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Natatorium War Memorial opens

The Natatorium, a saltwater swimming pool with spectator bleachers facing the ocean off Waikiki, was built as a memorial to those who fought in World War I. At its grand opening event, the public rushed for seats to watch the four-day AAU National Outdoor Swimming Championships. Tickets for the swim meet were expensive ($1.10 for reserved seating and 25-50ยข 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. The star of the evening, however, turned out to be Hawaii's Clarence "Buster" Crabbe who won the one-mile swim in 21 minutes 52.25 seconds.

The Natatorium's heyday lasted from 1927 through the World War II years. International swim meets continued to be held there through the 1930s and the public pool was always popular with local swimmers. The pool's tall diving towers attracted kids and the setting could not have been more perfect.

From the very beginning, however, the Natatorium was plagued by problems related to its saltwater contents and coral reef floor. The murky bottom deterred some. "The pool was kind of scary because the water was so black and you didn't know what was in it," Calbert Ching, of Hawai`i Kai, remembers. "You always heard stories about the eels at the bottom." By 1949, when management of the pool was turned over to the city of Honolulu, the pool was in need of major repairs. In 1963, the pool was shut down when outlets to the sea became clogged by seaweed; the Natatorium was closed permanently in 1979. A major refurbishing project got underway in 1997 that restored parts of the facility, but the pool remains closed due to health and safety concerns.

 Sites for further information

Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium (National Trust for Historic Preservation)
www.nationaltrust.org/11most/list.asp?i=116

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