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Hawaii's Most Endangered Historic Sites


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In an effort to preserve Hawaii’s unique heritage, HONOLULU Magazine, the Historic Hawaii Foundation and the State Historic Preservation Division have assembled this annual list of some of the state’s most endangered places. This year’s nominations highlight ancient landmarks—pre-Western-contact petroglyphs, the remnants of a prehistoric fishing community—and modern sites, such as the dozens of historic buildings, bridges and communities in the path of Oahu’s planned rail transit project. The sites are endangered for various reasons—some suffer from neglect, others from development, while a few are threatened by environmental factors. All of them represent important chapters in Hawaii’s rich past, and contribute to our sense of place and who we are as a community. 

Making the list does not guarantee protection or preservation; rather, our goal is to raise awareness of the sites’ vulnerability and inspire community dialogue. In the following pages, you’ll find this year’s most endangered historic sites, the stories behind what’s threatening them and what can be done to protect them.  You’ll also discover updates on last year’s endangered sites, including the IBM building, Fort Kamehameha and the auwai of Nuuanu Valley.

Photo: Kicka Witte

Alekoko Pond (Nawiliwili, Kauai)

What is it?

Located adjacent to Huleia National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai, Alekoko Pond, also known as Menehune Fishpond, is thought to have been built approximately 580 years ago. Legend has it that the Menehune built the fishpond overnight, meticulously assembling the 900-yard lava-rock wall that bisects a bend in Huleia Stream. The wall, which is about 5 feet high and 2 feet wide in some places, was designed to allow larval fish in while keeping adult fish from escaping, providing food for the local community, and making the pond one of the best remaining examples of ancient Hawaiian aquaculture.

What threatens it?

Alekoko, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, has fallen victim to both nature and neglect. Red mangrove trees, an invasive species, have set down branching roots along the wall, pushing rocks into the pond. Sediment from the adjacent stream is also an issue. “Little by little, every winter, with the floods, the Alekoko is filling up with soil and no one is removing it,” says Department of Land and Natural Resources aquatic biologist Donald Heacock, who is also the co-founder of the Nāwiliwili Bay Watershed Council and the owner of the property next door to Alekoko Pond. If Alekoko is not properly maintained, says Heacock, it will disappear in 30 to 40 years as a result of eutrophication, a natural process that occurs when aging lakes or ponds gradually build up concentrations of plant nutrients, which, in increased amounts, speed up plant growth and kill off the pond’s animal life.

What can be done?

The Okada family of Honolulu’s Okada Trucking Co. owns the 102-acre parcel on which Alekoko Pond is located. The family attempted to sell the property for $12 million in 2005, but had no takers. The property is not currently for sale, and the Okadas have not publicly indicated what they intend to do with the estate.

Several community groups, including Heacock’s Nāwiliwili Bay Watershed Council, are interested in preserving Alekoko. “Nāwiliwili [Bay Watershed Council] has drafted a letter to the owner to look into leasing the pond in order to restore it,” he says.

Alekoko is also on Kauai Public Land Trust’s radar. “We hope to begin looking at it seriously next year,” says executive director Jennifer Luck, who would like the trust to acquire the property, but feels, given the current economic climate, a conservation partnership with the Okadas is more likely. “As far as what’s best for the property,” says Luck, “it would be ideal to get outright ownership. But we’ll be reaching out to the landowners to see if they’re willing to sell or entertain the idea of a conservation project. [The Okadas] would receive a lot of tax benefits, and it would make it easier on the community and the Land Trust.”


The 33 historic structures in the path of Honolulu's Rapid Transit Project (Kapolei to Kakaako, Oahu)

What is it?

The 20-mile elevated rail line will connect West Oahu with downtown Honolulu and Ala Moana Center once it’s completed in 2019. The Historic Hawaii Foundation (HHF) has identified 33 historic sites between Ewa and Kakaako that will be impacted, with potential outcomes ranging from demolition to being transformed into a rail station. These sites include the Aloha Chapel, designed by renowned architect Vladimir Ossipoff; CINCPAC, the headquarters for the Commander in Chief, Pacific Command; and the Dillingham Transportation Building.

What threatens it?

Given the scale of the project, Honolulu’s rail transit system will profoundly alter the face of the communities through which it passes. “Although the Historic Hawaii Foundation supports improved transportation options for Honolulu,” says executive director Kiersten Faulkner, “we remain concerned that the proposed system will have negative impacts on dozens of historic sites along the route. The adverse effects on over 30 historic properties, including at least three historic districts, will fundamentally change the cultural landscape of Oahu and forever diminish the civic experience in Honolulu’s historic areas.”

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Honolulu Magazine January 2018
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