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The Accidental Preservation Advocate

Or, Historic Preservation for Dummies

This effort has always been primarily about remembrance. It did not start out as a historic preservation project, nor did I want it too, but somewhere along the way, well....

Below is a short version of how the Blaisdell rededication came to be, as shared by Historic Hawaii Foundation.

http://historichawaii.org/2016/11/21/blaisdellcenterrededication/

Rededication of the Neal S. Blaisdell Center War Memorial
The True Story of an Accidental Preservation Advocate

by Tanya Harrison

I’m the last person I thought could ever make a difference. Shy and inexperienced at advocacy, I initially had difficulty convincing others that the Neal Blaisdell Center is indeed Honolulu’s war memorial auditorium. I was completely out of my element. As a former Hawaii resident turned Oregon wildlife biologist, I was more adept at dodging bears than corresponding with officials.

Yet my dream of a new memorial plaque at Blaisdell Center came to fruition.

Advocacy isn’t restricted to the experts. What I learned through this process is if you’re passionate, persistent, and believe in your objective; anyone can make a difference.


View of the top of the arena. Light coming from above is sunlight (the roof is open at the top).

Develop a passion for your place

Passion fueled the fire that compelled me to work tirelessly on this project. Raised in a family of veterans, I was taught that memorials are sacred places never to be forgotten. Although I learned about the Blaisdell’s war memorial heritage by accident in 2010, once I realized this was lost to society, I couldn’t live with myself if I did nothing. The original memorial plaque, now missing, needed to be replaced and rededicated.

I thought a simple phone call to the right person would suffice and I’d be done with it. Little did I know….


Blaisdell Arena roof along lower edge of dome

Persistence and perseverance

Not knowing where to start, I began contacting any entity even remotely related to Blaisdell Center, a strategy akin to throwing stuff up in the air and seeing what sticks. The only thing I seemed to accomplish was perfecting the art of being a subtle pain in the rear. It didn’t help that I was doing this from nearly 3,000 miles away. I needed to find someone to introduce me to the right people.

By 2014, I was immensely frustrated and considered dropping the whole thing. It was then that I caught the attention of members of WWII veterans clubs, who introduced me to veterans who agreed to take this under their wing.


View from above in Blaisdell Arena

If you can’t do it, find someone that can

What plagued my effort was ignorance of protocol: who to contact, how to approach them, and what procedure to follow. With members of the veteran’s community, we approached City officials, who took this on as their own project. They funded, designed, and installed the new memorial plaque and planned and implemented a rededication ceremony. I was amazed at how many had become involved with the effort, and relieved that it was finally out of my hands.

Persistence, patience, a clear objective, and a high tolerance to frustration – these qualities kept me going. But in the end, it was finding the right people that got the ball rolling, and a new war memorial plaque was rededicated at Blaisdell Center on November 10, 2015.


View of Exhibition Hall from Arena roof

The goal posts are always moving

After the rededication I thought I’d be done with the Blaisdell. But somewhere along the way, this became a kuleana. Blaisdell Center is a “living memorial”, akin to the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium and Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall, both sacred and secular. It’s hard to image you’re at a sacred place while attending an auto show, so one must be reminded of the memorial nature of such places through its name or by a plaque. Although the Blaisdell Center war memorial has been re-awakened and re-introduced to society, vigilance is needed to educate the public about its memorial heritage and prevent it from being lost again.

So what’s next? Work is ongoing to nominate the arena and concert hall to the State and National Register of Historic Places. While touring the facility for the nomination, we visited some areas closed to the public. This included climbing catwalks in the darkened “attic” of the arena, where I felt like I was clinging to a giant steel spider web. I didn’t imagine I’d be doing that when this project started!


Blaisdell Arena's "attic". The vertical streaks are wires.

Preservation is never ending….

As of this writing, the City is considering redeveloping Blaisdell Center. I find it important that its memorial aspect is part of that discussion. And I’m still searching for the original memorial plaque, for people that remember its memorial history, and am collecting stories about it in general.

Blaisdell Center has been an important part of Honolulu’s collective cultural consciousness for over 50 years. So if you have anything to share about this special place, please do! Please email outreach@historichawaii.org.

Addendum

This project, resulting in the installment of a replacement memorial sign to recognize Neal S. Blaisdell Center as Honolulu’s war memorial auditorium, received a 2016 Preservation Award for Achievements in Interpretive Media from Historic Hawaii Foundation.

Tanya Harrison, a member of Historic Hawaii Foundation since 2015, is the founder of the Blaisdell Center War Memorial Project. Raised on Kauai, Tanya worked in the rural inland Pacific Northwest for many years in natural and cultural resources. She has a lifelong passion for researching and preserving history and is currently enrolled in the graduate program for Natural Resources and Environmental Management at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Photos by Tanya Harrison taken in March of 2016 when Harrison and local architectural historian Don Hibbard received a private tour of the Neal Blaisdell Center.
 

War Memorial Rededication

Service members and local community members gather at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu for a war memorial plaque rededication ceremony. The ceremony served to remember, preserve and rededicate the center as a war memorial with the unveiling of a new memorial plaque. The original plaque is believed to have gone missing some time by 1970. On Sept. 12, 1964, the Neal S. Blaisdell Center, formerly the Honolulu International Center, was dedicated as a living memorial to all of Hawaii's war veterans and war dead.  Photo and caption: Johans Chavarro
Service members and local community members gather at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu for a war memorial plaque rededication ceremony. The ceremony served to remember, preserve and rededicate the center as a war memorial with the unveiling of a new memorial plaque. The original plaque is believed to have gone missing some time by 1970. On Sept. 12, 1964, the Neal S. Blaisdell Center, formerly the Honolulu International Center, was dedicated as a living memorial to all of Hawaii's war veterans and war dead. Photo and caption: Johans Chavarro
On November 10th, 2015 the Blaisdell Center was re-introduced to the public as Honolulu's war memorial auditorium complex in an intimate and moving ceremony. Well written articles by the US Navy and The Hawaii Herald covered the event. Below are more impressions.
Flags unfurled before the memorial dedication. Photo: Ann Kabasawa
Flags unfurled before the memorial dedication. Photo: Ann Kabasawa

Initial plans were to have the ceremony on the concert hall lawn; instead the site was cleansed by rain beforehand, prompting staff to set up seating on the concert hall’s lanai. A fitting touch that we were forced to shelter in one of the venues, part of the original war memorial. The Royal Hawaiian Band, which played before the original 1964 dedication, entertained us as we waited to start.

Maryknoll cadets took part in the original dedication celebration of the then named Honolulu International Center. Here they pass out programs to event goers. Photo: Ann Kabasawa
Maryknoll cadets took part in the original dedication celebration of the then named Honolulu International Center. Here they pass out programs to event goers. Photo: Ann Kabasawa

Veterans from WWII to today, active duty military, city officials, and community members were present. Members of the MIS Veterans Club, Club 100, Daughters of the American Revolution…the diverse group was just large enough to fill the lanai without being crowded.

Grandchildren of Mayor Neal Blaisdell were recognized, one of whom stepped forward to place lei on the late Mayor’s bust in the lobby of the concert hall which now bears his name. Quotes attributed to Mayor Blaisdell during the 1964 dedication were shared.

Admiral Harry Harris spoke about living memorials. Photo: Ann Kabasawa
Admiral Harry Harris spoke about living memorials. Photo: Ann Kabasawa

It was pointed out that “living memorials” such as entertainment venues like Blaisdell Center are not obvious as memorials. Instead, a plaque is required to tell us that, and with the loss of the Blaisdell’s original war memorial plaque, so went that knowledge. Which is why a replacement plaque was being rededicated that evening.

After remarks, the crowd moved outside and gathered around the beautifully landscaped pohaku (stone), the attached plaque unveiled to applause and lit in red, white and blue. As dusk settled, in silence, we began placing ho’okupu (offerings) of maile and ti-leaf lei atop the pohaku.

Former City Councilmember and WWII Veteran Ben Kaito places the first lei atop the stone displaying the new war memorial plaque. Photo: Ann Kabasawa
Former City Councilmember and WWII Veteran Ben Kaito places the first lei atop the stone displaying the new war memorial plaque. Photo: Ann Kabasawa
Saluting the new memorial plaque after placing offering of lei on the stone. Photo: Johans Chavarro
Saluting the new memorial plaque after placing offering of lei on the stone. Photo: Johans Chavarro

WWII veteran Ben Kaito, a Councilmember in 1964, went first. Then active duty service members representing their respective branch of service placed lei one by one – each then standing at attention and saluting the plaque – not a quick snap, but more somber. Echo taps closed out the ceremony. A real chicken skin moment.

Drusilla Tanaka bows before the war memorial plaque. Johans Chavarro
Drusilla Tanaka bows before the war memorial plaque. Johans Chavarro

Our original idea was to fund raise and donate a plaque for installment at the Blaisdell. Instead, the City designed and funded the plaque, display area, and rededication ceremony. Although the plaque is in a different location than the original, which was by the arena, it is lit at night and more beautifully displayed than the original.

It will take time for the Blaisdell’s memorial heritage to become common knowledge. There are more lei on the Elvis statue by the arena on any given day than by the memorial plaque.

Next time you visit Blaisdell Center, leave a lei or some flowers by the memorial plaque. It’s the least you can do.

TH
 

War Memorial Municipal Auditorium

Peter T. Young wrote this informative piece on Blaisdell Center’s war memorial history. The original can be seen here.

War Memorial Municipal Auditorium

“Dedicated to All the Sons and Daughters of Hawai‘i Who Served Their Country in Time of War and in Special Tribute to those Who Gave Their Lives in Order That Freedom and Justice Might Prevail Throughout the World”

Apparently, so said the plaque outside what was initially referred to as the War Memorial Municipal Auditorium; its name was changed a few times.

And, the plaque is now missing – and apparently, so is the memory and original intent of the complex as a War Memorial.

Let’s look back …

Continue reading War Memorial Municipal Auditorium

Blaisdell Arena: Rise of a Local Icon

3 123 - 1While perusing old photos of Blaisdell Arena, the history geeks here were intrigued by shots of it under construction. How was this massive mushroom/flying saucer shaped building put together? So a collage of construction photos were assembled spanning 1 ½ years - from giant pick up sticks to finished product.

It is amazing how much time, energy, and materials went into this building. This exercise helped us better appreciate this fine example of Modern architecture.

1962 HIC constructionSoon after groundbreaking; the caption on this June 28, 1962 Star Bulletin photo by Jack Titchen reads: "Work has begun on Honolulu's $4.6 million dollar War Memorial Municipal Auditorium on the site of Old Plantation..."

The end price, of course, was a lot higher.

Continue reading Blaisdell Arena: Rise of a Local Icon

ELVIS!

Elvis Presley: Jan 14, 1973 at Blaisdell Arena
Elvis Presley: Jan 14, 1973 at Blaisdell Arena
Visitors to Blaisdell Center have probably noticed the statue of Elvis Presley outside the arena.  It commemorates his Aloha from Hawaii concert held there on January 14, 1973; claimed as the first concert televised worldwide by satellite and viewed by an estimated 1 billion people.
Elvis statue outside Blaisdell Arena
Elvis statue outside Blaisdell Arena

If you haven’t seen this concert you must!  This isn’t just Blaisdell Center history.  Its Hawaii history.  Its American history.

Continue reading ELVIS!

A WWII and Korean War Memorial

Honolulu’s quest for a public auditorium can be traced back to soon after WWI- memorial auditorium facilities were originally planned along with the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, but failed to materialize due to lack of funding.  After WWII, the need for a public auditorium became more evident, but this time as a memorial to those who served and sacrificed during WWII.

The 1955 Legislature passed Act 145 authorizing $3 million in bonds for the City to construct a War Memorial Municipal Auditorium.  These funds were used to purchase the land that Blaisdell Center now stands on.  By then, the idea was for the auditorium to honor those from Hawaii who served and sacrificed in both WWII and Korea.

Hawaii Session Laws, excerpt from Act 145
Hawaii Session Laws, 1955, excerpt from Act 145

Continue reading A WWII and Korean War Memorial

We Will Never Forget!

POW/MIA plaque along Memorial walk at Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery
POW/MIA plaque along the memorial walk at Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery

The text at the bottom of this Memorial plaque at Punchbowl honoring POWs and MIAs of the Korean War is especially poignant. This sentiment– that to be forgotten is the worst possible fate– is the fuel that drives this effort to re-establish and preserve the Blaisdell Center as monument to our war veterans.

To be killed in war is not the worst that can happen…
To be missing in war is not the worst that can happen…
To be forgotten…is
We will never forget!

Happy 50th Birthday Blaisdell Center!

As 2014 is the Blaisdell Center’s 50th year of operation, a few of us got on this subject….is there any particular day one could regard as its “birthday”? September 12th came out as the best contender–it was on that day in 1964 that the entire complex was formally dedicated. Surely Blaisdell Center’s formal dedication is the date most fitting to be called its “birthday”? Continue reading Happy 50th Birthday Blaisdell Center!

Formal Opening of the Blaisdell Concert Hall

Although the Concert Hall is one of 3 venues at Blaisdell Center, this building, then called the Theater- Concert Hall, had its own formal dedication. And oh, it was grand!

It was the evening of September 13, 1964. The Honolulu Symphony Orchestra performed to a very well dressed audience–men wore bow ties and women wore furs. A far cry from today’s symphony events where it’s not uncommon to see concert goers in shorts and slippers. And no one wore leis, normally worn at such events. Perhaps people wanted to pretend, for one night, they were in New York City and not Honolulu?

Program for formal opening of the Blaisdell Concert Hall
Program for formal opening of the Blaisdell Concert Hall

Continue reading Formal Opening of the Blaisdell Concert Hall

Neal S. Blaisdell Center War Memorial Project

The Blaisdell Memorial Project is now formally the Neal S. Blaisdell Center War Memorial Project.

This is for several reasons

  1. For a short time in 1976, NBC was named the Neal S. Blaisdell Memorial Center. We don’t want to cause confusion or imply that we want to change its name….its correct name today is Neal S. Blasidell Center.
  2. We want to emphasize that the Center itself is a war memorial. We aren’t trying to memorialize a person.

Continue reading Neal S. Blaisdell Center War Memorial Project

The Living Memorial

Neal S. Blaisdell Center is a type of war memorial known as a “living memorial”.

Living memorials are utilitarian facilities such as hospitals, auditoriums, roads, swimming pools, and libraries, typically marked with a plaque to indicate their memorial status. They are meant to serve the needs of society, while reminding us that without the sacrifices of those who serve, we would not have the freedom to build and enjoy such facilities. Continue reading The Living Memorial

Now That’s Some Lei!

While researching Blaisdell Center’s history, we’ve come upon all types of interesting historical tidbits. We found this one especially amusing.

Back when the NBC first opened 50 years ago, people loved the arena so much, they actually put a lei on it.

Not some pretty orchid lei on a door knob or across a railing. Nope. This was a 557 ft long, 1000 lb, flower and ti leaf mega lei that was draped over the dome of the arena. Continue reading Now That’s Some Lei!