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.


(page 3 of 5)

Photo: Rae Huo

The Princess Victoria Kamamalu Building (Honolulu, Oahu)

What is it?

In 1968, the state purchased this 53-year-old building located at the intersection of King and Richards Streets from the Hawaiian Trust Co. for $2.5 million. It housed the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs until 2003, when the building was closed for renovation due to various safety issues, asbestos among them.


What threatens it?

When the state closed Kamamalu for repairs, the plan was to have the building open and operational again within a few years, but the renovation costs kept mounting—in 2007, the cost estimate was $27 million. “As we went along, the costs to refurbish kept going up and up,” says state comptroller Russ Saito. “Thus far, we’ve taken care of the health and safety issues. It’s a shell, but it’s safe for now. But to go beyond the work we’ve done so far, the costs would be too high to be recovered in any reasonable economic interval.” The alternative to letting it sit around collecting dust is to have someone purchase the property, level the building and start from scratch. It’s a win-lose situation: A sale would take the building off the state’s books at a time when funds are tight, but its development means we’ll lose yet another 1950s-era building.


What can be done?

Peter Rosegg, the Oahu commissioner for the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, would like to see the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, and the Department of Budget and Finance, both occupying upper floors of the Hawaii State Art Museum, moved to the Princess Kamamalu Building. The relocation of these two departments, says Rosegg, would free up space for the museum to expand so that it may add more displays, classrooms and hands-on art and performance rooms. Rosegg also points to the vision of Hawaii State Capitol architect John Carl Warnecke, whose plan for the district included a thriving arts and culture center. “The Warnecke plan has been on the books since the ’60s,” says Rosegg. “When the museum was first dedicated eight years ago, there was certainly some discussion at that time about the possibilities.”


While Saito says that Rosegg’s plan is all well and good, it comes down to money. “This is a matter of economics,” says Saito. “It’s a good idea from an arts-and-culture point of view, but the state needs to accommodate all of its employees and agencies with the budget that it has.” He notes that, in recent years, the state has built a new restaurant and gift shop for the museum, and is also going to be creating a “gardenlike area” where patrons can relax. “It’s not as though we’re not spending money on culture and the arts,” Saito says. “We’re just trying to do it within the budget we’re given.”


Naalehu  Theater (Kau, Big Island)

Photo: Joshua Fletcher

What is it?

The Naalehu theater was built after World War I by the Hutchinson Sugar Co. to provide entertainment for the residents of the town. In 1979, the theater was purchased by the 300 Corp., an affiliate of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which is one of the largest landowners in the state. After 300 Corp. acquired the theater, it was leased out and, over the next two decades, has housed several different operations, including a nonprofit radio station and a plantation movie theater museum.


What threatens it?

Over the years, the theater’s maintenance has been lax. In May 2006, rain damaged the weakened roof and flooded the building, ruining furnishings and equipment. Afterward, the foundation declined to renew the lease, and the building has been empty and falling further into disrepair ever since.


What can be done?

Marge Elwell, the president of Naalehu Main Street (NMS) applied for a lease from the foundation in January, but has not received a response. “We’re still trying to work out a plan for a five-year lease in which we won’t pay anything while we’re rebuilding the theater,” she says, “and, after three years, we would lease to buy the theater.”


HONOLULU’s calls to the Weinberg Foundation were not returned.


The theater needs extensive repairs, which are outlined in a building-inspection report prepared by Taylor Built Construction, a local company. Among the findings: The theater requires a new roof and ceiling, new gutters, foundation repairs and possible plumbing and electrical upgrades. It will take about three years and approximately $150,000 to complete the necessary repairs. About 30 people have volunteered to help with the renovations and Bob Taylor of Taylor Built has agreed to supervise volunteers free of charge.


NMS still needs to raise the necessary renovation funds, and hopes to do so via “grassroots efforts and sweat equity,” as well as grants, which NMS hopes will become easier to secure once it joins the National Main Street Network, a national group of coordinating programs that help cities, towns and villages revitalize their downtown and neighborhood business districts. Additionally, Elwell submitted paperwork two years ago to have the theater identified as a National Historic Landmark, but has not received a response. She’s currently working to create a scenic byway through Kau, which she hopes will draw attention to the theater’s plight.


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Honolulu Magazine September 2018
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