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New, modernized Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial visitor center opening Dec. 7

Architectural rendering of new Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. Graphic: National Park Service

The USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center was sinking slowly into the waters of Oahu’s Pearl Harbor.

Not the actual USS Arizona Memorial, which since its 1962 dedication has rested solemnly in the middle of the harbor above the sunken hull of the famed World War II battleship. But the 30-year-old visitor center on the shores of Pearl Harbor, which annually prepared 1.5 million visitors for the ferry ride to the Alfred Preis-designed memorial.

The center was built on filled-in waterfront land, which engineers hoped would eventually settle just 18 inches. Instead, over the years, areas of the center’s foundation had dropped up to 30 inches, bringing it perilously close to water level. In 2003, engineers gave the visitor center a life expectancy of five to 10 years.

There were two choices: Commit the existing structure—already lifted four times in its history—to major renovations, or construct a brand-new visitor center that wouldn’t sink. Whatever choice was made, the center’s exhibits also needed updating to the standards of modern museums.

On Dec. 7—the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor—the National Park Service will open the doors on its completely rebuilt and expanded $58 million USS Arizona Memorial Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. A morning invitation-only ceremony will honor Pearl Harbor attack survivors and World War II veterans, then welcome them for the first tours of the center’s completely redesigned exhibits and interpretive displays. Both the visitor center and memorial will also be open to the public later in the morning.

Pearl_Harbor_new_visitor_center_opening_December_7The new facility will also serve as a one-stop shuttle hub for other historic Pearl Harbor sites that either weren’t open or weren’t accessible to the public when the visitor center was first built. Among these: the National Park Service’s World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument sites at Pearl Harbor—which include the USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma and USS Utah Memorials—and the U.S. Navy’s Pearl Harbor Historic Sites—which include the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park.

The USS Bowfin itself, once across a parking lot from the old USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center, is now part of the new center’s campus, which has expanded from 11 to 17 freshly landscaped acres. 

The centerpieces of the new visitor center, however, are two modern exhibit pavilions, designed to offer a more comprehensive history of the Dec. 7 attack—from events leading up to it, to the salvage efforts and Pacific War that followed. There’s been a generational shift in visitors to the center in the years since it was built. The Arizona Memorial's fastest-growing visitor age group is no longer from the Greatest Generation, which experienced the World War II era first-hand, or the Baby Boomers that followed. It's Gen X and Gen Y visitors with more distant connections to the war.

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
Oahu's Pearl Harbor ships, subs aglow for 2012 Holiday Harbor Lights boat tours
Construction begins on new Arizona Memorial visitor center at Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial boat tours suspended until April 15

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