Eerie and abandoned, the salt water swimming pool and stone bleachers of the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial off San Souci beach was a shimmering seaside tribute when it opened in 1927. Today, some call the crumbling venue haunted and it is often featured in Island-wide nighttime ghost tours.
The aging edifice, shuttered since 1979, is still worth a daytime visit, if only to peek through the bars of its towering front gate and imagine what it once was. As one of the country’s few ‘living memorials,’ the space served both as a gathering place to honor the 10,000 Hawaii service men who served during WWI and a public facility where Hawaii residents learned to swim in its 100m length. The Natatorium is credited with creating a swimming culture in the local community, and providing a peaceful practice spot for Olympians including legendary Hawaiian waterman (and five-time Olympic swimming medalist) Duke Kahanamoku. On Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, the chipping lot around the structure still occasionally hosts commemorative ceremonies honoring the structure’s original purpose.
Despite its designation as a ‘national treasure’ by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, no one seems to know what to do with the Natatorium. Throughout the years, numerous plans to revive or raze the structure, adding a new stretch of white sand to Waikiki’s crowded beaches, have been passed over. Until then, it just waits.
The structure is located at 2815 Kalakaua Ave., across from Kapiolani Regional Park and next to Kaimana Beach at the far end of Waikiki’s main strip. Visitors are welcome 24 hours a day, though interior access is always prohibited.