Sign Up for Our Monthly Hawaii Newsletter
It Has been almost 70 years since the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor and 30 years since the visitor center opened near the USS Arizona Memorial, which spans the sunken hull of its namesake battleship. Since then, the attraction — operated by the National Park Service — has welcomed new generations of visitors, which has presented a challenge. As the clientele changes, how do park officials maintain interest in, and appreciation for, the memorial? How do they keep the impact of World War II in the Pacific fresh for the 1.5 million people who visit each year?
Their solution — a rebuilt and expanded visitor center — is opening on Dec. 7. The $56 million facility is growing by six acres, bringing its total land area to 17.4 acres. At 23,600 square feet, it promises to offer a dynamic new interpretation of the Pearl Harbor attack and Pacific War.
Twice the size of its predecessor, the new visitor center makes much better use of its available space, said National Park Service spokesperson Lynne Nakata.
“The idea was to maximize the use of shaded, cool exterior areas and limit the amount of cramped interior experiences,” said Nakata. “This also allowed us to open up the views to Pearl Harbor and many of the historic resources.”
Engineering played an additional role in the decision to rebuild the center. Studies proved that the life of the original building was short-lived because it was sinking. Thanks to a modern approach to restoring the foundation, project officials have guaranteed that the new building won’t settle for at least 50 years.
With ticketing windows and an information desk, the new visitor center provides a central gateway to the overall Pearl Harbor experience, allowing visitors to better plan their visit and avoid long waits. From the center, clients can explore not just the USS Arizona Memorial but also the USS Oklahoma and Utah memorials, Battleship Missouri Memorial, Pacific Aviation Museum and USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park.
In planning the center’s exhibits, the goal was to tell the story from multiple perspectives, including the U.S. military on the ground, civilians who were caught in the crossfire, Japanese airmen and American and Japanese civilians who sent soldiers off to fight a distant war, said Nakata.
“We are presenting information from the times, unfiltered by today’s interpretation, and expanding the story beyond just the bombing of the USS Arizona,” said Nakata. “We hope to have visitors connect emotionally with the people closest to this monumental event. A key goal is to interpret this complex multidimensional story to younger generations, many of whom were born long after the war and have no knowledge of these historic events and their lasting impact on our society and the world.”
The new exhibits take advantage of multiple formats to help visitors learn and absorb information. There are video tracks, interactive maps, tactile models and a bas relief depicting Japanese planes flying low to drop their torpedoes. Oral history kiosks share personal stories of people whose lives were directly affected by the war. The Oahu 1941 gallery depicts the civilian experience on the island before the attack. The Attack and Aftermath Gallery, with its surround screen and authentic sounds, brings history alive as it takes visitors on the actual flight path of the Pearl Harbor attack. Two fully renovated movie theaters present a 23-minute documentary, preparing visitors for their boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial.
A grand opening and official dedication of the center is planned for the week of Dec. 7, coinciding with the national reunion of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association in Honolulu. Survivors and World War II veterans will be the first to enter the new facility, which will also open its doors to the public on that day.
Pacific Historic Parks spokesperson Laurie Moore hopes that clients who visit the new center will get a deeper understanding of Pearl Harbor as well as all aspects of World War II in the Pacific.“The visitor center is not only a place to honor those who have sacrificed for our great nation, but it is also a place of renewal,” said Moore. “We are committed to providing an objective and inclusive experience and learning environment.”