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An estimated 15,000 people marched from Aloha Tower to Iolani Palace to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani. It was the culmination of a five-day memorial, named Onipaa, that included solemn musical performances, impassioned chanting and fiery speeches.
Onipaa was tremendously important, because it geared up all the Hawaiian organizations to participate in one fashion or another,” says UH professor Jon Osorio. “For one brief, shining moment, we were all there on the same page.”
It would prove difficult for Hawaiian groups to stay on that page in the years to come—there were too many different ways to pursue self determination, too many issues on which to disagree, and the sovereignty movement hasn’t yet achieved the critical mass it needs to effect change. But the centennial commemoration stands as a reminder of what’s possible, with sufficient inspiration.
It was a momentous event.
The U.S. Federal government not only acknowledged and but officially apologized for its actions in overthrowing the Hawaiian monarchy. Could self-determination be far behind? The apparent willingness of the government to right past wrongs energized Hawaiian sovereignty groups, and U.S. Public Law 103-150, commonly known as the Apology Resolution, became an oft-cited document in arguments for the creation of an independent Hawaiian nation.
No concrete actions followed from the federal government, though, and in March of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly dismissed the binding legal effect of the apology resolution in its decision concerning the state of Hawaii’s right to sell or transfer ceded lands, making the law mostly symbolic.
UH law professor Randall Roth says, “Legally, its importance has been diminished dramatically, but culturally, politically, psychologically, it’s still really powerful.”
Something changed in Hawaii architecture in the 1990s—it went nostalgic, drawing on the Mediterranean-influenced prewar Island architecture of C.W. Dickey. Architects pursued this “Hawaiian sense of place” in projects ranging from the Hyatt Regency Kauai (1991) to Aloha Tower Marketplace (1994) to the Hawaii Convention Center (1997). This style is mandated in Kapolei, and encouraged by special design district rules in Waikīkī and Kakaako.
But this consensus around a style is not the statehood turning point we have in mind. Instead, we would argue that it was an exhibit and a series of panel discussions on Hawaii architecture called “From Grass to Glass: The Search for a Hawaiian Sense of Place,” which ran in the then-new Gentry Pacific Design Center from Oct. 28, 1994 to Jan. 8, 1995. People who viewed this 5,000-square-foot exhibit or attended the discussions—which were just as often debates for or against the retro-kamaaina look—still talk about “From Grass to Glass” as the moment that awareness about an appropriate architecture for Hawaii changed.
“Our intent was to broaden the idea of what Hawaii Regionalism could be,” recalls one of the event’s key organizers, architect Glenn Mason. “Whether or not it changed minds, it marked a bellwether in the conversation.”