Editor's Page: Keepsakes

Some buildings become heirlooms, best handed down.

Photo: Linny Morris

Landmarks get all the attention. When Historic Hawaii Foundation (HHF) first approached us about showcasing the nine most endangered historic sites in Hawaii in 2005, it was only natural to include the Natatorium.  Back then, incoming Mayor Mufi Hannemann had just put a stop to restoration work begun under Mayor Jeremy Harris, and the long-neglected war memorial’s future seemed uncertain. As I write this, the city is working with a 17-member task force to determine what, if anything, can be done to save the site. As always with the Natatorium, there’s been a great deal of media attention and public scrutiny, and no shortage of passionate voices sounding the alarm.

Not every old building worth saving is as famous as the Natatorium, which is why the endangered historic site list is so important. In our August 2005 feature, we also featured a Japanese stone lantern in Kapaa, Kauai; the chief petty officers’ quarters at Battleship Row on Ford Island; Old Maui High School in Hāmākuapoko, Maui; and the ancient heiau complex of Keākealaniwahine, in Kona. We have listed 36 structures over the past four years, and I’m pleased to report that the exposure has helped some of them find the support they needed.

Now you have a chance to talk up the endangered historic sites in your corner of the Islands. This month, HHF is accepting nominations for the next list, which we will feature in our November issue. It’s easy: visit www.historichawaii.org, or call HHF at 523-2900. The deadline is July 29. (No, I’m afraid you can’t nominate the Natatorium again—each building or site only gets one turn on the list.) Among other things, you’ll be asked what and where the building is, and what threatens it, such as neglect or redevelopment.

Not sure what to recommend? Look around and, as HHF executive director Kiersten Faulkner says, ask yourself, “What would I miss if it weren’t here?”

Maybe it’s an old church, an aging storefront, a classic house from another era. Maybe it’s a modern structure in danger of being lost—last year’s list included the Ossipoff-designed IBM Building, built on Ala Moana Boulevard in 1962 and threatened by a redevelopment plan for the area.

That’s on the young side to be considered historic; a building typically needs to be 50 years or older to qualify for the National Register of Historic Places. However, here we are, nearing the 50th anniversary of statehood and, suddenly, countless structures from the building boom of that time could be considered historic. It’s harder for people to rally to preserve modern architecture; all that glass, metal and concrete seems chilly compared to the quaint, “old-time” look of a 1920s plantation manager’s house.

But, modern or quaint, the buildings we choose to save will say something about who we are and what we value. This is why the Natatorium issue is so knotty. “Our historic sites are a way we live on after our deaths,” says Faulkner. “The Natatorium was built in 1927 for a war that ended in 1919, dedicated to the soldiers and sailors who fought in that war.” When we debate whether or not to keep the building intact, we’re asking, “Do these people still matter to us?”

If there’s a piece of the past that matters to you, please let HHF know.