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 4 of 5)

Star of the Sea Church 

Location: Kaimū, Hawai‘i Island 

the church has moved twice, once to escape lava and again to settle into a permanent spot.
Photo: Adam Palumbo 


The Kalapana painted church isn’t in Kalapana anymore. That’s because, when lava was about to take the town in 1990, the church parishioners decided to move the building to safety. (Good thing they did, since lava covered the highway just hours later.) In 1996, the church moved again to its current location along Highway 130; it was added to the National Register of Historic Places shortly thereafter. The building is one of only two remaining painted churches by Father Evarist Gielen, who built it in 1930 and painted the ceiling with religious scenes. Other artists have since added their work, covering the walls as well.


what threatens it?

The paintings are peeling, and someone threw a rock through a stained-glass window. Roseanna Kanoa, owner of Big Island Processing across the street, says people go there and abuse the building, so they’ve had to lock some of its windows. Previously, the Kalapana ‘Ohana Association helped maintain the church, but the group is no longer active, leaving Kanoa and two other volunteers to care for it. “We try to raise funds, but everything goes to overhead, electric, porta-potty, water, general liability and fire insurance, the lease and property tax,” she says.


What Can be done? 

The paintings need to be restored by a specialized craftsman, but donations from tourists who pick up religious trinkets are minimal and go toward basic costs and repairs. Right now, Kanoa’s goal is to finish painting the outside of the church. “People always say they’ll help, but they never come through. ... I really don’t know what’s going to happen.” She says if someone were to find a painter and put up the money, it could be restored, but nobody has time to even fundraise. She says the state is too overwhelmed to take it on, even though it’s on DLNR property. Someone needs to step in as steward.


Pōhakuloa Training Area Quonset Huts

Location: Hawai‘i Island 

even if restored, the quonset huts would not meet basic requirements of a modern army training facility.
Photo: Courtesy of Usag-HI Directorate of Public Works 


Quonset huts were designed during World War II as easy-to-assemble, temporary buildings that could be broken down and reassembled quickly. Many of the more than 100 huts at the Pōhakuloa Training Area were constructed during the 1950s and reportedly contain the only Quonset-hut chapel in the Army. The state says they make up one of the last remaining groups of huts still in use in the U.S., and it’s probable their materials were used on other military bases prior to coming to Pōhakuloa.


What threatens it? 

The Army is looking into demolishing the huts, which are corroded and no longer meet Pōhakuloa’s requirements. “From an engineering perspective, we don’t believe they’re repairable,” says Sally Pfenning, director of Public Works for the U.S. Army Garrison Hawai‘i. “They were never meant to be permanent.” The huts may qualify for listing on the National Register of Historic Places because the type of structure is associated with World War II, but, in that case, only a few huts would need to be preserved.


what can be done?

Pfenning says the Army is currently going through the legal process with the state Historic Preservation Division, Historic Hawai‘i Foundation and other partners to see if the huts are eligible for the register. Within the next six months there will be a public comment period for the proposed changes. However, most of the huts were used as Cold War-era housing; a loophole in the National Historic Preservation Act requires the Army must take comments into consideration, but is not obligated to formally resolve them. To preserve the huts, some alternatives to demolition may be: Move them to another area, reevaluate the treatment of Cold War-era housing review or reevaluate to which era the huts truly belong.


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Honolulu Magazine November 2019