WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie is exploring the idea of converting the swimming pool at the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial into volleyball courts. It's an idea that excites the head coach of the brand new sand volleyball team at the University of Hawaii.
Abercrombie mentioned the volleyball possibility while appearing on Sunrise, the morning show at Hawaii News Now.
"I'm working on something right now in regards to beach volleyball and a venue for it," Abercrombie said. "I can't elaborate on it completely right now, but think about the natatorium and think about sand volleyball and how wonderful it would be if we could feature our sand volleyball players in Waikiki."
The Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial opened in 1927 as a tribute to the 101 servicemen from Hawaii who died in World War I and the nearly 10,000 others who served.
During the natatorium's heyday Duke Kahanamoku and other Olympians and celebrities including Buster Crabb and Johnny Weissmuller swam there. Local swimming meets were held at the natatorium and it was a popular spot for local residents to swim and dive. But in 1979, after 30 years of neglect, the natatorium closed. Since then there have been several proposals about what to do with the structure. In 2001 the grand arch and façade was restored but nothing has been done to repair the crumbling concrete around the pool.
This year the UH women's beach volleyball team played its inaugural season. It practiced and played matches at a spot on Waikiki Beach near the Honolulu Zoo. This summer the university plans to build practice (sand) courts on campus in Manoa.
Head Coach Scott Wong would love to someday play intercollegiate matches at the natatorium.
"I'm a coach and I just want to coach our athletes and coach them in the best place and I can't see any better venue than the natatorium," Wong told Hawaii News Now.
He envisions as many as four courts filling the old pool. Spectators could sit on the bleachers, bask in the sun, take a dip and enjoy the sunset.
"Best volleyball facility in the world," Wong said. "All in all it would be a great attractive package for recruits, for coaches, for spectators and that is the overarching goal that we are trying to accomplish is to have a great program," he added.
Nothing will be done to the natatorium without input from the Friends of the Natatorium. The group's president, Peter Apo, said he had a "hallway conversation" about the natatorium with Abercrombie a few weeks ago.
"I really appreciate the fact that he is dedicated, so he tells me, to the preservation of the structure. Not moving the façade, preserving the structure," Apo told Hawaii News Now.
The Friends' first choice is to re-build and re-open the pool.
"We are going to go for first downs," Apo said, "So we like preserving the structure. That's 75% of the battle. Whether or not it is beach volleyball, whatever the uses, we hope he (Abercrombie) is opened minded about it and that he will at least launch some kind of queries with other stake holders as to what some of the other options might be to beach volleyball. And if beach volleyball turns out in the end to be the best public policy of pursuit, then I guess we would support it. We prefer at this point to support the pool, full restoration," Apo concluded.
While the state owns the pool, it is managed by the City and County of Honolulu. The city is performing an environmental review that may help shape what ultimately happens to the facility.