Pearl Harbor goes with a flow
• Photo gallery: New USS Arizona Memorial visitor center
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
The problem for the two couples from Denver was how to divvy up their time at Pearl Harbor's historic sites on Tuesday.
"The Missouri and Arizona are primarily my two, and he wanted to go to" the Pacific Aviation Museum, said Derek Rosso, 27, referring to his wife's brother. "Everything here seems interesting."
And now a lot easier to schedule, navigate and see.
A long-awaited centralized ticketing office for Pearl Harbor's four historic sites opened last week at the new USS Arizona Memorial visitor center.
The Arizona Memorial to the left, and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, Battleship Missouri Memorial and Pacific Aviation Museum to the right.
There were a lot of back-and-forth head swivels as visitors scanned the signs to figure out a game plan, but it's now one-stop shopping for tickets instead of a trek to two locations to fit in a day of history and remembrance.
With the completion in mid-February of the first half of the Arizona Memorial's new $58 million visitor center, and now the centralized ticketing, there's a new cohesion in more ways than one tying the four historic sites together.
The USS Arizona Memorial is the state's No. 1 tourist attraction, drawing more than 1.4 million visitors annually. Before the first phase of the new visitor center was completed, the next-door Bowfin submarine was partially obscured by a parking lot, chainlink fence and bushes.
"People didn't really know we were here," said Jerry Hofwolt, a retired Navy captain and executive director of the Bowfin museum.
Tickets for the other two nonprofit historic sites, the battleship Missouri and Pacific Aviation Museum, are still sold at the Bowfin. But the new open-air Arizona Memorial visitor center now extends to the Bowfin museum, and the 312-foot World War II sub known as the "Pearl Harbor Avenger" is visible like never before.
"Before, the visitors were over there (at the Arizona Memorial). We were over here, 200 yards away. Now, we're 15 feet away," Hofwolt said of the new ticketing arrangement. "That's got to have a positive effect."
On Tuesday, Bill and Felicia Jackson from Phoenix had time to spare after getting tickets for a later boat ride to the Arizona Memorial and decided to take a tour of the Bowfin while they waited.
"I saw the submarine and just thought it was the easiest thing to do for the next hour and a half," Bill Jackson said.
A new favorite photo for visitors is the 19,585-pound anchor from the USS Arizona, moved to the back lawn, with a background view of the memorial, the battleship Missouri and the barber-striped Ford Island control tower, which will be part of the Pacific Aviation Museum.
Ground was broken for the new visitor center in November 2008. Part of the reason for the new construction was unexpected sinkage of the facility, which opened in 1980.
The original visitor center was built on fill material added to expand Hālawa basin. When it opened, the center was expected to sink no more than 18 inches over time. Instead, it settled more than 30 inches, causing water to enter the basement and erode the concrete structure.
It also was designed for 2,000 visitors a day, not the 4,500 who show up at the memorial, which is run by the National Park Service and does not charge admission.
President Bush in late 2008 expanded the park service's focus by declaring the USS Arizona Memorial and other sites in the Pacific to be part of a new World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. The memorial itself, spanning the sunken battleship Arizona, was built in 1962.
The visitor center's campus-like design spreads new buildings and shaded walkways over a much larger area than before. An undulating roof design is intended to improve natural air flow.
The first phase, including an education center, restrooms, a bookstore, snack shop and administrative offices, opened Feb. 17, said Tom Fake, regional project director for the National Park Service.
There are now three restrooms instead of the one facility before, and the bookstore doubled in size. Ceiling fans, lots of windows and natural airflow are used in place of air conditioning to keep the bookstore cool. The amount of seating around the visitor center was tripled, and back lawn space fronting the waterfront has jumped fourfold.
Queueing up for boat ride tickets to the memorial has been made easier by allowing one group member to stand in line — instead of the whole group — and allowing a tour group representative to obtain multiple tickets.
"We were plagued with so many problems with the old visitor center," Fake said. "The new center is just such a dramatic difference and it's so much more visitor-friendly."
Larry Panigot, 49, from Dallas, who was visiting with his wife, brother and some friends, said he appreciates the big change.
"It's a lot nicer. You've got space to actually get around and look and see stuff without being on top of each other," he said. "It was just so cramped before. Here, you've got all the information for the Bowfin and the Missouri."
Two cranes are operating behind a 12-foot construction barrier just outside the oasis that is the new visitor center in a sign of the work that remains to be done.
About 185 piles were driven deep into the ground to support the first phase, and about 80 more will be driven for the second phase.
"Road to War," "Oahu 1941" and "Attack and Aftermath" exhibits will be part of the second phase, expected to be completed by Dec. 7, the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
A 23-minute film explaining the world-changing event is shown every half-hour in a covered but open-air venue as the visitor center's two theaters are renovated.
Dave Goodman, 69, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who was providing information as a historic site "ambassador," said the new visitor center and centralized ticketing are a huge improvement.
"So many sacrifices were made here, the least we can do is make it as good as we can," he said.