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The 8 Most Endangered Historic Places in Hawai‘i

The Historic Hawai‘i Foundation, the state Historic Preservation Division and HONOLULU Magazine compile an annual list of some of our state’s most endangered sites.


Photos: David Croxford


Hawai‘i’s landscape is constantly changing—from new, towering condominiums in Kaka‘ako to the sprouting rail transit support columns inching ever closer to urban Honolulu. Progress often means that buildings of old are soon to disappear. But, in a state so defined by its rich history, old places tell our story, and it’s a shame to let go of them so quickly in order to erect yet another glass box.

This year, we are again partnering with Historic Hawai‘i Foundation and the state Historic Preservation Division to spotlight threatened places that deserve our careful consideration before allowing them to perish. They include a timeworn Makiki estate surrounded by newer condominiums, one of O‘ahu’s last remaining fishing villages, the state’s first official park and Hawai‘i’s premier concert venue.

Inclusion on our list by no means protects any of these places—that’s where you, the concerned reader, come in. Through our collective efforts, the wheels of progress can turn, without us forgetting where we came from.


1. Mokauea Island

Honolulu, O‘ahu


Located in Ke‘ehi Lagoon, Mokauea is a tiny, 10-acre island, home to O‘ahu’s last remaining fishing village. Its history goes back to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, with King Kamehameha III declaring in 1830 that Mokauea Island was a protected royal fishing site.

Over the years, fishing families have called Mokauea home, perpetuating Hawaiian fishing practices, as well as preserving traditional maritime knowledge. While only three families remain on the island today, as many as 14 families were temporarily evicted during World War II. In 1975, the state again attempted to evict families to allow for an extension of the airport’s reef runway. After pushback, the families were allowed to remain under a lease from the state that expires in 2043.

What threatens it?

In the past few years, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources has proposed building the Sand Island Ocean Recreation Park in Ke‘ehi Lagoon, which could include a marina of some 400 boat slips, a canoe pavilion and an activity center. Public information meetings were held on the project in 2011 and 2012, but it has yet to receive funding from the state Legislature, says Deborah Ward, DLNR spokeswoman.

Advocacy groups believe it would disturb the area’s marine environment and could potentially displace the remaining families that live on Mokauea Island. “Mokauea is part of the bigger puzzle of the whole cultural landscape of the area,” says archeologist Kehaulani Kupihea, whose family lives on the island. Kupihea says building a marina would create excessive motorized boat traffic in the waters surrounding Mokauea, disrupting the water for fishing and canoeing. The development would not be in the spirit of the cultural or historical significance of the location, she says. “Without Mokauea, we don’t have a place to go and practice these old ways.”

Ward disagrees that residents would be displaced or adversely affected. “The lease is a long-term document which provides them the opportunity to practice their traditional culture. The residents are not in any danger of being displaced by the ocean recreation park on Sand Island,” Ward says.

What can be done?

Community groups, such as Mokauea Fishermen’s Association, would like the public to be more aware of the historic significance of the area in order to work with state lawmakers and DLNR officials to find a solution that would allow recreation to continue, but would also preserve and protect the island’s heritage and sensitive environment. Ward says additional study would need to be done on Mokauea to determine what cultural or archaeological limits apply. “Because fishing villages have existed in this area since 1853 and probably earlier, it is likely that the island could qualify as a traditional cultural property. However, that does not preclude development,” Ward says.


2. Thomas Square

honolulu, o‘ahu


Thomas Square is Hawai‘i’s first official public park, dedicated in 1850 by King Kamehameha III for British Rear Adm. Richard Thomas. During a ceremony in 1843 on the plot of land now bearing his name, the admiral restored the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom after British subjects unlawfully seized the Hawaiian government. It was during that ceremony that King Kamehameha III spoke the famous words that would become the state’s motto, “Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘āina i ka pono.” Nearly 90 years later, additional features would be added to the park, including a central water fountain, radial coral pathways arranged in the pattern of the Union Jack and the Beretania Street Promenade, designed by landscape architects Catherine Jones Thompson and Bob Thompson. The park was placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1972 based on its political significance.

What threatens it?

In his 2014 State of the City address, Mayor Kirk Caldwell listed the restoration of Thomas Square as one of his top priorities, says Curtis Lum, spokesman for the city Department of Planning and Permitting. “His vision is to see Thomas Square emerge, once again, as a crown jewel and, with the Blaisdell, become a more active gathering place that anchors a vibrant arts and cultural community,” Lum says. While concrete plans have not been developed, one proposal discussed in April includes designing a bike path through the park, box planters and hard pathways. The concepts “were not based on restoring the features and characteristics from the historic period, but rather would erase most of the landscape architecture designed by Thompson and Thompson,” says Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of Historic Hawai‘i Foundation.

What can be done?

The public should make its opinions known. The city has made no decisions on Thomas Square’s future, says Lum, but the public will be asked for its feedback during the various phases of planning.


3. Laulima House

honolulu, o‘ahu


Also known as the Ernest R. Cameron House, Laulima was built in 1924 in the popular Beaux-Arts style in Makiki, and is one of the last remaining large estates in this once-affluent community. The house was built for Ernest Cameron and his wife, Alice Lewers Hopper, and its design and construction represent the overwhelming desire in Honolulu, at the time, to build homes that emulated Mainland styles.

In addition to the Beaux-Arts columns and arches of the front lānai typical of Mainland homes, Architect Herbert Cayton Cohen also included more tropical elements, such as a shaded, breezy breakfast room overlooking the back lānai. With Makiki now teeming with condominiums and apartments, Laulima is one of the few remaining symbols of the neighborhood’s historic character.

What threatens it?

Development. The house is in good condition, but it is being sold by the Hawai‘i chapter of the American Association of University Women, which bought it in 1963 to serve as its headquarters and meeting place. Over the years, the home was used for community meetings, piano recitals and other public events.

Much to the dismay of preservation advocates, it is being marketed as a redevelopment opportunity, says Barbara Shideler, an architect who created plans to preserve the property. What’s more disturbing? The realty listing falsely claims the property is not included on any historical registry, Shideler says. Joanna Amberger, board president of AAUW, and Scott Gomes, real estate broker at CBRE, failed to return multiple phone calls and emails for this story. Shideler fears that someone may purchase the property, tear down the home and build a condominium in its place.

What can be done?

The best hope for the property, Shideler says, is for it to be purchased by a person or organization sensitive to its historic nature. Similar to the Robertson Estate, which was bought by Hawai‘i Baptist Academy, the property would be best used by a social services organization that could afford its upkeep and would preserve it, Shideler says.


4. Castle Hall, Punahou School

Honolulu, o‘ahu


After the original wood version of Castle Hall on the Punahou School campus burned down in 1911, the school rebuilt it in 1913 as its new girls’ dormitory. Both the original and replacement version were funded by Mary Tenney Castle, the wife of Samuel Northup Castle, founder of Castle & Cooke and original trustee of Punahou School. While it is no longer used as a dormitory, the building has been at the center of hundreds of Punahou alumni’s academic careers, including President Barack Obama. Its status as an iconic structure for Punahou School is demonstrated in its appearance on the school’s Christmas ornament last year.

What threatens it?

Punahou School declined to comment on this story, but the school’s board of trustees approved a master plan in May that sets the groundwork for demolishing the building to make space for an outdoor common area, says Faulkner. The school informed the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation that the building would come down in the final phase of its campus master plan, which is at least eight years away.

Mary Cooke, member of the Punahou Board of Trustees from 1968 to 2011, was honored in May by the Punahou Alumni Association. In accepting the award, she called the school’s plans “very troubling,” and urged the board to seek “a qualified preservation firm to help evaluate options for preservation.” Cooke said the building should remain standing as a memorial to the school’s history, noting the Castle family’s connection to the school. “I’d like to encourage Punahou’s current and future leaders to continue Punahou’s long-term commitment to keeping alive our rich architectural heritage,” she said.

What can be done?

The Punahou School campus, which includes Castle Hall, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That means any plans to demolish a structure would trigger the requirement of an Environmental Impact Statement, says Faulkner, which would allow for public input. The Castle Foundation has expressed a desire to preserve Castle Hall on campus, and would be willing to work with the school to find a solution, says Alfred Castle, CEO of the Castle Foundation.


5. Bond Memorial Public Library

Kapa‘au, Big Island


Located across the street from the first statue of King Kamehameha the Great in Kapa‘au on the Big Island, Bond Memorial Public Library served the people of this historic community for more than 80 years.

This tiny, cottagelike building sits on land donated in 1927 to the then-Territory of Hawai‘i by Caroline Bond for the purposes of building a library. Twelve years later, the state renamed the library after local philanthropist Benjamin Bond, and it remained in use until 2010. Over the years, the 1,610-square-foot New England-style building, resembling a small house and harkening back to Kapa‘au’s sugar-plantation era, has become a familiar landmark. “It’s quite a gem,” says Rhoady Lee, a Big Island architect working to preserve the building. “It’s an elegant little structure, a great relic of the past.”

What threatens it?

When the state Public Library System christened a new, modern library in North Kohala in 2010, the Bond Memorial Public Library building fell out of use, says Keith Fujio, administrative services officer with the state Public Library System.

Library officials attempted to return the land back to the heirs of the Bond Estate, the New Moon Foundation, but, “They didn’t want the property back,” Fujio says. Now, the library system is in the process of turning the land over to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which will then decide what to do with the property.

“The building is old, but it has been well-maintained over the years,” Fujio says. “That being said, the land is significantly more valuable than the building itself.”

What can be done?

Ultimately, it will be up to the state to decide what will happen with the property and the building that resides on it. Lee is working with a grassroots community group, Ka‘apa‘apa‘a ‘O Kohala, to form a nonprofit so the organization can lease the property and turn the building into a museum chronicling North Kohala’s plantation past. Lee also hopes another nonprofit agency interested in preserving the structure might step forward to help lease the property in the interim.


6. Valley of the Temples—Family Services Building

Kāne‘ohe, o‘ahu


A landmark along Kahekili Highway, the family services building at Valley of the Temples is one of the few remaining structures designed by resort architect George Pete Wimberly. The building was designed to mimic a Native Hawaiian heiau, using the tools of modern architecture, including its expressive skyward arch. The building serves as the headquarters for Valley of the Temples’ administrative staff. Wimberly’s work has not survived well in the face of urban development, particularly because his work was so “exuberant and odd,” says Mike Gushard, president of the Hawai‘i chapter of DoCoMoMo (Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement). But that’s what makes it work worth saving, he says. “It’s a building that could only exist in Hawai‘i.”

What threatens it?

Valley of the Temples, now owned by NorthStar Memorial Group, is considering demolishing the building to replace it with a mortuary and crematorium, according to information provided to both the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation and the state Historic Preservation Division. Mark Gilmore, the cemetery’s area operations director, was unwilling to confirm or deny the plans. Faulkner says concepts include building a 30,000-square-foot funeral home on the current site of the administration building.

What can be done?

Because the building is more than 50 years old, the state requires that a historic review be done prior to any demolition or redevelopment. “In that review process, there is a place for the community to say, ‘Give this a second thought,’” Gushard says. At the end of the day, though, owners of private property are allowed to make the final decision.


7. Neal Blaisdell Center—Concert Hall and Arena

Honolulu, o‘ahu


The Neal S. Blaisdell Center opened in 1964 as Honolulu’s first convention center, known at the time as the Honolulu International Center. Encompassing nearly a whole city block along Ward Avenue, between Kapi‘olani Boulevard and King Street, two of the three original structures remain on the site—the Blaisdell Concert Hall and the Blaisdell Arena. At the time, the center was celebrated as the city’s first step toward becoming a major U.S. city. Over the years, the concert hall and arena have hosted the Honolulu Symphony, Broadway musicals, college sporting events and major artists, including Elvis Presley’s 1973 “Aloha from Hawai‘i” concert, credited as the first program to be beamed around the world by satellite.

Like many of Honolulu’s buildings, Blaisdell Center comes out of the 1950s and 1960s modern architectural movement, says Gushard, of DoCoMoMo. “On O‘ahu, the built environment is defined by that era,” he says.

What threatens it?

The property is threatened by development. Now 50 years old, the buildings suffer from deferred maintenance, and the city is creating a master plan based on recommendations from several community and private organizations, including the Honolulu Community Development Authority, overseeing the development of Kaka‘ako. Most recently, the Urban Land Institute said the city has an “iconic opportunity” to redevelop the property. With a rail station planned near the center, the city is also under pressure to redevelop for transit. Curtis Lum, spokesman for the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting, says no decisions have been made about the site.

What can be done?

Members of the public should make their opinions known, says Gushard. “The government on O‘ahu tends to not realize the things they have in its attempts to create new, nice things. You have this place where there has been decades of important cultural events—and it’s an important piece of architecture—that is inherently more valuable than anything that will be built on that site,” he says.



8. Moku‘aikaua Church

kailua-kona, big island


A landmark in the Kailua Village in Kona, Moku‘aikaua Church enjoys the unique distinction of being Hawai‘i’s first church. Its 195-year history began when Boston missionaries arrived on the Big Island after the death of King Kamehameha I. The current building sits on land once belonging to Prince Liholiho. In fact, Liholiho donated his home in 1820 to be the first church building. It was later rebuilt in 1837.

Recently named one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Moku‘aikaua represents the “new” western architecture of early 19th-century Hawai‘i and is a symbol of Hawai‘i’s missionary past. Its roof and iconic steeple were built with ‘ōhi‘a wood that had been cured in the ocean. Its walls are constructed of lava rock and mortared coral.

What threatens it?

While far from crumbling, Moku‘aikaua is in need of major repair and restoration, says senior pastor David de Carvalho. The church suffered earthquake damage in 2006, including large cracks in the south corner walls, which threaten its structural integrity. Salt air has also caused deterioration in the building’s aging wiring and electrical system. Moku‘aikaua’s steeple, the highest structure in this sleepy community, is perhaps its greatest problem, suffering from termite damage and severe rotting.

What can be done?

Civil engineers are helping the church develop a plan to reinforce the building’s walls, replace its rotting beams and rebuild its steeple. Work would be done in three phases, but Moku‘aikaua will need some $3 million to do it.



The IBM Building

Honolulu, O‘ahu


Previous plans for the IBM Building in Kaka‘ako called for it to be demolished for redevelopment. But the Howard Hughes Corp., upon acquiring the property, chose to renovate the building for $24 million and repurpose it as the information center and sales gallery for Ward Village, as well as its Honolulu headquarters. The building, designed by Vladimir Ossipoff in 1962, is known for its mid-century modernism, featuring its now famous exterior honeycomb grille. In addition to preserving the distinct external elements, a Native Hawaiian garden was added, along with complete renovations to several floors and a controversial addition to the building fronting Ala Moana Boulevard.



Falls of Clyde

Honolulu, O‘ahu

The Friends of Falls of Clyde have established a capital campaign to raise $3 million to drydock the ship and perform critical repairs and restorations. JMS Naval Architects & Salvage Engineers of Mystic, Conn., conducted a full assessment of the ship’s condition and created a plan for repairs. In drydock, the ship’s hull will be cleaned, repaired and repainted. It will then return to Pier 7 for additional deck restoration. “Our board has set an overall goal of $3 million, but we estimate we will need about $1.4 million for the drydock. We need to raise the funds before a drydock time can be scheduled,” says Bruce McEwan, board president of the Friends of Falls of Clyde.





Coco Palms


In May, Honolulu developers Tyler Greene and Chad Waters announced a $125 million redevelopment of The Coco Palms Resort, along with a management agreement with Hyatt Hotels Corp. On July 4, however, the main building on the abandoned property caught fire, causing some $600,000 in damages, according to Greene. Still, the new developers plan to rebuild the resort by 2017. The Coco Palms Resort is famously known as the setting for the film Blue Hawai‘i and the former home of Kaua‘i’s Queen Deborah Kapule Kekaiha‘akūlou.


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