at which thirteen mainland and nine Hawaiian clubs, as well as a team from Japan, competed.
While the entire contract was not completed by the day set for the opening of the meet (August 24, 1927) it was far enough along so that the swimming pool could be used. In the evening of that day, the natatorium, constituting the first unit of Hawaii’s war memorial, was formally dedicated with a program arranged by the American Legion.
Duke Kahanamoku, Hawai‘i’s greatest swimming champion, gave a 100-meter freestyle exhibition swim (it was Duke’s 37th birthday.) The national swimming championships then started and during this and the three following evenings the best swimmers of the United States and Japan tested the quality of the swimming pool. (Kuykendall, 1928)
Tickets for the swim meet were expensive ($1.10 for reserved seating and 25-50¢ for general admission), but 6,000 spectators created a massive traffic jam in Waikiki the first night of competition.
The big draw was a race pitting the world sprint champion Johnny Weissmuller, who beat Duke Kahanamoku in the 1924 Paris Olympics, against Japan’s Katsuo “Flying Fish” Takaishi (Weissmuller won with a new world record of 58 seconds.)
The star of the evening, however, turned out to be Hawai‘i’s Clarence ‘Buster’ Crabbe who won the one-mile swim in 21 minutes 52.25 seconds. (HawaiiHistory)
Due to lack of maintenance and care, the Natatorium is effectively off limits and is in unsafe condition. A final Environmental Assessment and EIS Preparation Notice were published on July 23, 2014. The status quo will result in demolition by neglect.