The 7 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 places.


(page 3 of 5)

Ierusalema Hou Church

Location: Hālawa Valley, Moloka‘i

‘ekalekia o ka hale la‘a o ierusalema hou means “the sacred house of new jersualem.”
Photo: Courtesy of the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation

This is the only church in remote Hālawa Valley, and its members used to travel almost 30 miles for services each week. It’s a cute, tiny building, built by the current members’ grandparents in 1948. It’s also a popular tourist stop but doesn’t currently hold services, for safety reasons.


What threatens it?

Dry rot and termites have done major damage to the building. The congregation wants to rebuild it but discovered the land the church sits on is actually owned by someone else. “Four and a half years ago, the owners of the ranch said we could have the land free of charge,” says Pastor Rey Ayau. But, because of rules and regulations regarding Special Management Area properties, Ayau says they are not allowed to subdivide it. “We’re not a shopping center or high-rise, just a little church minding our own business.” They’re not ready and willing to accept donations to rebuild until they hold the land title and can actually move ahead. However, Maui County planning director William Spence says SMA properties are allowed to be subdivided; the church just hasn’t submitted the paperwork.


what can be done?

According to Spence, the church needs to get a survey of where the land is to be subdivided, which will be reviewed by the Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, and it needs to get an SMA permit approved by the Moloka‘i Planning Commission. Ultimately, it’s up to the County to decide. After meeting with the landowner, Ayau, attorneys and others a few months ago, “We pretty much tried to clear the way so they could go ahead and subdivide. We didn’t see any insurmountable hurdles,” Spence says. He says they’re willing to work with the church to get the proper forms filled out so the members can rightfully own the land and rebuild, but no one has approached them for help. The ball is in the church’s court.


Omega Station/Ha‘ikū Stairs

Location: Kāneo‘he, O‘ahu

Photos: Courtesy of Friends of Ha‘ikū Stairs 


The controversial Stairway to Heaven in Ha‘ikū Valley, consisting of approximately 3,922 steps, was built as a means to reach antennae and transmission facilities on the mountain ridges, used to broadcast signals from the top-secret Ha‘ikū Radio Station commissioned during World War II. What started as a relay station to communicate with naval ships became an Omega navigation station in the 1960s, one of eight stations worldwide. Despite having the most advanced and complex antenna system of its time, the station was decommissioned in 1997 when GPS took over. 


What threatens it?

The station sits in disrepair and has been heavily vandalized over the years. On the mauka side of the H-3, the stairs, which have been officially off limits for decades, suffer from wear-and-tear caused by hikers and were damaged by a storm in mid-February. The Board of Water Supply owns the stairs but does not want to manage them, and plans to tear them down, for safety reasons as well as to save money on security and prevent hikers from trespassing through the neighborhood. Mahealani Cypher of the Ko‘olau Foundation says the area could be used for cultural and educational purposes, and tearing down the stairs would cause damage to the native ecosystem.


What Can be done?

the h-3 freeway opened three months after the omega station shut down.


Though BWS is looking into what it would cost to remove the stairs, it would prefer to have another agency take control of them. “We’ve approached a number of government agencies and, so far, everyone’s turned us down,” says Ernest Lau, manager and chief engineer at BWS, which remains open to discussions.


Cypher says the Ko‘olau Foundation, along with others, including the Friends of Ha‘ikū Stairs, wants to transform the Omega station into a cultural museum. The landowner, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, has had some preliminary discussions about giving the land to another agency, but nothing has been decided.


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Honolulu Magazine November 2019