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Our Town: Look familiar?

A local bank building models after the state capitol, or does it?


When Aileen Sodetani, an American Savings Bank residential loan sales manager, gives customers directions to her office, she usually starts with the intersection. “I tell them, we’re right at the corner of Queen and Ward Avenue, and they’ll go, Oookay. Then I say, the building that looks like a mini state capitol. And they say, Oh yeah!”

The capitol’s mini-me. photos: Scott Kubo

The American Savings Bank on Ward Avenue does indeed resemble a scaled-down version of Hawai‘i’s Capitol, thanks mainly to the columns that swoop up to support a protruding level of barred windows. The facsimile isn’t exact, of course—there’s no reflecting pond, no central open area—but it’s close enough to make one wonder if the bank’s architects were trying for an homage.

In fact, the building, originally built for Liberty Bank in 1963, predates the capitol by several years. It was designed by Merrill, Roehrig, Onodera & Kinder Architects—the same firm responsible for the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall.

The real deal capitol.

Architect Wes Kinder, now 85 and retired, says that not only was the old Liberty Bank building not influenced by the state capitol, it was originally designed as a six-story office building. Features such as the smoothly transitioning columns, which on the capitol symbolize palm trees, are actually references to Italian architecture, he says. “The original design looked like a palazzo, something in the character of Venice. The second floor was repeated all the way up. If you took a picture of the second story and repeated that four more times, that’s what it would have been,” he remembers.

Liberty Bank ended up not having the funds to complete the full six stories, leaving the structure with the two levels that exist today, and making it easier to give directions to.

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Honolulu Magazine July 2020
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