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Hawaii's Most Endangered Historic Places


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Lower Hamakua Irrigation Ditch

Hamakua, Big Island

What is it? The Lower Hamakua Irrigation Ditch is an irrigation system and waterway that was used during the sugar plantation era. It was excavated in 1906, not just for watering sugar crops but also for sending the cane to the mill for processing. Its total length is about 26 miles, including tunnels, flumes to control water flow and open ditches with stone walls.

Community members say that, because of the ditch’s role as a community water source and home to micro-ecosystems that include wildlife such as crayfish, ducks and dragonflies, it’s more of a historic waterway than a simple water distribution system. “We don’t have many streams in the state of Hawaii; this is essentially a stream with an ecosystem,” says Margaret Wille, an attorney and Hawaii County councilmember. “This connects the community from the past to the future,” she says.

What threatens it? In 2004, heavy rains collapsed part of the ditch, blocking off the transfer of water, says Glenn Okamoto, an engineer for the state Department of Agriculture. The state applied for a FEMA grant to rebuild the section, which was approved. The department’s proposed fixes enclose and bury a five-mile section of the irrigation ditch, which critics like Wille say would destroy the spirit of this historic property.

As the project went through the approval process, a memorandum from the state historic preservation division said that the project would have an inverse effect on historic properties, and required some additional study and documentation.

When the community was notified on the eve of its execution, it immediately mobilized and protested to FEMA and the state. The delay has been successful—so far. Despite having purchased the pipes and hired a construction firm, the state  has timed out on the FEMA funds, putting the plan is on hold while alternative funding is located.

What can be done? Luckily for preservationists, the timed-out funding means the entire approval process for the project will have to start again. The Department of Agriculture could change their plan, and repair the section without enclosing it. Two landowners with the ditch running through their land recently scored a win against a case of eminent domain with the state, says Wille, also the attorney who represented them. “If they owned it, they could do anything they wanted. Now, you have to go through the state and federal money involved in environmental and cultural assessments.”

“The community should be part of the conversation,” she says. “We want an informed community with a say-so in what happens.”

Fisherman’s Wharf, Kewalo Basin Harbor

Honolulu, Oahu

What is it? Fisherman’s Wharf is typical of roadside, or pop, architecture, the likes of which you’d see along Route 66—motels, souvenir shops, even the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign with its starbursts and distinctive lettering.

The restaurant opened in the 1940s as a single-story building; a second story was later added, giving it a boatlike appearance. “One of the features of roadside architecture is that it’s so flashy and exuberant, it catches your eye, so it becomes a sign for itself,” says Mike Gushard, an architectural historian at the state Historic Preservation Division (SHPD). “I think it’s interesting because it’s tacky. It’s tiki culture, which is a legitimate expression of culture.”

What threatens it? The building may be too expensive to save. Accounts vary, but it seems that the restaurant has been shuttered since 2009. In 2010, it looked like the venue might be revived when the owners of Pizza Bob’s on the North Shore took over the lease.

“Their estimates were $1 million to rehab the building. Ultimately, it would have been $3 million,” says Anthony Ching of the Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA), the landowners at that time. “It needs new grease traps and the plumbing runs down the center of the [cement] pad, they would have to dig up the interior of the building to fix it. And the second floor isn’t ADA-compliant, they’d have to build an elevator to the second floor,” he says. But there are still good bones to the building, according to Ching, especially on the bottom floor and bar area.

What can be done? Just last year, the parcel of land including Fisherman’s Wharf was transferred to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). Says Garett Kamemoto, a spokesman for OHA: “The planning process is ongoing, and we’ll potentially be looking at it by next summer.”

That means if historic properties in the area are important, there will be a public hearing and commenting phase through the HCDA. “The public can have a role in shaping the plan,” Faulkner says.

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