9 Most Endangered Historic Sites in Hawaii

This annual list, compiled by the Historic Hawaii Foundation, in cooperation with the State Historic Preservation Division, selects some of Hawaii’s most endangered historic places.

Although the sites vary in historic era, architectural style and original purpose—everything from a statehood-era office building to a centuries-old fishpond—they all contribute to our understanding of Hawaii’s history. The heritage we preserve, and the stories told by these structures, help give Hawaii a sense of place, and a soul. 

While inclusion on this list does not automatically protect or preserve the sites, it’s our hope that it will raise awareness and inspire active participation in the community around us. On the following pages, learn more about this year’s nine most endangered historic sites in Hawaii, the threats to their survival and what can be done to save them. We haven’t forgotten about last year’s list, either; turn to page 142 for updates on the Bond Estate, the Koloa Jodo Mission and other historic places.


Photo: Richard Cooke, III

St. Sophia Church

(Kaunakakai, Molokai)

 What is it?

Pineapple may have disappeared from Molokai as an industry, but the small Catholic church built in 1937 to serve the sakadas (Filipino plantation workers) still stands in Kaunakakai.

Molokai planner Nancy McPherson says the church is an increasingly valuable artifact from Molokai’s plantation era. “A lot of significant buildings have been demolished by neglect,” she says. “St. Sophia is one of the last ones left.” Interestingly, the church is named not after a Catholic saint, but after Sophia Cook, the wife of the Molokai Ranch manager.

• What threatens it?

The congregation wants to replace the aging structure with a new one. Maria Sullivan, who is spearheading the fundraising efforts, says it’s not meeting the needs of the 300 families who attend. “It’s termite-ridden; it’s too small; there are structural problems; people in wheelchairs can’t access the building. It’s a sad situation.”

Even the church’s name will be lost in the replacement; the new church will be called the Blessed Damien Church, in anticipation of the canonization of Damien.

At this point, the church has raised $1.3 million of the $3 million required for the project, and hopes to hold its first service in the new church on Christmas Eve, 2011.

• What can be done?

Historical preservation advocates such as Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of the Historic Hawaii Foundation, hope that there’s still time to find a compromise. “The congregation of immigrants worked and saved to build a fitting sanctuary,” she points out. “A meaningful way to honor their contributions would be to restore the historic church and to build a compatible addition or annex to accommodate the needs of the pilgrims.”


Fort  Kamehameha

(Hickam Air Force Base, Oahu)

Photo: Courtesy of Bond Estate

• What is it?

Built in 1916, Fort Kamehameha was originally an Army Coastal Artillery Post. After World War II, however, coastal artillery became obsolete, and most of the non-residential buildings were demolished. The remaining 33 homes stand as great examples of the Bungalow/Arts and Crafts style of the era, earning it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

• What threatens it?

The Air Force has announced that it intends to dispose of the historic district by the end of 2009. The reason given: Apparently Fort Kamehameha’s location underneath the flight path of runways at Honolulu International Airport puts it in an “accident potential zone.” In a letter to the state Historic Preservation Division explaining the regulation, Air Force environmental flight chief Richard Parkinson wrote, “The risks of aircraft accidents, as well as noise levels, are at an unacceptable level for family housing.”

• What can be done?

“We’re doing an environmental impact statement right now,” says Air Force public information officer Master Sgt. Robert Burgess. “There are five or six [disposal] options on the table, and the decision will be made once we have all the information in.” Those options include demolishing some or all of the homes.
Astrid Liverman, architectural branch chief of the state Historic Preservation Division, says her department has offered to lease Fort Kamehameha from the Air Force for 10 years, which would preserve the historic district without requiring an EIS, but the Air Force has elected to continue with the study. “If the determination of the EIS is that demolition is an acceptable solution, we won’t be able to do anything about it,” she says.



Photo: Rae Huo

The Auwai of Nuuanu Valley

(Nuuanu, Oahu)

• What is it?

Centuries ago, Nuuanu Valley was one of Oahu’s primary bread baskets, filled with taro, breadfruit and other staples of the Hawaiian diet. In order to irrigate their crops, Hawaiians built an elaborate system of ditches, called auwai, that diverted water from Nuuanu Stream, through the loi and then returned it to the stream.

• What threatens it?

As Nuuanu Valley transitioned from agricultural to residential use, the land under the auwai was split up into smaller parcels, complicating oversight of the system. The Board of Water Supply once maintained the auwai, but today the task falls to the individual property owners in the neighborhood.

Attention to the auwai is spotty; out of 14 original auwai, there are now about eight that are either flowing or could be repaired. “New people move in and don’t understand what they’ve got in their backyards. They fill it in to have something else there,” says Shannon Wilson of the Nuuanu Valley Auwai Study Group, a neighborhood volunteer group dedicated to restoring the auwai. “It’s in everyone’s deed that they have to take care of their section of the waterway, but people don’t always read the fine print.”

• What can be done?

At this point, it’s a matter of public education, making sure property owners with auwai segments know the best way to take care of them. The Nuuanu Valley Auwai Study Group is doing its best to spread the word. They’ll even handle the dirty work of repairing and maintaining an auwai section, if a property owner is unable. For more information, call Wilson at 595-2914.


Kalauhaehae Fishpond

(Niu Valley, Oahu)

Photo: Rae Huo

• What is it?

This fishpond in Niu Valley sits on what was once King Kamehameha’s kalo patch. Thanks to the freshwater artestian spring that feeds it, it was once one of Oahu’s most thriving and productive fishponds, housing awa, aholehole, mullet and other favorites. Local residents may also know it as Lucas Pond, after the family that inherited the land from Kamehameha.

• What threatens it?

Kalauhaehae was last used as a working fishpond in the mid-’90s. It became a casualty of the state’s Kalananianaole Highway widening project, when roadwork disrupted the pond’s supply of fresh water. Since then, the state Department of Transportation, which bought the land containing the pond as part of the widening project, has kept the pond unused and off-limits to the public. As director Brennon Morioka points out, “The DOT is not a residential landowner. We’re highway owners.” As such, the department has been trying to dispose of the property, initially by planning a public auction.

• What can be done?

Chris Cramer of the nonprofit Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center has been promoting the idea of instead transferring the fishpond to the University of Hawaii, specifically the Center for Hawaiian Studies, which could restore and use the site as an educational resource for its students.

The DOT has so far been receptive to the idea, as long as it can receive fair market value for the lot (a federal requirement), says Morioka.

In the event that UH does take over the property, it’s still going to require a lot of additional work. “The fishpond itself is structurally fine, but its freshwater source has to be restored,” says Cramer. “To get the place completely functional and looking good again, would cost about $1 million.”



Engineering Quad

(UH Manoa Campus, Oahu)

Photo: Rae Huo

• What is it?

These four buildings next to the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Campus Center constitute some of the oldest buildings on campus—their small size a reminder of how much the school has grown since its early days. One of them, the Engineering Materials Testing Laboratory, built in 1915, is predated only by Hawaii Hall. The buildings housed the Engineering School until 1959. Today, they provide a home for K-a Leo, UH’s student newspaper, the Board of Publications, Student Support Services, Duplicating Services, and the now-empty Beau Press.


• What threatens it?

A proposed $38 million expansion of the Campus Center that would include a fitness center and gym for students, as well as a heritage corridor commemorating the university’s 100-year-history. The footprint of the new complex, at least as it’s currently planned (inset), lies directly over the historic quad, meaning the four buildings would need to be demolished to make way.

Astrid Liverman, architectural branch chief at the state Historic Preservation Division, says, “It’s ironic that in order to build a Heritage Corridor, they’re going to remove the heritage.”

• What can be done?

Because UH Manoa is a state agency, it’s required by law to get the concurrence of the SHPD before starting any project that impacts historic property. Liverman has thus far opposed the idea of demolishing the Engineering Quad buildings, and says she’s holding out either for a revised plan that incorporates the four buildings into the new complex, or at least a compromise that saves some of the buildings.

Kathy Cutshaw, the UH Manoa vice chancellor for administration, finance and operations, is overseeing the project, but didn’t return our calls.


Photo: Rae Huo

IBM Building

(Honolulu, Oahu)

 What is it?

Vladimir Ossipoff designed this Ala Moana Boulevard office building for the IBM Corp. in the early 1960s. It boasted a straight-forward layout, and niceties such as a distinctive grille that’s made it one of Honolulu’s most iconic buildings. “It’s an interesting and worthwhile remnant of Hawaii’s 1960s period,” says Syndey Snyder, Ossipoff’s long-time architectural partner. “It’s from that era when people put grilles on everything. This grille survived because it was unique and more elegant than most.”

• What threatens it?

The building is actually in good shape, and in use. But General Growth Properties wants to tear it down as part of its master plan for the 60-acre Ward Centre complex. Jan Yokota, GGP vice president of development, says it’s too early to say when exactly demolition might happen. “We’re planning a mix of mid- and high-rise buildings throughout the 60 acres [over the next 30 years]. But we haven’t designed any of the buildings yet, and have not settled on a phasing plan yet.”

• What can be done?

The Hawaii Community Development Authority is currently reviewing GGP’s master plan, but the IBM Building isn’t currently on the HCDA’s “must save” list, according to communications director Craig Nakamoto. “If the landowner wants to designate or get a building nominated as a historic building, the HCDA will do everything it can to support that. But any initiative to do that would have to come from General Growth Properties.”

In any case, it will likely be at least a few years before the wrecking ball swings, leaving open the possibility that GGP could be persuaded to incorporate the IBM Building into its master plan.



Maui Jinsha Shinto Shrine

(Paukukalo, Maui)

Photo: Matt THayer

• What is it?

The only remaining original Shinto shrine on Maui, out of six which once served the island’s Japanese population, and one of very few left in the entire state.

The shrine was originally constructed in Kahului in 1915, but when new development plans for the area threatened demolition, the congregation moved the entire shrine to its current Paukukalo site over the course of an entire year, finishing in 1954.

The Rev. Masao Arine passed away in 1972; today, his wife, Torako Arine, carries on as priest.

• What threatens it?

Age, both of the structure itself, and the congregation which has traditionally cared for it. “My mother is 94, and many of her congregation have already passed away,” says Wallace Arine. “The old carpenters who used to come help, they no longer can do the job.”

As a result, the years and the ocean spray have taken their toll. When Mason Architects examined the structure in 1999, it found a “significant loss of structural integrity.” Problems include termite damage, rotted beams and extreme weathering. Sections of the exterior ornamentation have even fallen off.

• What can be done?

The shrine is listed on both the state and national registers of Historic Places, but it really needs a champion to step in and take an active role. “There are grants out there for churches and places of worship,” says Maui historian Barbara Long. “The problem is that there’s just no one to lead the charge right now.” She estimates it would take $750,000 to repair the shrine, not including the $80,000 required to restore the large painting above the front door.


Ewa Field

(Ewa, Oahu)

Photo: Rae Huo

• What is it?

Originally established in 1925 as a Navy field for airships—yes, dirigibles—this military site was used only sporadically until early 1941, when the Marine Corps converted it into an active airfield as World War II heated up around the world. When the Japanese fighter pilots buzzed in close on Dec. 7, they were able to destroy or badly damage almost 50 aircraft, and kill four Marines. The field itself was left relatively unscathed, and continued to play an important role in training and deploying Marines during the war.

“There’s a cultural history here that’s hugely important,” says historian John Bond. “Ewa Field is directly tied into the key battles of World War II, from Pearl Harbor to Wake Island to Midway.”

Ewa Field was officially decommissioned in 1952. Today, the airfield sits empty, overgrown with grass and kiawe trees.

• What threatens it?

As we went to press, the Navy, which had owned the property, transferred 499 acres of Kalaeloa land, including parcels containing the former Marine Corps Air Station, to private developer Ford Island Properties, a subsidiary of Texas-based Hunt Companies.

The transfer went through without the historic resource inventory analysis requested by the state Historic Preservation Division, a survey that would have cataloged the historically significant architectural, archaeological and cultural elements of the property.

Ford Island Properties hasn’t made public its intentions for the land, but given its prime location near the Barbers Point Golf Course and the 67-acre shopping center being planned by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, it’s safe to say it will make an attractive site for development.

• What can be done?

It’s not too late for an inventory of Ewa Field’s historic elements. Ideally, Ford Island Properties and the HCDA will work together with the community on development plans for the area to include the preservation of Ewa Field. Says Bond, “I’m not against Hunt or anyone developing here, I just want to protect what historically we think is important here.”



Coco Palms Resort

(Kapaa, Kauai)

Photo: Timothy Dela Vega

• What is it?

The Coco Palms is one of Hawaii’s most renowned classic resorts. Owner Grace Guslander pioneered romantic traditions that have become de rigueur in the local hospitality industry, such as the torch-lighting ceremony.

The site’s historical significance predates the resort, though. It was long a favorite center for Hawaiian monarchy; High Chief Deborah Kapule lived there in the mid-1800s, and cultivated fishponds in the area.

• What threatens it?

Hurricane Iniki hit the resort hard in 1992, and the Coco Palms has been shuttered ever since. Not for lack of interest in reopening it. As Kauai historian Pat Griffin says, “There is general agreement that it is an enormously important cultural and historical site, and should be protected.” But no one has yet been able to make the numbers work.

• What can be done?

There are a couple of ideas afloat, but both of them require money that hasn’t materialized yet.

The property’s current owner, Phillip Ross, of Coco Palms Ventures LLC, based in Annapolis, Md., says he’s working to reopen the Coco Palms in its original retro look, but needs a partner. “We’ve invested more than $6.5 million in securing our SMA [shoreline management area] and various other use permits, and preparation of construction documents in order to advance the project,” he says. “We’re seeking a joint-venture partner or a sale to a developer who can develop the property in keeping with our vision.”

Some local community groups, as well as state Sen. Gary Hooser, would rather see the property turned into a community based educational park facility. But this plan has no financial backing either.


on last year’s list

The Bond Estate
(Kohala,  Big Island)

Photo: Macario

In the past year, owner New Moon Foundation has completed archiving more than 5,000 artifacts taken from the damaged missionary house and complex, and built a database for cataloging them. Director of operations Robin Mullin says she’s now talking with contractors and architects about plans for the reconstruction of the Doctor’s Office and other buildings whose stone walls were heavily damaged in the 2006 earthquake.

Kalahikiola Congregational Church 
(Kohala, Big Island)

Photo: Macario

When we spoke with parishioner Boyd Bond and architect Glenn Mason in late September, the church had hired a contractor and construction was anticipated to begin in a few weeks. The exterior walls of the church are being rebuilt, but the original doors, windows, roof and floor will be preserved. Bond anticipates that the restoration should be complete by April 2010.


The Kekaha Sugar Mill
(Kekaha, Kauai)

Photo: Sue Boynton

According to Pahio Development Inc. president and CEO Lynn McCrory, Pahio Development Inc. is still in the process of deciding what to do with the mill. The mill is undergoing a Historic Architectural Building Survey (HABS) as well as remediation for asbestos and brownfield. McCrory says once the HABS is finished at the end of the year, the costs are determined and they’ve talked with the community, Pahio Development Inc. will know more about the direction it will take, but that this will be “years’ worth of work.”



Photo: Sue Boynton

The Wainiha Stream Bridges 
(Hanalei, Kauai)

After overloaded trucks crushed portions of the bridges in 2004 and 2007, all that has been kept of the original 1957 bridges are the concrete piers—the rest has been temporarily replaced with steel Acrow bridges. The focus now is on reconstruction. M&E Pacific, hired 2 ½ years ago to create reconstruction designs, has not yet presented a design that meets the standards for historic preservation, but recently hired a preservation consultant. Barbara Robeson of the Hanalei Road Committee is hopeful that progress will be made by the end of the year.

Grove Farm Manager’s House
(Lihue, Kauai)

Photo: Courtesy of Grove Farm Co.

According to Grove Farm Homestead Museum director Robert Schleck, the manager’s house remains in the same (albeit a bit more deteriorated) condition as it was last year. However, Grove Farm Co. senior vice president Mike Tresler says that Grove Farm Co. plans to renovate the Manager’s House and use the home as a clubhouse and make use of its dining and meeting rooms. Finances for the renovation depend on the sale of home sites surrounding the Manager’s House, and Grove Farm is waiting for approval from county agencies to proceed with its community building plans for those sites.


Kalanianaole Hall
(Kalamaula, Molokai)

Photo: Richard Cooke III

In late September, when we spoke with William Akutagawa, volunteer for Friends of Kalanianaole Hall, the restoration of the hall was two-thirds complete and he anticipated it would be finished by late October. Akutagawa said they needed $50,000 more and were looking for funding from Hawaiian Homestead, but he was confident the hall would be restored by the anticipated date.

Koloa Jodo Mission 
(Koloa, Kauai)

Photo: Sue Boynton

Good news here: The temple is being repaired. According to K-oloa Jodo Mission president Alvin Akimoto, four volunteers from Japan—friends of Rev. Kozo Tanaka, a former minister of the temple—began renovations in September, and will return sometime next year to continue their work. Tanaka is raising funds in Japan for the renovations. The goal is to have a large portion of the temple completed by 2010, but there is no specific timetable, because work depends on funding availability. 

The Austin and Pantheon Buildings 

(Honolulu, Oahu)

Nothing much has changed—the Austin is still home to Restaurant Epic; the Pantheon is still empty and in terrible condition. According to Hawaii Theatre president Sarah Richards, when the theater moves forward with its expansion in 2012 or later, the buildings will be torn down and replaced, but their façades will be reconstructed in accordance with historic Chinatown codes to preserve the look of historic Chinatown.