Hawai‘i’s Most Endangered Historic Sites
The Historic Hawaii Foundation, the State Historic Preservation Division and Honolulu Magazine compile an annual list of some of our state's most endangered places.
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What threatens it?
The inclusion of the Lahaina Historic District on this list may come as a surprise to many, as it doesn’t appear to be crumbling to the ground. And, to be honest, it’s not; the danger here is far more insidious. “The threat is a long-term pattern of insensitive new construction and incompatible renovations to historic buildings,” says Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of the Historic Hawaii Foundation. “The National Park Service, which has oversight of National Historic Landmarks, has noted this pattern as starting to undermine the integrity of the district. It is not an issue of individual sites as much as it is a cumulative effect of countless individual decisions.”
Indeed, a 2008 report by the National Parks Service listed the district as threatened, which NPS defines as “any landmarks that have suffered or are in eminent danger of a severe loss of integrity.” The report specifically points to “a large number of improvements made in the district without permits” and original wood windows being swapped out for new vinyl windows that do not maintain the historic architectural integrity of the buildings. “We can see [the threats] day to day, with people coming in and wanting to demolish structures,” says Cua.
According to Cua, the department has only four full-time inspectors, who are responsible for reviewing all of the county’s zoning issues, including signage, parking, landscaping, and following up on complaints. “For us, that’s a relatively small number to take care of all zoning enforcement,” she says. “Again, we don’t look for people tearing down things or taking out windows and doors. We’re so busy just trying to review people’s permit applications and following up on complaints, that consumes our inspectors’ time.”
What can be done?
Aside from hiring more inspectors, which isn’t likely given the state’s budget cuts, one way to curb the degradation of the historic districts, says Cua, is educating building owners about the historic significance of their buildings and ways in which they can implement adaptive reuse of a site. Another idea is to encourage incentive programs, like the Lahaina Heritage Sites designation, which is given out by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation as a way to acknowledge a building or site that is a good representation of the historic district. Lastly, says Cua, money talks. “It’s important that providing economic incentive and local tax abatement to help make it financially feasible for adaptive re-use.”
The Honolulu Advertiser Building (Honolulu, Oahu)
What is it?
Hawaii’s oldest continuously published newspaper until this year, when it merged with The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, moved to 605 Kapiolani Blvd. in 1930. Architects Walter Emory and Marshall Webb designed the three-story, Beaux Arts-style building, which was home to the newspaper’s news, advertising and administrative offices. On both the National and State Registers of Historic Places, the building’s design includes such striking details as a Spanish-tile hipped roof, large, divided-light awning windows, twin roof towers and terra cotta detailing.
What threatens it?
In 2005, The Advertiser’s owner, Gannett Pacific Corp., put the aging building up for sale. Then-publisher Mike Fisch was quoted in a March 2005 Pacific Business News article as saying that the company was “exploring options for redevelopment” of the nearly 78,400-square-foot building and adjoining 2 acres.
A buyer, however, did not materialize until this year. In September, Joseph Haas, the senior managing director at CB Richard Ellis, which had the property listing, confirmed that the property was under contract, but would not disclose any information until it was a done deal. As of press time, details had still not been made available.
With the impending sale, there is concern that the new buyer might not have the building’s best interests at heart. “The threat is the unknown nature and parameters of any adaptive reuse and/or adjacent construction,” says HHF’s Faulkner. “Such an important building and part of Honolulu’s history should have more than the assurances of the real estate agent to rely on.” The assurances to which Faulkner refers came from Haas, who could not confirm the buyer’s intended plans for the site, but insisted that there was no need to worry. “Everyone we’ve spoken to that I’m aware of has plans to keep the building,” says Haas. “It’s a nice building, it functions, and it works. I’m not personally involved [in the transaction], but I would venture to say that the people who buy that property will probably put a development on it, or more than one development. The Advertiser building will most likely be left alone and leased, probably to office users.”
What can be done?
The building’s historic status restricts the type of alterations that can be made to its interior or exterior. However, as Haas mentioned, it’s likely that the new owner will develop the acreage around the building, which could impact the integrity of the building’s location, setting and feeling. For her part, Faulkner would like to see the new owner complete “a sensitive rehabilitation of the main building and compatible new construction on the rest of the site.”