11-12-21 | Feature

Historical Memorial Haven

by Jenny McDonald, J2 Engineering & Environmental Design

Found in Salt River, Arizona, the USS Arizona memorial reminds visitors of the events surrounding the December 7, 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Designed by J2 Engineering and Environmental Design of Phoenix, Arizona, 1,503 galvanized steel commemorative columns form the outline of the ship and turrets on a 1/1 ratio with the actual USS Arizona. Many include acrylic tube inserts for the lit columns, representing those who died on the ship that day. The shorter, non-illuminated columns represent those crew members who survived the attack. Inside the windowed building is an actual piece of the ship's boat house obtained from the US Navy's "Relic" program.
This area was designed to be a contemplative space where visitors can take in the sheer horror of Pearl Harbor. The garden features salvaged mesquites, medicinal aloe, and blue gramma grass. The color scheme is inspired by naval ships and naval colors, which contrasts the native plantings and earth tones of the decomposed granite
This deck, inspired by military ships and positioned where the 4,800-pound Boat House would have stood on the USS Arizona, was created on walls that were built into the lake and includes an acid-etched integral colored concrete band that holds in the wood-like panel deck. The Boat House Relic obtained by the park actually served as the original memorial at Pearl Harbor before being replaced in 1962 by the current white USS Arizona Memorial.
The five flagpoles have a standard for each military branch, with the axis aligned on the relic building. Palo Verde trees and Mesquites were salvaged from the site, replanted, and now line the surrounding areas of the garden. Deseret milkweed and agaves are present as well. Originally the garden was only supposed to have native mesquites which were salvaged from the park; however, several did not make it through the replanting process.
Pavers in the plaza were designed with a basketweave pattern used by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. From the original site, called the Veteran's Circle, the designers kept the dance center, a decomposed granite area, so they could continue to perform traditional ceremonies. Cast iron planters were used because of their metal texture, which gives the design a military feel. The planters are cast with a native pattern which adds a local ambiance to the memorial.
: Precast integral colored concrete benches are found along the walkways and engraved with quotes from survivors of the attack. Quotes were selected to be the most descriptive and to tell the firsthand story of events. "I went up... and smelled fresh air. That was the most magnificent breath of air I ever took. When I got out & looked around the whole world was on fire." - Ensign Charles Merdinger
Interpretive signage tells the history of how the attack unfolded. Acid-etched colored concrete blocks, engraved with the name and rank of every service member aboard the ship, are strung together using airplane cables and arranged in a ship's mast flagging order, much like the ground plane layout of the memorial garden. Each mast is lit with spotlights granting 24/7 access.

On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese infamously attacked the United States with a raid on Pearl Harbor. On that day 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians lost their lives. Of those, 1,177 were aboard the USS Arizona. In 1951, the first memorial for the Arizona contained a 'Relic' of the original Boat House to the ship. In 1961, the Relic was relocated to a Naval yard allowing for the construction of the current USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, where it sat until several members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Tribe got together to find a way to bring a piece of history to their community after their experience in Hawaii where they received a US flag that had been flown at that memorial.

Many of the tribe leaders were veterans who discovered that in 1995 the federal government granted the US Navy the ability to remove pieces from the Pearl Harbor site, in what is called "The Relic Program," and provide those pieces to be used for memorial and educational services. So, they wrote to the Navy and were granted two pieces; a part of the USS Arizona's original boat house and the flag that stood at the masthead of the Arizona that December day in 1941, prompting the development of the USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River.

The project was intricate and required great attention to detail, as the gravity of this development was felt by all involved. The thought-provoking planning process gave the community a project that allows this actual piece of the USS Arizona to take its honored place as a reminder of the historical events surrounding
Pearl Harbor.

Their memorial is the same length as the actual USS Arizona, with over 1,500 commemorative columns, each representing a life aboard the ship that day.
The columns serve as a visual aid of the
USS Arizona's outline while telling the profound story of the men aboard. 1,177 of the columns feature LED lights, representing those who died onboard, with the unlit columns representing the 1 in 5 shipmates who survived. Created from galvanized steel, the commemorative columns represent a unique life, showcased in their slightly different finished appearances due to the mottled galvanized coating. They will naturally patina over time to a duller, darker, and softer gray which will eloquently contrast with the frosted white lights held within them.

When viewed in mass, visitors quickly understand the magnitude of the events on that fateful day. Each column subtly glows with light after sundown, transforming the memorial and invoking the thought that the brightness of each individual will continue to shine, and their sacrifice will stand the test of time.


The Boat House of the USS Arizona is prominently displayed adjacent to the lake's edge in the Relic Building. The structure places visitors on top of where the Relic was in relation to the rest of the USS Arizona. The Relic building features curved walls with a pattern formed in the concrete reminiscent of the metal panels and rivets of the ship's hull. Cut out windows in the Boat House were inspired by the portholes of a ship. Metal roof panels in a warm metallic copper allude to the forms of the ship's bridge. A deck feature juts into the lake and supports the United States flag. The deck consists of faux wood pavers in weathered earth tones which aid in warming up the space. The railing around the deck is reminiscent of the battle ship's railing.

The Relic Building will not always be staffed, so the building design needed to accommodate viewing of the Relic without entering the building. The glass storefronts also utilize specialized coatings that increase their energy efficiency and have an anti-glare, anti-reflecting coating ensuring the view is unobstructed. The enclosure was specially designed with a dehumidifier to keep the temperature and relative humidity levels within the enclosure adequate for the long-term preservation of the piece.

A contemplative Memorial Garden sits on the northern side of the Relic Building with a layout based on the ship's vertical mast to memorialize the highly decorated USS Arizona. The memorial is positioned to give visitors the ability to stand in the garden, look across the water, and see the Relic in relation to how it once stood in Pearl Harbor. Interpretative signage around the relic building details how the events of the attack unfolded.

Commemorative columns line pathways in the garden, with each path terminating at a flagpole flying a standard for each branch of the United States military. Along these pathways are benches engraved with quotations from individuals who experienced firsthand the events of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The garden was designed to act as the ship's mast while also creating a space for reflection. This portion of the ship would have been where the American flag would have been erected on that somber day. Part of the Relic program is to mandate that the provided flag is brought out every December 7th, and this is where the community performs a "flag breathing" ceremony that's taken place since they received it in October 2007. The gardens utilize a color palette that mixes dark and light grays within the hardscape elements, harkening a naval battleship. These grey tones provide a stark contrast to the trees and flowering plants on the site.

This project's mission included incorporating the community's rich cultural heritage. A 'Veteran's Circle' sat on the original project site and became
the inspiration for the design, including important cultural elements such as decomposed granite signifying a connection to the earth, nods to the traditional Pima-Maricopa basket weave pattern, and interlocking hand weave patterns.

Several areas of this project focus on energy conservation and environmental sustainability. Extensive salvage and replanting of existing trees occurred. The large, mature canopies provide instant shade to cool the hot Arizona sun and reduce the heat island effect. Trees that were originally a part of the relocation plan but were not able to be salvaged were sold to a local nursery, meanwhile, trees that did not survive the transplant were cut into firewood and given to the elderly of the community for cooking and heating of their homes.

Indigenous plants and their use within the landscape are an important cultural aspect for the community. All the plant material within the Memorial Garden is local to the Sonoran Desert. Plantings that did not require large amounts of fertilizer or require shearing were selected to reduce chemical and fuel usage.

The drought-tolerant plants are watered using a smart irrigation control system that utilizes reclaimed water. Water harvesting occurs within the Memorial Gardens by directing stormwater runoff into the adjacent planting areas. The overall stormwater drainage of the area was reconfigured to route flows, which would have once gone directly into the lake, into several new rain garden basins. This gives the water time to percolate and for sediments and debris to fall out, cleaning the stormwater before it enters the lake making for healthier aquatic life and fewer algae blooms.

Lighting and electrical demand was a key factor for this project due to the many columns. Keeping in mind energy reduction, all project fixtures are LED, and all columns are low voltage. The site utilizes the existing power service at the Salt River Fields pump station enclosure. A study was done and determined that the existing pump station had adequate capacity to service the Memorial Gardens, as opposed to bringing in a new power service, eliminating costly off-site improvements that a new service would have entailed.

The project utilized aggregates for the concrete elements and in the subbase that was locally sourced from community-owned enterprises. This eliminated extensive trucking and fuel costs and helped to reinvest construction costs back into the community.

A new multi-use pathway, constructed as part of the Memorial Garden, weaves through the entire west side of the facility and connects visitors from Salt River Fields to the Memorial Gardens, Great Wolf Lodge, and a commercial district with restaurants and shopping called the Pavilions. The path provides several seating nodes under existing large mesquite trees with serene views across the lake and to the garden, whose features blend functionality and aesthetics seamlessly.

The impact of this facility has been far-reaching. Within the first 30 days of opening, the memorial welcomed over 800 people into the Relic room from across the United States.

The real success of the Gardens is in providing visitors a chance to see a piece of history and become educated about the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor and the other surrounding events that brought the United States into World War II.


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