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

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“Someone visiting today who is, say, age 24 knows that the Arizona Memorial is important. But they don’t necessarily understand why,” says monument chief of interpretation Eileen Martinez. “The great challenge for the future is making sure visitors leave understanding why this place is important, because as we move further away from that moment in time, we understand less and less.”

Pearl_Harbor_new_visitor_center_opening_December_7Exhibits in the new pavilions will be state-of-the-art, incorporating interactive technologies and high-definition video, filmed oral histories, sound files and immersive multiscreen film. Murals, displays, scale models and other media will now explain the Pacific War and Pearl Harbor attack story from multiple perspectives—a first for the facility. (Editor's note: The interior of the new pavilions were still under construction when this story was written and photographed.)

“We’ll have Pearl Harbor and World War II survivors, Oahu civilians and Japanese aviators and civilians talking about their experience,” says Martinez. “We’ll have the people that lived this history, telling the history.”

The new center will include three times the display space of the previous facility—enough to properly show off the park service’s vast collection of historic artifacts and memorabilia, much of it donated by survivors and Oahu residents over the past three decades.

The foundation the visitor center rests on is now solid, too, built on concrete friction piles driven more than 200 feet into the soft waterfront soil. The new structure should last for years to come. Designed from top to bottom with a green conscience, the new facility will generate a quarter of its power via solar photovoltaic cells.

Ground was broken for the new visitor center in November 2008, with construction broken into two phases so the Arizona Memorial could remain open to visitors throughout. The only structure returning visitors will recognize is the old theater building, though its interiors have received a refurbishing.

Pearl_Harbor_new_visitor_center_opening_December_7The building’s two theaters—both screening a 23-minute Pearl Harbor attack documentary—will continue to serve as visitors’ final destination before the ferry ride to the memorial. But intentionally, the theatres will only be accessible after first passing through and experiencing the two exhibit pavilions.

“In the past, when visitors saw the line to the film, that became their focus. The theater was their first step, the memorial their second, then finally the museum and the bookstore if they had time,” says monument superintendent Paul DePrey. “Frontloading the museum experience before going out to the memorial will dramatically improve what their expectations are when they’re on the memorial.”

The USS Arizona Memorial itself remains untouched by renovations, as does admission to the visitor center and the ferries. Both are still free.

“The old visitor center, and how it was functioning up until even a year ago, was not anything that we were very proud of,” says DePrey. “This is going to be one of the more fantastic visitor experiences and visitor centers in the National Park Service.”


USS ARIZONA MEMORIAL PEARL HARBOR VISITOR CENTER, At World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor, 1 Arizona Memorial Place, off Kamehameha Highway,
(808) 422-3300, www.nps.gov/valr

(A version of this feature was originally published in the December 2010 issue of HAWAII Magazine.)

Photos: Derek Paiva (pg. 1, bottom; pg. 2, top); Wikipedia Commons (pg. 2, bottom)

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