Hawaii's Most Endangered Historic Places

Each year, we look for our state’s most endangered historic places through a partnership with the Historic Hawaii Foundation and the State Historic Preservation Division. The list is a call to action, but it’s also a way to appreciate the hidden treasures of our built environment. This year we see Kapahulu Avenue with new eyes, imagine the way plantation workers gathered in the 1900s and consider—if only for a moment—if an ugly building is worth saving.


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photo: courtesy linda legrande

Manoa's Historic Residences (Honolulu, Oahu)

What is it?

In Manoa, a large, foursquare, Craftsman-style home from the 1920s stands with six others of the same period. Collectively, they’ve greeted visitors and residents alike into Manoa Valley for nearly a century. With the island’s largest concentration of historic residences, privately owned, historic homes like these are the backbone of the neighborhood’s culture and character.

What threatens it?

Historic neighborhoods are threatened slowly, one by one, by individual demolitions. The craftsman-style house in Manoa is just one example. Although it’s 90 years old and in good repair, its new owners have filed a demolition permit and can’t be prevented from taking it down to make way for the new, modern home of their dreams.

“They’re tearing down beautiful old homes and building McMansions that are oversize and don’t fit,” says Linda LeGrande, longtime Manoa resident and community activist. “I don’t see the point in tearing down an old house when it has life left in it. It’s really hard to live with that.”

This highlights a particularly complicated threat: Individual homeowners, bit by bit, have the power to permanently alter a historic neighborhood. “Honolulu has chosen to provide incentives for preservation but has no regulatory prohibitions. They control what you can build, but they don’t control demolition,” says Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of the Historic Hawaii Foundation.

Related links:
Updates: A Look Back at Past Endangered Places

 


photos: rae huo

What can be done?

Federal and state tax programs provide important tools that neighborhood groups can use to encourage homeowners to put down the wrecking ball, so educating homeowners is an important first step.

But in the long-term, preservation has to be made a priority by local government through the creation of special districts and regulations that address our cultural heritage.

“The incentives are a wonderful thing,” says Faulkner, “but, in other states, designated historic properties and nondesignated properties have some sort of protection through zoning and building permits.”  

Community groups and individuals can push for regulation. There have been efforts since 1995 to create a Manoa Valley Special District by city ordinance, to preserve its unique built environment.

Kapahulu Art Moderne Buildings (Honolulu, Oahu)

What is it?

There’s something urban and cool about Kapahulu Avenue, but you probably can’t put your finger on exactly what it is. Look closely at the building that houses Haili’s Hawaiian Foods on the corner of Kapahulu and Palani Avenues, and you’ll see the art moderne aesthetic that is at Kapahulu Avenue’s core.  A more obscure (and cheaper) cousin of art deco, art moderne stresses curving lines—like the one at Haili’s entrance—awnings anchored with turnbuckles, horizontal lines and construction that starts right at the sidewalk, no setbacks.

Several years ago, Bill Chapman, director of the historic preservation program at the University of Hawaii, took his students to do a field study on Kapahulu. “We found 46 buildings dating before 1950—most dated to the late ’30s and ’40s,” Chapman says, and most with modernist profiles. “It created a pretty consistent pattern up and down the street.”

What threatens it?

About halfway down Kapahulu, Peggy’s Picks in the Chun Kow building has lost its awning and adopted a wild paint job. Other art moderne buildings on the street were covered with stucco, renovated or destroyed when the street was widened. New buildings have cropped up that are set back from the street and don’t mesh with the architectural style. These gradual renovations and demolitions have already done damage to the area’s cohesion.

Related links:
Updates: A Look Back at Past Endangered Places

 

“I think the loss of the individual piece diminishes a whole,” says Faulkner, of the Historic Hawaii Foundation.

What can be done?

“The city needs to look at creating a special district there,” says Chapman. “If there was a visionary person in the Planning Department it could become a real economic asset.  It’s been discovered by some restaurants and it’s the kind of place that tourists seek out.”

He also says that the city could create a façade rehabilitation program, using city money and private investment to put up awnings, repaint buildings and give business owners an incentive to harmonize with the street’s architectural heritage.

Kaa Ahupuaa (Lanai)

What is it?

The landscape of the 20,000-acre Kaa Ahupuaa on the west side of Lanai is unspoiled and mostly uncharted, with little known about the cultural sites that pepper the area. However, the cultural importance of the area is undeniable: A limited 2011 survey identified 294 cultural features, such as ceremonial sites, petroglyphs, heiau and burial locations. The ahupuaa also serves an important community purpose, providing food to local subsistence hunters and fishers.

Related links:
Updates: A Look Back at Past Endangered Places

 


photo: courtesy robin kaye

What threatens it?

Historic preservation and the pursuit of alternative energy are both well-intentioned movements in society. However, not everyone agrees that both can happen in the Kaa Ahupuaa.

In 2008, landowner Castle & Cooke Resorts LLC was permitted to build a 170-turbine, 400-megawatt wind farm in the ahupuaa. Community group Friends of Lanai is against the project. “It is irreparable damage to such a beautiful place in return for very little for our community,” says Robin Kaye. The construction of the turbines, roads and power facilities would significantly alter the landscape, and all of the power generated would go to Oahu. The only benefit to Lanai would be a handful of permanent jobs, he says.

In 2009, after public input, the Public Utilities Commission decided to reexamine the project and separate the wind farm from the undersea cable that would shuttle the energy from Lanai to Oahu, which started the whole EIS process again for the Lanai wind project. Harry Saunders, executive vice president of Castle & Cooke, says that, as of now, the revised proposal is to build a 200-megawatt wind farm with a 6,000-acre, 56-turbine array.

What can be done?

There are still opportunities to strike a balance between the competing interests of historic preservation and sourcing alternative energy, though it doesn’t seem that the project will be stopped altogether.

“We listen to community concerns,” says Saunders, pointing to previous projects on Lanai. “We’ve built hotels on lands that had cultural sensitivities, and cut portions out to preserve [these] areas.” The company has publicly promised to give access to sportsman and visitors and touts a more comprehensive cultural survey in the works, a survey, he says, that would never have been done if not for this project.

Related links:
Updates: A Look Back at Past Endangered Places

 

The proposed wind farm would dramatically alter West Lanai.

photo: courtesy robin kaye

There are still five or six years left in the EIS process, including several periods during which the project will be open to public comment. “I believe public input can have an impact on public policy,” says Kaye. “Public education and political will can stop this.”

Queen Emma Building (Honolulu, Oahu)


Photo: rae huo

What is it?

Some historic buildings don’t appeal to our aesthetic sensibilities—yet. They may be old enough and interesting enough to merit historic protections, but their design seems outdated rather than charming. The infamous Queen Emma Building, with its pockmarked appearance, is a prime example.

Designed in the 1960s by Jo Paul Rognstad, it was originally named the York Building, after the York Barbell Co. Built for physician and weight-lifting guru Dr. Richard W. You, the eccentric, brutalist design touches are fitting for a building inspired by feats of brute strength.

What threatens it?

According to its current owner, Maui-based developer Greg Hatcher of GP Pacific Inc., the building has been vacant for more than five years. It has changed hands twice in that time: In 2006, it was slated to become university student housing, but went back on the market in 2008. Hatcher purchased the building in late 2010 and has plans to turn it into 106 condominiums for residents 60 years or older, re-branding it the “Queen Emma Regency.”

Related links:
Updates: A Look Back at Past Endangered Places

 


photo: courtesy of gp pacific

 

His plans are to scrap the exterior of the building. “We’re going to take down the metal façade and replace that with a bluish glass curtain wall and put metal panels over the brick,” Hatcher said.

What can be done?

“It never occurred to me to keep it like it is, so I’m actually interested to hear anyone’s arguments to have it stay like it is.  I’d love to hear what someone has to say about it,” says Hatcher. Contact the developer at contact@gc-pacific.com. See the proposed condo plans queenemmaregency.com.

 


photo: kicka witte

Kapaia Swinging Bridge (Lihue, Kauai)

What is it?

Built in 1948, the Kapaia Swinging Bridge is a 125-foot-long suspension bridge with two tall, wooden towers anchored by steel cables. The last in a series of bridges used by plantation workers from the Kapaia Camps, footbridges over Kapaia stream have been used since the 1900s. Connecting the communities of Kapaia, Hanamaulu and Lihue, the Kapaia Swinging Bridge, and its more modest footbridge predecessors, is a historical crossroad of the plantation culture.

Related links:
Updates: A Look Back at Past Endangered Places

 


photo: kicka witte

What threatens it?

The bridge was last repaired in 1965 and, today, the wooden structure is badly rotted. In 2006, the county closed the bridge, citing safety concerns. Since then, the community has organized a restoration effort: In 2008, it was put on the state register of historic places, and, in 2010, the county of Kauai agreed to a preliminary engineering report for restoration.

The news wasn’t good. “The vast majority of the wooden structure was in very poor condition and there was little that could be salvaged. The recommendation was therefore made to rebuild the entire wooden portion of the bridge,” says Kauai County engineer Larry Dill.

The proposed restoration would alter the look of the bridge, because it includes parking areas on each side of the bridge, a switchback ramp for wheelchair access and other modernization.

What can be done?

In August, Dill announced the county would restore the bridges’ two towers, buying the community about five years to raise the funds necessary to restore the entire bridge and work out the details of its physical restoration.

“Maintenance neglect and resistance from county leaders created the dilemma we have struggled with for the past five years,” says Laraine Moriguchi, director of the group Save Kapaia Swinging Bridge. “The administration’s willingness to at least stabilize the bridge by replacing the two towers was a welcome surprise,” she said. Though the County Council appropriated $230,000 for the restoration, only $80,000 will be used to replace the towers.

“It would be wonderful if they would use the remainder to finish the bridge restoration,” Moriguchi said. The group plans to keep the pressure on to move restoration plans forward.

Related links:
Updates: A Look Back at Past Endangered Places

 

Money on the House

Both the state of Hawaii and the federal government give significant tax benefits for people who preserve their historic homes and businesses. Surprisingly, Hawaii property owners don’t take full advantage of either of these programs, says Angie Westfall, of the State Historic Preservation Division. Here’s her quick guide to the money you could be making.

Residential

Pay only $300 a year—forever—in property tax if your house is on the state or national historic register by applying for the Hawaii Historic Property Tax Exemption. “It fosters preservation by adding a financial incentive to preserve—rather than demolish—older buildings that are significant to a sense of place,” says Westfall. If your property isn’t yet on the register, now might be the time to apply. Information is available at the State Historic Preservation Division website: hawaii.gov/dlnr/hpd/hpregistr.htm.

Find out how to apply for the exemption, if your home is already on the register, at the Hawaii Historic Foundation website: historichawaii.org/HPRC/tax/HITaxExemptions.html.

Commercial

The federal tax credit is for commercial properties, but would include a residence used as a business, such as a bed and breakfast. You have to be on the national register to apply, and the tax credit is 20 percent for costs associated with rehabbing an old property. It’s a joint program between the Hawai‘i State Historic Preservation Division, the National Park Service and the IRS, so there are a few stages to the process, and rules with which to comply. However, having taxes go down permanently may make it worth the effort. For information on the program and the application process, visit nps.gov/hps/tps/tax/incentives.

There's also a local commercial historic property tax exemption that covers 50 percent of the real property tax. It requires a maintenance plan for applicants and only applies to registered historic properties in the City and County of Honolulu. It does not cover resorts or agricultural properties. historichawaii.org/HPRC/Commercial_Prop_tax.html.

Related links:
Updates: A Look Back at Past Endangered Places

 

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