Construction Tour of the New USS ARIZONA Memorial Museums

So what do you do all day in early retirement? For starters, you can volunteer at the brand-new USS ARIZONA Memorial Visitor’s Center. Spouse wangled a hardhat tour of the museums as they get ready for their 7 December opening on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Panorama of the Battleship MISSOURI Memorial at Ford Island pier F-5 and the USS ARIZONA Memorial with the wake of a passenger boat heading toward its landing. Ford Island's air traffic control tower can be seen in the background. Funding was recently obtained to renovate and preserve the tower as part of the Pacific Aviation Museum.

USS ARIZONA Memorial and Battleship MISSOURI Memorial

First, the park’s names have changed to reflect the growth of the visitor’s center. It’s still the USS ARIZONA Memorial, but the property of the visitor’s center has been renamed the “World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor” to include the memorials for not just the USS ARIZONA but also the USS UTAH, the USS OKLAHOMA, and other ships and shore sites attacked that morning.

Visitor’s Center

The new visitor’s center also consolidates ticket sales and transportation for the USS BOWFIN Submarine Museum, the Battleship MISSOURI Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum (on Ford Island).

Renovated theater

The old visitor’s center, built in 1979, had an undersized museum on a patchwork of properties along the waterfront.

Not all of the land was owned by the Navy, and some parcels were still in use for waterfront operations. When the USS ARIZONA association decided to renovate the old visitor’s center it was discovered to be sinking into the landfill.

After the Memorial’s association raised $56M in donations, the Navy consolidated ownership of the entire property from Halawa Stream to the Ford Island Causeway. The old visitor’s center and museum were demolished, the landfill was stabilized with new pilings, and a new center took its place. The old theater was renovated and two new museums were added along with the new visitor’s center and a large education & research center.

Museum plaza

The new national monument now stretches along the waterfront showing a panorama from the Battleship MISSOURI Memorial and the USS ARIZONA Memorial to the USS BOWFIN Submarine Museum.

USS BOWFIN Submarine Museum

Other monuments and memorials to other ships and sites attacked that morning are also placed along the waterfront promenade, including one of the USS ARIZONA’s anchors. This diagram shows the layout of the property.

The two new museums are the “Road to War” and “Attack” themes with modern display technologies. The first museum shows the Japanese and American perspectives of the events leading up to war, including the blatant racist attitudes of both 1930s cultures. It includes the typical static displays, murals, and newsreels along with new exhibits loaned from the National Archives and survivor’s oral/video histories.

“Road to War” museum

The “Attack” museum immediately immerses visitors in a mural showing the USS OKLAHOMA under attack. A scale model of a torpedo bomber overhead replicates the exact aircraft fuselage numbers and crew.

“Attack” second museum

All of the exhibits have been designed for wheelchair access and visually-impaired visitors. For example large murals are accompanied by a smaller mural on a pedestal at wheelchair height with textured features and Braille labels. (The smaller mural is also much more kid-friendly.) Display models of the aircraft carriers, battleships, and planes are accompanied by smaller castings of the figure for visitors to handle, along with more Braille labels.

Other models show how the torpedoes were modified to run in the harbor’s shallow waters. A new panoramic video shows a detailed CGI simulation of the Japanese carriers approaching Hawaii, the two waves of aircraft, and the sites attacked that morning. It includes actual movie-camera footage of the USS ARIZONA magazine explosion. The stark brutality of the imagery is intensified by survivor’s video testimony of what they saw and did that morning. You will cry.

Scale model of torpedo bomber

“Attack” museum almost ready for visitors

One theme carried through the museums starts with a photo mural of a dozen people, both civilian and military, American and Japanese, who were present that day. As visitors walk through the exhibits, they see what each person was doing and how they were affected by the attack. Not all of the people were survivors.

Museum photo display of Ford Island

“Crossroads of Pacific” looking back toward ticket booth

Water view past the renovated theater

Ford Island causeway

“Crossroads of the Pacific”

The USS ARIZONA Memorial stayed open during the entire renovation. The new visitor’s center opened several months ago and is putting the finishing touches on the renovations. The museums will open on 5 December with the formal ceremonies on 6-7 December.

About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
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