POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 5, 2010
The familiar white covered walkway that stands watch over the sunken battleship Arizona was not the first concept for a memorial by Honolulu architect Alfred Preis.
His original design was a symbolic sarcophagus extending underwater so visitors could see the ship, said Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes the Arizona Memorial.
Preis adopted the bridgelike design that the Navy set forth but gave it a modern-art spin with the sag in the center and open window "Tree of Life" design at one end.
Dedicated in 1962, it was assailed as "beatnik" art, but 48 years later the memorial has become timeless, Martinez believes.
The Tree of Life "is a universal symbol — it's a renewal, it's a rebirth," Martinez said. "You can find it in all cultures, (and) Preis wanted to make sure he could adapt something to the memorial that had no ownership ... so that people could come to the memorial and hopefully, by seeing that symbol and understanding that symbol, they could remember a time of war in a time of peace."
The Tree of Life also soars prominently on the visitor center grounds, where it has become a symbol of the renewal and rebirth that has taken place there as well.
The new campuslike Pearl Harbor Visitor Center to be dedicated on Tuesday, the 69th anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack, spreads new buildings and walkways over a much larger area of the memorial's 17.4 acres of shoreline.
A new facility was needed because the old visitor center, built in 1980, was sinking in the fill it was built on and because it was designed for 750,000 people a year — not the 1.5 million who now visit Hawaii's No. 1 attraction.
About 259 concrete piles were driven deep into the ground to support the new $56 million center. A new $7.2 million parking lot was built with federal stimulus funding.
The National Park Service opened the first half of the new visitor center on Feb. 17. That half has centralized ticketing for the memorial boat ride and three other neighboring nonprofit museums, as well as an education center, more restrooms, a bookstore, a snack shop and administrative offices.
The second phase includes the new museum and renovated theaters.
Overarching in the new design is the open space allowing for a more contemplative visit, officials say.
"You are basically looking at three football fields of lawn when we only had a very small portion before," Martinez said. "Now (visitors) have a landscape that they can literally fan out over in which they can look at Pearl Harbor, gaze upon Battleship Row, go to the (waterfront exhibits) and kind of decompress."
For most of the past decade, the Dec. 7 commemorations were held at Pearl Harbor's Kilo Pier due to a shortage of lawn space at the visitor center.
On Tuesday the remembrance returns to the Arizona Memorial grounds. Between 2,000 and 2,500 people are expected, including more than 200 Pearl Harbor survivors who will participate in a "Walk of Honor" through a cordon of 100 armed service and National Park Service uniformed men and women.
The first half of the new visitor center has already been a hit.
"It doesn't seem so congested. I think it's a tremendous improvement," said Bob Sinek, 79, on a recent visit.
"It certainly seems more capable of handling larger crowds," the Reno, Nev., resident added. "The lines were unbelievable (at the old center)."
John Jaenicke, 34, from Canada, was sitting on a waterfront park bench staring at the Arizona Memorial and the adjacent battleship Missouri, now a museum.
"When I look at the battleship, I think of all the men and women that passed away here in service to their country," he said. "It's nice to see that there's still a lot of people trying to remember the war."