Hawai‘i’s Most Endangered Historic Sites
The Historic Hawaii Foundation, the State Historic Preservation Division and Honolulu Magazine compile an annual list of some of our state's most endangered places.
The past year has been a time of belt-tightening for the state of Hawaii and many of its families, private companies and charitable organizations. The lack of funds has also had an impact on the preservation of historic places throughout the state. But when the going gets tough, the tough would be wise to find creative ways to preserve our history. In an effort to do that, the Historic Hawaii Foundation (HHF), the State Historic Preservation Division and HONOLULU Magazine have assembled this annual list of some of Hawaii’s most endangered places. This year’s nominations include an ancient fishpond, a historic district in a heavily touristed Maui town, a crumbling theater on the Big Island and a few highly visible downtown Honolulu buildings. All these sites are endangered due to financial fallout, whether through foreclosure, company merger or budget cuts. That reality should not overshadow that they represent important chapters in Hawaii’s rich past, and contribute to our sense of place and who we are as a community.
It’s important to note that making this list does not guarantee protection or preservation. Our goal is to raise awareness of the sites’ vulnerability and inspire community support. In the following pages, you’ll find this year’s most endangered historic sites, the stories behind what’s threatening them and what can be done to protect them. You’ll also discover updates on last year’s endangered sites, including Alekoko Pond, the Luahiwa petroglyphs and Lapakahi.
Waikalua Loko Fishpond (Kaneohe, Oahu)
What is it?
Waikalua Loko is one of the few remaining intact ancient Hawaiian fishponds in the state. Located in Kaneohe Bay, the approximately 400-year-old fishpond exemplifies the ancient Hawaiians’ skillful management of natural resources. The Waikalua Loko Fishpond Preservation Society, a nonprofit organization, has managed the pond since 1995, working to eradicate invasive mangrove and maintain the pond’s kuapa (wall) and makaha (gates), work done strictly by volunteers. “Since we began,” says Herb Lee, executive director of the Pacific American Foundation (PAF) and one of the founders of the preservation society, “we’ve had tens of thousands of people come down to help.”
What threatens it?
The fishpond is located on property that is part of the Bay View Golf Course, which recently went into foreclosure. “The cultural, educational and restoration activities are threatened by the uncertain priorities of new landowners who may prefer to develop the property rather than restore a fishpond,” says Hal Hammatt, the president and principal investigator for Cultural Surveys Hawaii. Then there’s the small matter of the proposed Kaneohe sewer upgrades project. “The fishpond itself will not be impacted by this project,” says Department of Environmental Services director Tim Steinberger. “Parking associated with the fishpond, however, will be impacted during construction. The city will be working with various community organizations during preparation of the draft EIS to address the parking issue, and is already working with stakeholder agencies and representatives from the Kaneohe and Kailua areas, including the Pacific American Foundation, which oversees the fishpond.” Losing the parking area for an undetermined amount of time will impact the “momentum of volunteers,” says Lee, hindering the society’s ability to perform much-needed regular maintenance on the pond.
What can be done?
One option is to seek subdivision of the property. According to Lee, the Pacific American Foundation, along with Windward Community College and the Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology, have applied for, and received, a HUD grant that’s reserved for higher-education institutions serving Native Hawaiians and their communities. The grant identified approximately 19-plus acres, including 12 acres of water and 7 acres of surrounding land, giving the Pacific American Foundation the necessary monies to purchase the plot on which the pond resides. Unfortunately, the property is not subdivided, and the group cannot afford to purchase the golf course in its entirety. When we contacted Central Pacific Bank, the golf course’s current owner, chief marketing officer Wayne Kirihara informed us that the bank had just received the title to the property and that they would “need to get their arms around all of the moving parts before a sales strategy could be developed.”
Lahaina Historic District (Lahaina, Maui)
What is it?
The first capital of the kingdom of Hawaii, Lahaina was also once a bustling whaling town and plantation settlement. To recognize and preserve its rich history, two sets of historic districts have been created in Lahaina: The Lahaina Historic District, which encompasses about 1,665 acres, was added to the National Park Service’s (NPS) National Historic Landmarks Program in December 1962. Maui County Historic District Boundaries 1 and 2 cover about 65 acres in Lahaina. “Historic District 1 was designated more for traditional historic sites such as the prison, the Masters’ Reading Room, some of the older churches, the Seaman’s Hospital,” says Ann Cua, the deputy director of the Maui County Planning Department. “Historic District 2 is where you have the commercial buildings on Front Street.”
What threatens it?
The inclusion of the Lahaina Historic District on this list may come as a surprise to many, as it doesn’t appear to be crumbling to the ground. And, to be honest, it’s not; the danger here is far more insidious. “The threat is a long-term pattern of insensitive new construction and incompatible renovations to historic buildings,” says Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of the Historic Hawaii Foundation. “The National Park Service, which has oversight of National Historic Landmarks, has noted this pattern as starting to undermine the integrity of the district. It is not an issue of individual sites as much as it is a cumulative effect of countless individual decisions.”
Indeed, a 2008 report by the National Parks Service listed the district as threatened, which NPS defines as “any landmarks that have suffered or are in eminent danger of a severe loss of integrity.” The report specifically points to “a large number of improvements made in the district without permits” and original wood windows being swapped out for new vinyl windows that do not maintain the historic architectural integrity of the buildings. “We can see [the threats] day to day, with people coming in and wanting to demolish structures,” says Cua.
According to Cua, the department has only four full-time inspectors, who are responsible for reviewing all of the county’s zoning issues, including signage, parking, landscaping, and following up on complaints. “For us, that’s a relatively small number to take care of all zoning enforcement,” she says. “Again, we don’t look for people tearing down things or taking out windows and doors. We’re so busy just trying to review people’s permit applications and following up on complaints, that consumes our inspectors’ time.”
What can be done?
Aside from hiring more inspectors, which isn’t likely given the state’s budget cuts, one way to curb the degradation of the historic districts, says Cua, is educating building owners about the historic significance of their buildings and ways in which they can implement adaptive reuse of a site. Another idea is to encourage incentive programs, like the Lahaina Heritage Sites designation, which is given out by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation as a way to acknowledge a building or site that is a good representation of the historic district. Lastly, says Cua, money talks. “It’s important that providing economic incentive and local tax abatement to help make it financially feasible for adaptive re-use.”
The Honolulu Advertiser Building (Honolulu, Oahu)
What is it?
Hawaii’s oldest continuously published newspaper until this year, when it merged with The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, moved to 605 Kapiolani Blvd. in 1930. Architects Walter Emory and Marshall Webb designed the three-story, Beaux Arts-style building, which was home to the newspaper’s news, advertising and administrative offices. On both the National and State Registers of Historic Places, the building’s design includes such striking details as a Spanish-tile hipped roof, large, divided-light awning windows, twin roof towers and terra cotta detailing.
What threatens it?
In 2005, The Advertiser’s owner, Gannett Pacific Corp., put the aging building up for sale. Then-publisher Mike Fisch was quoted in a March 2005 Pacific Business News article as saying that the company was “exploring options for redevelopment” of the nearly 78,400-square-foot building and adjoining 2 acres.
A buyer, however, did not materialize until this year. In September, Joseph Haas, the senior managing director at CB Richard Ellis, which had the property listing, confirmed that the property was under contract, but would not disclose any information until it was a done deal. As of press time, details had still not been made available.
With the impending sale, there is concern that the new buyer might not have the building’s best interests at heart. “The threat is the unknown nature and parameters of any adaptive reuse and/or adjacent construction,” says HHF’s Faulkner. “Such an important building and part of Honolulu’s history should have more than the assurances of the real estate agent to rely on.” The assurances to which Faulkner refers came from Haas, who could not confirm the buyer’s intended plans for the site, but insisted that there was no need to worry. “Everyone we’ve spoken to that I’m aware of has plans to keep the building,” says Haas. “It’s a nice building, it functions, and it works. I’m not personally involved [in the transaction], but I would venture to say that the people who buy that property will probably put a development on it, or more than one development. The Advertiser building will most likely be left alone and leased, probably to office users.”
What can be done?
The building’s historic status restricts the type of alterations that can be made to its interior or exterior. However, as Haas mentioned, it’s likely that the new owner will develop the acreage around the building, which could impact the integrity of the building’s location, setting and feeling. For her part, Faulkner would like to see the new owner complete “a sensitive rehabilitation of the main building and compatible new construction on the rest of the site.”
The Princess Victoria Kamamalu Building (Honolulu, Oahu)
What is it?
In 1968, the state purchased this 53-year-old building located at the intersection of King and Richards Streets from the Hawaiian Trust Co. for $2.5 million. It housed the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs until 2003, when the building was closed for renovation due to various safety issues, asbestos among them.
What threatens it?
When the state closed Kamamalu for repairs, the plan was to have the building open and operational again within a few years, but the renovation costs kept mounting—in 2007, the cost estimate was $27 million. “As we went along, the costs to refurbish kept going up and up,” says state comptroller Russ Saito. “Thus far, we’ve taken care of the health and safety issues. It’s a shell, but it’s safe for now. But to go beyond the work we’ve done so far, the costs would be too high to be recovered in any reasonable economic interval.” The alternative to letting it sit around collecting dust is to have someone purchase the property, level the building and start from scratch. It’s a win-lose situation: A sale would take the building off the state’s books at a time when funds are tight, but its development means we’ll lose yet another 1950s-era building.
What can be done?
Peter Rosegg, the Oahu commissioner for the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, would like to see the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, and the Department of Budget and Finance, both occupying upper floors of the Hawaii State Art Museum, moved to the Princess Kamamalu Building. The relocation of these two departments, says Rosegg, would free up space for the museum to expand so that it may add more displays, classrooms and hands-on art and performance rooms. Rosegg also points to the vision of Hawaii State Capitol architect John Carl Warnecke, whose plan for the district included a thriving arts and culture center. “The Warnecke plan has been on the books since the ’60s,” says Rosegg. “When the museum was first dedicated eight years ago, there was certainly some discussion at that time about the possibilities.”
While Saito says that Rosegg’s plan is all well and good, it comes down to money. “This is a matter of economics,” says Saito. “It’s a good idea from an arts-and-culture point of view, but the state needs to accommodate all of its employees and agencies with the budget that it has.” He notes that, in recent years, the state has built a new restaurant and gift shop for the museum, and is also going to be creating a “gardenlike area” where patrons can relax. “It’s not as though we’re not spending money on culture and the arts,” Saito says. “We’re just trying to do it within the budget we’re given.”
Naalehu Theater (Kau, Big Island)
What is it?
The Naalehu theater was built after World War I by the Hutchinson Sugar Co. to provide entertainment for the residents of the town. In 1979, the theater was purchased by the 300 Corp., an affiliate of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which is one of the largest landowners in the state. After 300 Corp. acquired the theater, it was leased out and, over the next two decades, has housed several different operations, including a nonprofit radio station and a plantation movie theater museum.
What threatens it?
Over the years, the theater’s maintenance has been lax. In May 2006, rain damaged the weakened roof and flooded the building, ruining furnishings and equipment. Afterward, the foundation declined to renew the lease, and the building has been empty and falling further into disrepair ever since.
What can be done?
Marge Elwell, the president of Naalehu Main Street (NMS) applied for a lease from the foundation in January, but has not received a response. “We’re still trying to work out a plan for a five-year lease in which we won’t pay anything while we’re rebuilding the theater,” she says, “and, after three years, we would lease to buy the theater.”
HONOLULU’s calls to the Weinberg Foundation were not returned.
The theater needs extensive repairs, which are outlined in a building-inspection report prepared by Taylor Built Construction, a local company. Among the findings: The theater requires a new roof and ceiling, new gutters, foundation repairs and possible plumbing and electrical upgrades. It will take about three years and approximately $150,000 to complete the necessary repairs. About 30 people have volunteered to help with the renovations and Bob Taylor of Taylor Built has agreed to supervise volunteers free of charge.
NMS still needs to raise the necessary renovation funds, and hopes to do so via “grassroots efforts and sweat equity,” as well as grants, which NMS hopes will become easier to secure once it joins the National Main Street Network, a national group of coordinating programs that help cities, towns and villages revitalize their downtown and neighborhood business districts. Additionally, Elwell submitted paperwork two years ago to have the theater identified as a National Historic Landmark, but has not received a response. She’s currently working to create a scenic byway through Kau, which she hopes will draw attention to the theater’s plight.
Queen Lydia Liliuokalani Elementary School (Kaimuki, Oahu)
What is it?
Liliuokalani Elementary in Kaimuki opened in 1912 and was personally dedicated by its namesake, Queen Lydia Liliuokalani. While the original administration building was torn down years ago, its cornerstone still exists, and is now located in the corner by the basketball court. The current administration and classroom buildings were all built within the last 50 years, says principal Dr. Raelene Chock. The school has about 130 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
What threatens it?
In August, the Department of Education (DOE) released its consolidation study for the Kalani complex, which includes the Liliuokalani, Kahala, Liholiho, Waialae, Waikiki, and Wilson schools. The study examined the benefits and drawbacks of shuttering Liliuokalani, noting that the savings from the school’s closure would be about $370,000, and that, with the exception of Wilson Elementary, all of the schools in the complex were under capacity (Liliuokalani was 115 students below capacity).
As we went to print, the Board of Education (BOE) was reviewing the DOE’s report, and a public hearing was tentatively planned for the end of October. Should the BOE vote in favor of consolidation, Liliuokalani’s students would likely be divided up between Liholiho and Waialae schools. “In every community the neighborhood school is a special place for its people,” says Chock, “and the prospect of consolidating Liliuokalani Elementary School is emotional and even painful for many whose lives have been touched by the school.”
According to the BOE, the City and County of Honolulu owns the property and, should the school be consolidated, would determine the buildings’ fate. “Once we decide to close the school, we have no control over the property or what the future of the property would be,” says Alex de Silva, the BOE’s public affairs officer.
What can be done?
The DOE draft report mentions alternative uses of the buildings, including conversion to a facility for early childhood education programs or a charter school, should the school be consolidated, both of which are on the right track, says Faulkner. “I would recommend that [the BOE] works with the local community to identify other community needs that don’t have their own facilities and look at an adaptive reuse idea,” she says. “ I can’t anticipate what the needs are, but Kapiolani Community College is looking at expanding its facilities in its new master plan, and there may be charter schools, halau, nonprofi t or for-profit needs in the community. Any of those could be an appropriate new tenant to keep the campus alive and vibrant.”
Faulkner points to two examples of adaptive reuse of school buildings in the state, including the Waimea Arts Center, which was Waimea’s fi rst public school structure, and Hanalei Center, a shopping center with boutiques and restaurants that occupies a group of historic buildings, including the Old Hanalei School. If you’re interested in voicing your opinion regarding the school’s potential consolidation, you can do so by submitting written testimony via the BOE’s website, hawaiiboe.net, or by e-mail, email@example.com.
Alekoko Pond (Nawiliwili, Kauai)
The 580-year-old Alekoko Pond continues to be threatened by invasive mangrove trees and sedimentation. The owners of the property, Honolulu’s Okada family, have not responded to inquiries made by interested local conservation groups, such as the Kauai Public Land Trust (KPLT). “We’ve spent the last year focused on two other projects, and although we did make several efforts to contact the landowners, we weren’t successful,” says Jennifer Luck, KPLT’s executive director.
“We do still feel that it is one of the state’s most endangered places and continue to receive a lot of comments from the public suggesting this site as one they’d like to see conserved.”
“We do still want to pursue the restoration of [Alekoko],” says Donald Heacock, the co-founder of the Nāwiliwili Bay Watershed Council. “The pond is still silting in and the mangrove is growing, and all those things will not change unless it has active management.”
The Historic Structures in the path of Honolulu’s Rapid Transit Project (Kapolei to Kakaako, Oahu)
As we went to press, groundbreaking for the Honolulu Rapid Transit Project was on hold. Gov. Linda Lingle had refused to sign the Final Environmental Impact Statement until an updated financial plan was completed. In September, the Department of Transportation awarded a contract to Infrastructure Management Group to perform an economic analysis and financial assessment of the proposed $5.5 billion rail transit system.
In June, the 422-page “Historic Effects Report” was released. The document details the effects of the rail project on 81 National Register of Historic Places-listed and eligible properties. Of those 81 sites, the rail was found to have no effect on eight properties; no adverse effect on 51 properties; and an adverse effect on 22 properties, meaning that the construction of the rail line would “alter, directly or indirectly, any of the characteristics of a historic property … in a manner that would diminish the integrity of the property’s location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association.”
Among that group, the most negatively impacted include the Teixeira House, a plantation-style residence built in 1945 that would need to be removed from the property; the basalt lava rock curbs on Dillingham Boulevard between Laumaka and Kaaahi Streets, which are thought to have been laid between the late 19th- and mid-20th centuries, and would require removal; and the true kamani trees on the makai edge of Dillingham, which were planted in 1934 and would also need to be removed. The city noted that it intends to replant the trees as near as possible to their original location. Otherwise, the State Historic Preservation Division and other groups were working “to develop appropriate mitigation measures” to the adversely effected properties, which will be documented in a Memorandum of Agreement that, as of press time, had not yet been made available.
The Haliimaile Stables (Haliimaile, Maui)
As we went to press, the stables were still standing. However, a source familiar with the situation informed us that the stables had been approved for demolition. Maui Land and Pineapple, which owns the stables, had no comment.
The Luahiwa Petroglyphs (Kealiakapu ahupuaa, Lanai)
While the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center has had luck in securing grant monies for the stabilization of Ka Lanakila Church, the old Maunalei Sugar Co. Mill and the last pineapple-harvesting machine on Lanai, the group has thus far been unsuccessful in raising money to preserve the petroglyphs. “I am sad to say that nothing has progressed with Luahiwa,” says executive director Kepa Maly.
The Chapel at Kapiolani Community College (Honolulu, Oahu)
Good things come to those who wait, and it seems that the chapel, which is still being used for classes and other activities, might finally get some much-needed TLC. Recent legislation (House Bill No. 2303) appropriated $575,000 for interior repairs, maintenance, refurbishment work, new paint and a new roof for the chapel. The bill took effect in July, and the funds released.
Additionally, KCC recently presented its long-range plan to the University of Hawaii Board of Regents. “The chapel was identified as one of the most cherished places on the campus,” says Carol Hoshiko, the dean for Culinary, Hospitality and College Advancement. “In addition to the chapel, it was proposed that there be an auxiliary building [built] next to the chapel for joint use for the community and the campus.” The development plan was “approved in principle” by the board, meaning that, while the concept was approved, KCC has a ways to go before anything is finalized.
Haleiwa Residences (Haleiwa, Oahu)
When we originally wrote about these homes, Scott Wallace, the owner of the four plantation-style residences in Haleiwa along Kamehameha Highway, was trying to convert the property into a business district. “Even though I was able to obtain the zone change,” he says now, “I had an epiphany about evaluating the adaptive reuse potential of that space, creating live/work space and trying to do the right thing.” Doing the right thing meant hiring Fung Associates architect Tonia Moy, the firm’s director of preservation and a former architecture branch chief at the State Preservation Division, to draft a live/work design for one of the front cottages. The current drawing calls for a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment in the rear of the house and a small business/retail space fronting the road. Most importantly, notes Wallace, the design is within the original square footage.
When we spoke with him, Wallace had secured the necessary wastewater-system approval, but had not yet submitted his building permit. Should all go well, it’s possible that one of the other houses will receive the same treatment.
Lapakahi (North Kohala, Hawaii)
Count this one as a win for the historic-preservation team. “We’ve raised all the money for the acquisition, and are working through some of the federal paperwork,” says Lea Hong, the Hawaiian Islands program director for the Trust for Public Land. “We hope to add Lapakahi to the state parks system before the end of the calendar year.”
Waimano Ridge (Pearl City, Oahu)
According to Janice Okubo, a spokesperson for the Hawaii state Department of Health, the 12 support buildings built between 1936 and 1954 at Waimano Ridge, formerly Waimano Training School and Hospital, are set to be demolished. At press time, a contract had been awarded for the demolition of the structures and work was expected to begin within a few months.
Contributing editor Jenny Quill’s online column covers Honolulu real estate. Find it at honolulumagazine.com.