May 27, 2013

Future of decaying war memorials debated

By ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER The Associated Press

HONOLULU - On the shoreline of Hawaii's most famous beach, a decaying structure attracts little attention from wandering tourists.

click image to enlarge

The Waikiki Natatorium in Honolulu, which includes a saltwater pool, was built in 1927 as a memorial to the 10,000 soldiers from Hawaii who served in World War I. The decaying structure has been closed to the public since 1979 amid debate over whether it should be demolished or restored to its former glory.

The Associated Press

WAR MEMORIAL SOUGHT FOR INDIANS

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The Navajo Code Talkers are legendary. Then there was Cpl. Ira Hamilton Hayes, the Pima Indian who became a symbol of courage and patriotism when he and his fellow Marines raised the flag over Iwo Jima in 1945.

Before World War II and in the decades since, tens of thousands of American Indians have enlisted in the Armed Forces to serve their country at a rate much greater than any other ethnicity. Yet among all the monuments and statutes along the National Mall in Washington, D.C., not one stands in recognition.

A grassroots effort is brewing among tribes across the country to change that. And Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii has introduced legislation that would clear the way for the National Museum of the American Indian to begin raising private funds for a memorial.

"I've come across veterans from throughout the whole country, from the East Coast all the way to California, and a lot of Indian people who believe that there should be something on the National Mall. We're not there, we haven't been recognized," said Steven Bowers, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Seminole tribe in Florida.

Bowers is spearheading an effort to gain support from the nation's tribes to erect a soldier statue on the National Mall in recognition of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians who have served over the years.

His proposal calls for placing it prominently at the entrance of a planned education center at the Vietnam memorial -- where millions of people visit each year -- rather than at the Museum of the American Indian.

John Garcia, deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said he's been meeting with Native American leaders and believes that a memorial "is a real possibility" if land is located and private funds are raised.

– The Associated Press

A few glance curiously at the crumbling Waikiki Natatorium, a saltwater pool built in 1927 as a memorial to the 10,000 soldiers from Hawaii who served in World War I. But the monument's walls are caked with salt and rust, and passers-by are quickly diverted by the lure of sand and waves.

The faded structure has been closed to the public for decades, the object of seemingly endless debate over whether it should be demolished or restored to its former glory. The latest plan is to replace it with a beach, more practical for the state's lucrative tourism industry -- and millions of dollars cheaper, according to state and local officials. They say a full restoration could cost nearly $70 million.

The corroding monument has challenged the community to address a delicate question: How do we honor those who have served when memorials deteriorate and finances are tight?

Similar debates have been playing out across the nation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation waged a 2½-year fight to restore the aging Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., when some people proposed replacing it. Far less disagreement surrounded a decision to update the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco after a powerful earthquake in 1989.

In Greensboro, N.C., residents have been grappling with what to do with the city's own decaying tribute to the soldiers of World War I.

The Greensboro World War Memorial Stadium hosted minor league baseball for decades and even served as a location for notable sports films such as "Leatherheads" and "Bull Durham."

Yet, despite continued use by kids and college-level athletes, the structure is falling into disrepair.

The historic pebbled facade is falling off, and some of the bleachers are blocked off because of crumbling concrete, said David Wharton, a Greensboro resident who is fighting as a member of his neighborhood association to restore the structure.

It's been a losing battle. The city rejected two referendums to fund renovations and chose to build a new stadium for minor league baseball instead of fixing up the old one.

For many residents, the structure's architectural and historic significance pales in comparison to more immediate needs.

"The war was a long time ago," Wharton said. "I don't think it's meaningful for most people."

Sometimes, communities decide that memorials aren't worth the price.

In Michigan's upper peninsula, the Wakefield Memorial Building once stood as a grand structure overlooking a lake in Wakefield, an old mining town. The memorial, built in 1924 to commemorate the sacrifices of World War I soldiers, was expansive, including a banquet hall, meeting room and theater.

By the 1950s, the community couldn't afford the upkeep of the building and sold it to a private owner. Over the years, there were attempts to renovate the structure. But it was deemed too expensive and by 2010, the building was demolished.

John Siira, the city manager, said there are plans to build a new memorial at the site, along with a City Hall and library.

But the project is on hold, and Siira said he's not sure when construction will start or when the project will pick up again.

In Honolulu, the fight over the beachside memorial is far from over.

Hawaii state and local officials recently announced a proposal to tear down the building and have started analyzing the plan -- a process expected to take at least a year.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said a new beach would better serve local residents, and plans to preserve the memorial's arch will honor the soldiers. Demolishing the structure for $18 million is much cheaper than the $69 million cost of full renovation, he said.

But an organization called Friends of the Natatorium says the city's cost analysis is wrong and renovation would in fact be cheaper than demolition. The group, led by former state lawmaker Peter Apo, wants a moratorium on any plans to destroy the memorial to give the group time to raise funds for restoration.

"We're a nation of short memory," Apo said.

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