Hawaii's Most Endangered Historic Places 2012


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photos: rae huo

You can describe a place  using words. You can show a place with pictures. But to really experience a place, you have to stand in it. Put your fingers in the bullet holes, feel the bridge sway, brush the sand away.

Physical spaces serve as reminders for us in a way that photos and memories simply cannot. That’s why, each year, HONOLULU partners with the Historic Hawaii Foundation (HHF) and the State Historic Preservation Division to present a list of our state’s most endangered places. The goal of the list is not to shame or scold, says Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of HHF. “We have these amazing places in our communities, and, if we don’t take care of them, we will lose them. We want to show people what they might not otherwise notice, and get people excited.” This year’s list includes some familiar places, such as the Varsity Building in Moiliili, as well as places you may never get to see in person, such as the World-War-II-era seaplane hangar on Midway Atoll. There are even some humble, rusty looking bridges. But history isn’t a beauty contest: It’s not just how places look, but how they make us feel, that’s important.  
 

Varsity Building (Moiliili, Oahu)

What Is It?

The five-story Varsity Building was designed by local firm Wimberly and Cook in 1963 to house the First National Bank. It’s one of a posse of circular buildings that went up around Oahu in the 1950s and ’60s, including the Waikiki Circle Hotel and Waipahu’s branch of American Security Bank. Curved buildings are examples of the midcentury Modernism movement, which showcased bold experimentation in shapes and materials, such as concrete, which had not been widely used previously.
 

What Threatens It?

For the past four years, Kamehameha Schools has been collecting pieces of property in the Moiliili area, forming a contiguous area slated for redevelopment. The assemblage is complete, says Paul Quintiliani, director of Kamehameha Schools’ commercial real estate division. “We have begun to shift our focus toward what uses make the most sense.” The overall goal, he says, is to “enhance this part of urban Honolulu by creating a heart for the community that simultaneously improves the gateway into UH Manoa.” He says this will include greater pedestrian connectivity, public spaces, and new dining and entertainment options. KS is still in the planning phases; some of the possible permutations include the Varsity Building, some do not. 
 

What Can Be Done?

If you’re a fan of Modernism, speak up, as community input will be important. Quintiliani says that architectural historians have been consulted to better understand the context of the Varsity Building, and that KS “does not approach redevelopment with the view that demolition is the approach of first choice.” 
 


photo: courtesy u.s. fish and wildlife service

Seaplane Hangar (Midway Atoll)

What Is It?

A massive, steel-frame seaplane hangar, this 1941 building was designed by Albert Kahn, a renowned architect of industrial spaces. The hangar was one of the first buildings constructed for the U.S. naval base at Midway Atoll, and was impressive not only for its size, but also for its use of glass and light. The hangar was bombed during the Japanese attack on Midway Atoll on Dec. 7, 1941, rebuilt, and then bombed again on June 4, 1942, during the Battle of Midway. The Navy rebuilt it again, though at half the size of the original building. “It’s the iconic building of the time, of the battle,” says Barry Stieglitz, project leader, Hawaiian and Pacific Islands, for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which oversees the area. Standing near the hangar, he says, it’s easy to make the mental shift from seeing millions of albatross that are today using Midway Atoll as a breeding ground to imagining a scene of war. “You put yourself in the shoes of those young boys and how completely terrifying it must have been.” 
 

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