Hawai‘i’s Most Endangered Historic Places in 2012

You can describe a place using words. You can show a place with pictures. But to really experience a place, you have to stand in it. Put your fingers in the bullet holes, feel the bridge sway, brush the sand away.

photos: rae huo


Physical spaces serve as reminders for us in a way that photos and memories simply cannot. That’s why, each year, HONOLULU partners with the Historic Hawaii Foundation (HHF) and the State Historic Preservation Division to present a list of our state’s most endangered places. The goal of the list is not to shame or scold, says Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of HHF. “We have these amazing places in our communities, and, if we don’t take care of them, we will lose them. We want to show people what they might not otherwise notice, and get people excited.” This year’s list includes some familiar places, such as the Varsity Building in Moiliili, as well as places you may never get to see in person, such as the World-War-II-era seaplane hangar on Midway Atoll. There are even some humble, rusty looking bridges. But history isn’t a beauty contest: It’s not just how places look, but how they make us feel, that’s important.


Varsity Building (Moiliili, Oahu)

What Is It?

The five-story Varsity Building was designed by local firm Wimberly and Cook in 1963 to house the First National Bank. It’s one of a posse of circular buildings that went up around Oahu in the 1950s and ’60s, including the Waikiki Circle Hotel and Waipahu’s branch of American Security Bank. Curved buildings are examples of the midcentury Modernism movement, which showcased bold experimentation in shapes and materials, such as concrete, which had not been widely used previously.


What Threatens It?

For the past four years, Kamehameha Schools has been collecting pieces of property in the Moiliili area, forming a contiguous area slated for redevelopment. The assemblage is complete, says Paul Quintiliani, director of Kamehameha Schools’ commercial real estate division. “We have begun to shift our focus toward what uses make the most sense.” The overall goal, he says, is to “enhance this part of urban Honolulu by creating a heart for the community that simultaneously improves the gateway into UH Manoa.” He says this will include greater pedestrian connectivity, public spaces, and new dining and entertainment options. KS is still in the planning phases; some of the possible permutations include the Varsity Building, some do not.


What Can Be Done?

If you’re a fan of Modernism, speak up, as community input will be important. Quintiliani says that architectural historians have been consulted to better understand the context of the Varsity Building, and that KS “does not approach redevelopment with the view that demolition is the approach of first choice.”

photo: courtesy u.s. fish and wildlife service


Seaplane Hangar (Midway Atoll)

What Is It?

A massive, steel-frame seaplane hangar, this 1941 building was designed by Albert Kahn, a renowned architect of industrial spaces. The hangar was one of the first buildings constructed for the U.S. naval base at Midway Atoll, and was impressive not only for its size, but also for its use of glass and light. The hangar was bombed during the Japanese attack on Midway Atoll on Dec. 7, 1941, rebuilt, and then bombed again on June 4, 1942, during the Battle of Midway. The Navy rebuilt it again, though at half the size of the original building. “It’s the iconic building of the time, of the battle,” says Barry Stieglitz, project leader, Hawaiian and Pacific Islands, for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which oversees the area. Standing near the hangar, he says, it’s easy to make the mental shift from seeing millions of albatross that are today using Midway Atoll as a breeding ground to imagining a scene of war. “You put yourself in the shoes of those young boys and how completely terrifying it must have been.”

The hangar was bombed twice during World War II. If restoration happens, the first goal would be to stabilize the building, says Barry Stieglitz.

photo: courtesy u.s. fish and wildlife service


What Threatens It?

The hangar has holes in its roof and inoperable bay doors, which have allowed rain, wind and salt air to do their worst. Factor in millions of seabirds, too, as their droppings are caustic. A plan to rehab the building was quite far along—Ferraro and Choi had developed drawings and contractor bids had been sought, but, in 2012, all plans were scrapped due to federal funding shortages. The estimated price tag is more than $20 million, says Stieglitz. “Given its remoteness and lack of access by the general public—1,250 miles from Honolulu—available maintenance funding has been prioritized for other projects.”


What Can Be Done?

Susan Schulmeister, the refuge manager for Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial, reports that conversations have started with a nonprofit, Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. The group “strongly supports the refuge in its efforts to protect and restore both the biological diversity and historic resources of Midway Atoll,” says member Rob Shallenberger. “The seaplane hangar has a widely recognized historic value. We believe that it will take a coalition of congressional supporters, federal agencies, nonprofit organizations and individual donors who share a common vision for the restoration and reuse of the hangar.”


Rice cultivation began in Hanalei in 1882, necessitating this originally timber pier. It’s been reconstructed with concrete since then.

photo: library of congress


Hanalei Pier Canopy (Hanalei, Kauai)

What Is It?

Originally built for rice transportation, this picturesque pier is now valued for recreational use. “It’s a historic part of Hanalei and it’s important to the community for fishing and picnicking,” says Barbara Robeson, a longtime resident and a consultant on preservation projects. A canopy at the pier’s end is  integral to its look.


photo: david croxford

What Threatens it?

The pier was reconstructed in the 1990s and is in good shape, but the large canopied area at the end of the pier shed is not. “You have the roof broken apart, the posts are rotting. It’s very dangerous,” says Sally Motta, deputy director of finance for the County of Kauai and treasurer for the Rotary Club of Hanalei Foundation. The Rotary Club of Hanalei has been raising funds in preparation to either fix or replace the structure. Joe Borden, of the State Department of Land & Natural Resources, Kauai Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, says the department plans to demolish the structure.


What Can Be Done?

When the demolition goes through, likely this fall, all is not lost, says Borden. The state plans to partner with the Rotary in an “adopt-a-harbor”-type arrangement. Borden says the state will pay for the demolition, and the Rotary will rebuild the canopy. Motta says the Rotary has raised $127,000 in donations for the product so far. “We know it will take at least $150,000. Leftover money will be put into a fund for maintenance and repair. These funds are coming from people in our community and from visitors, people who have been coming here for years. I’ve never been so impressed or proud of a community.”


photos: courtesy marine corps base hawaii

The remains of bomb damage, dating from World War II, include these scars (above), with additional marks found as far as 40 feet away from the center of the bomb crater.

The World-War-II-Era Sites on the Marine Corps Base (Kaneohe, Oahu)

What Is It?

The Marine Corps Base (MCB) Hawaii is home to several hundred historic properties, including three on this year’s list. They include the Bachelor Enlisted Quarters buildings, built in 1940, and a Marine Air Group Headquarters Building, constructed in 1941. There is also World War II damage to some of the base’s taxiways: bomb craters and possible strafing marks that are apparent damage from the Dec. 7, 1941, attack. The two bomb craters are large, 7 to 11 feet in diameter, says MCB Hawaii’s June Cleghorn, senior cultural resources manager in the Environmental Compliance and Protection Department, while smaller pockmarks probably came from bullets. The holes have been filled with concrete, but the outlines of their original shapes and locations are visible.


What Threatens Them?

The Marine Corps Base Hawaii is expanding, welcoming up to two squadrons of MV-22 Osprey aircraft and one Marine Light Attack Helicopter squadron, starting this year and continuing into 2018. Along with the space needed for the aircraft, the base will also need to reconfigure for 2,128 more personnel and dependents. According to Cleghorn, demolition is planned for no more than six of the 11 total World-War-II-era BEQs and the MAG building. Resurfacing of the taxiways is also planned.


What Can Be Done?

After a two-year review process involving more than 40 consulting parties, the BEQs and MAG building demolitions sound like a done deal. (Though it may not console World-War-II history buffs, the new barracks construction will feature LEED certification standards, including sustainable site development and water and energy efficiency.) The bomb and bullet marks on the ground may be saved. Cleghorn says the Corps recognizes their historic significance and will explore alternatives to repaving.

In 1904, the Opaekaa Bridge spanned the Wailua River (they used the pieces to build the current Opaekaa Bridge, above.)

photo: pat griffin


Opaekaa and Puuopae Bridges (Wailua, Kauai)

What are they?

These one-lane, country bridges have different designs, but both serve as some of the few manmade reminders left of the pre-1920s homestead-lands movement on Kauai. “We know about Hawaiian culture, and about sugar-plantation culture,” says Pat Griffin, a historian and community-preservation advocate, but little about this era, when, “after Hawaii became a territory, there was a homesteading movement. It was an Americanizing technique, the idea that, if farmers had some parcels of land, it would make it stronger as a territory, and it also gave Hawaiians land.” The Opaekaa Bridge is also the only known British-made iron bridge in the U.S., and one of only a few surviving iron bridges in the state. It was built in 1888 over the Wailua River, and a section was recycled in 1919 for use at the Opaekaa Stream. Puuopae Bridge is in its original, 1915, location, crossing Kalama Stream.


The original Opaekaa Bridge.

photo: hawaii state archives

What Threatens them?

Though safe, the bridges are largely constructed of steel and have experienced heavy corrosion, section loss and vehicular-impact damage over the years, says Larry Dill, engineer for the County of Kauai Department of Public Works. Griffin counters that the county has been gunning to replace the Puuopae Bridge. “For 20 years, the lack of maintenance and attention to these bridges has been shameful,” says Griffin. “That’s the main reason these bridges are in danger. There doesn’t seem to be the will or the understanding to preserve the structures in ways that can honor the history while utilizing contemporary efficiencies. The county is approaching the bridges as if safety and efficiency for the bridges is an either/or situation, instead of using contemporary techniques for preservation to save them.”


What Can Be Done?

Any changes to the bridges would be funded by the Federal Highways Administration. Dill says, “We are currently soliciting community input via the Section 106 process regarding the historic nature of the bridges to help us reach a proposal for the scope of the projects.” He cites the lack of accommodation for cyclists or pedestrians, as well as concerns about capacity and safety. “Advances in construction materials and design have rendered many of the aspects of these bridges obsolete from an engineering perspective.”  Still, he adds, “The historic characteristics of these bridges will be considered and included in our proposals for these bridges.”

There are four buildings that make up the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Station, including a powerhouse/operating building, hotel, administration building and a manager’s cottage.

photos: rae huo, hawaiian collection, hamilton library, uh manoa

The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Station (Kahuku, Oahu)

What Is It?

On an oceanfront parcel of land in Kahuku, tucked between Turtle Bay’s golf course and shrimp farms, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Station gives us a rare glimpse into telecommunications history. The station’s name refers to Guglielmo Marconi, who invented and commercialized a way to transmit Morse signals wirelessly across great distances. Hawaii was at the forefront in the use of this technology, and when the Kahuku station was built in 1914, it was the largest wireless telegraph station in the world in terms of capacity and power. By 1916, there was regular telegraphic communication between Hawaii and Japan, a distance of 4,200 miles.

The property was purchased by Marconi Point LLC in 2005, says owner Jeremy Henderson. It’s one of only two remaining telegraph stations in Hawaii (the Koko Head station’s hotel building became Lunalilo’s Home in 1928), and one of only a handful in the country: Receiving stations in Marshall, Calif., and Belmar, N.J., also remain standing.

What Threatens it?

Telegraph declined after Hawaii was linked to the Mainland by undersea telephone cable in 1957 and, today, the buildings at Marconi station sit vacant and in disrepair. Until Henderson can come up with the right use for the property, the buildings will continue to deteriorate.

What Can Be Done?

“I’d love for the Marconi buildings to be restored, preserved and approved for adaptive reuses, which would share the history while generating income from the property,” says Henderson. “I’d rather not demolish the buildings. I’ve spent a lot of time and money to try to save them.” Preservation architect Tonia Moy, of Fung Associates, says, “The large powerhouse building has an amazing industrial quality that would make great artist lofts or low-impact manufacturing, like handcrafted surfboards or furniture. The site is amazing as well, with a fantastic beachfront that would make a great place for the retreat. But anything that would keep the buildings intact and allow for the interpretation of the incredible history of the site would be wonderful.”


The Hawaii Medical Library (saved)

This Vladimir Ossipoff-designed building made the 2007 list, but, rather than being torn down, it has been reborn. The Queen’s Health Systems renovated the 1961 structure to turn it into office space, moving the library materials elsewhere. The project started in November 2010, says Makana McClellan, in QHS corporate communications, and was primarily an interior renovation, with efforts to maintain the exterior’s appearance. The building reopened in October 2011, says McClellan. “I’m sitting in it right now!”

photo: rae huo

photo: kicka witte

The Kapaia Swinging Bridge (continued threat)

In last year’s “Most Endangered Places,” we covered the Kapaia Swinging Bridge, a wooden suspension bridge constructed in 1948. A vestige of the plantation culture in the Islands, in 2006, it was deemed unsafe and closed by the county. Things had been looking up: The county was planning to restore the bridges’ two towers, and a community group, Save Kapaia Swinging Bridge, was raising the funds for the rest of the renovation. Looming, however, was trouble: a large java plum tree, which had fallen 15 feet downstream from the bridge.

According to Laraine Moriguchi, of Save Kapaia Swinging Bridge, on March 9, Kauai was deluged with heavy rains, flooding Hanamaulu Stream. The fallen tree acted as a dam, backing up piles of logs and brush from upstream. When the debris and force of the water became too strong, the tree gave way, releasing everything that was backed up, flooding the valley and crashing through the Kapaia Suspension Bridge.

Since then, she says, “many people seem to think that it’s beyond repair. Nothing is further from the truth. Visually, the bridge looks very bad and so sad because all the wooden elements in the center section are gone. However, structurally, nothing has changed. The concrete foundation and steel cables are as sound as ever. All the wood that was damaged needed to be replaced anyway. Therefore, the prognosis remains the same as always: The Kapaia Swinging Bridge is restorable. Our efforts continue.”

The Honolulu Advertiser Building (continued threat)

Several generations’ worth of ink-stained wretches could have worked at 605 Kapiolani Blvd., a circa-1930 Beaux Arts beauty we featured in 2009. Home to The Honolulu Advertiser newspaper, as well as The Honolulu Star-Bulletin during their joint-operating-agreement years, the building and 3.7-acre property around it has had an unclear future for some time. It was put up for sale by Gannett Pacific Corp. in 2005, but an agreement for its purchase wasn’t made until 2010. That fell through, and the plot twists continued when Hawaii Five-O came in to lease it for its soundstage and production purposes. In August, it was announced that a local housing developer, Marshall Hung, and investment group, Tradewind Capital Group Inc., intend to purchase the property, with a plan for 1,000 housing units.

photos: rae huo, diana kim

The Princess Victoria Kamamalu Building (a work in progress)

When we wrote about this downtown Honolulu building in our November 2010 issue, renovation of the state-owned, mid-century building had stalled. It’s moving forward again, one of the five projects identified in a May 2012 directive issued by Gov. Neil Abercrombie involving Project Labor Agreements [this regards unions] for state construction projects. It gave the project estimate at $32.9 million; the plan includes major renovation of the existing building, asbestos removal and infrastructure work, including electrical and plumbing repairs.

The Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial (don’t get us started)

The Natatorium has been closed for 40 years but, instead of boring you with the back and forth on this site—managed by the City and County of Honolulu but owned by the state—simply put on the Clash’s song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” But wait, Gov. Neil Abercrombie has a plan, hoping to create a beach volleyball facility. Communications director Jim Boersema confirmed that the governor’s office is working on a solution, but declined to give details. Details would be welcome, as emails published online at Honolulu Civil Beat show that city and state officials had purposefully left the public unaware of what’s happening with the Natatorium. “What city officials apparently didn’t want reporters or the public to know is that hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers’ money has likely been wasted on studies that are no longer needed,” reported Sophie Cocke in late September.

We checked in with nonprofit group Friends of the Natatorium. “We welcome Gov. Abercrombie’s initiative to reclaim the Natatorium,” says group president representative Peter Apo. “The issue of pool restoration or alternative use is yet to be addressed but we are relieved to be moving away from previous Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s public policy to demolish this national treasure.”

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She worked at HONOLULU Magazine for eight years and remains passionate about Hawaii’s history.