Written in Stone

An ambitious new book explores Hawaii’s masterworks in stone.

Photo: Douglas Peebles

Pohaku — The Art & Architecture of Stonework in Hawai‘i
Published by Editions Limited, Honolulu. $39.95.
In stores now, or through www.hawaiibooks.net.


It all started with a wall. An immaculately shaped, low stone wall on Pacific Heights that David Cheever couldn’t help but notice when he ran and cycled up and down the hill. “I really had a chance to study it and noticed that both sides are battered to a 45-degree angle. I wondered how they found stones that shape.” Cheever’s wonder and admiration got him thinking about other sorts of structures in Hawaii built of stone, from heiau to office buildings to houses.

The result of his interest is a new, oversize, book, Pohaku—The Art & Architecture of Stonework in Hawaii, 171 pages of striking photography and illuminating essays about some of the Islands’ most enduring buildings.

“At first, I made a list of all the stone buildings I could think of and only came up with 12,” says Cheever. When he started to chat with local architects, however, he found countless examples. One of the first people he consulted was Frank S. Haines, FAIA, an accomplished Hawaii architect and editor of the reference/picture book, Architecture in Hawaii. “He truly is the dean of Hawaii architecture,” says Cheever, “and one of my favorite architects.”

Haines and another architect, Dr. Janine Shinoki Clifford, AIA, agreed to edit Pohaku—a big job, given that Cheever wanted to get Island architects to write the essays for each stone structure. “In the end, 56 people contributed to the book,” says Cheever. The contributing authors are a who’s-who of architects and writers, including people like Haines, David Kaahaaina, current president of the Honolulu AIA chapter, Joseph J. Ferraro, AIA, and Glenn Mason, AIA. Contributing writers and historians include Nancy Bannick, DeSoto Brown and the late Jim Bartels.

“Some of them wrote from the heart, some wrote clinically,” Cheever recalls. The variety only adds to the book’s effect, engaging the emotions as well as the intellect as people reminiscence about what some of these buildings have meant to them.

For an unyielding substance, stone is remarkably flexible. Left rough and casually jumbled, it makes a wall look rustic, a church homely. Polished, fit tightly together in regular order, it dignifies a school, ennobles a palace. Trying to figure out how the masons of old assembled these buildings is like solving a puzzle. As for that wall that originally puzzled Cheever, he finally learned that the stones weren’t found in just the right shape. Instead, they were cut by hand, cloven with precise hammer blows. “It’s a lost art,” says Cheever. Lost, but not unappreciated.


Photo: Douglas Peebles

1. Elma Schadt House, Windward Oahu, 1931

“It’s easy to see why this fanciful cottage on the Windward shore is known as the coral house. There are probably no other homes in the Islands built of coral heads. These coral heads are not the cut coral blocks often used by the missionaries and foreign traders in the first half of the 19th century, but the actual coral blooms that grow closer to the ocean surface—an uncommon building material, even for decorative purposes. The cottage harbors a major chapter—and a fascinating one—in the life of one of Hawaiian music’s leading composers, Charles E. King. Over several years, his constant companion and business partner, Elma Schadt, dragged coral from the reef offshore and, with a little help from workmen, built this storybook retreat. She envisioned it as a shrine to the great composer.”

—Nancy Bannick, Journalist/Historic Preservationist 

Photo: Douglas Peebles

2. Bishop Estate Building, Honolulu, 1896

“The estate did not construct its own office building until 1896 when a richly detailed stone building on Merchant Street was built. It is constructed of rusticated gray basalt from the Kamehameha quarry. The use of rusticated stone, the two arched door openings and one arched window on the first floor, and the rusticated pilasters between the windows at the second floor of the Bishop Estate Building are reminiscent of the Richardsonian Romanesque style that was so popular in the United States at that time.”

—Glenn Mason, AIA, Mason Architects Inc.





Photo: Douglas Peebles

3. Kawaiahao Church, Honolulu, 1842

“The rulers of Oahu donated stone, lime and timber. It is believed that Captain Don Francisco Marin’s son, Manini, was on the planning committee and he enlisted Ferreira, a master stonemason and armory specialist, to play a major role in the construction project. Coral was recommended because of its availability and economy. A plaque on the church reads, The building materials of the sanctuary were not easily accessible. The huge coral slabs had to be quarried underwater, and each weighed more than 1,000 pounds. Native Hawaiians dove 10 to 20 feet to hand chisel these pieces from the reef. The physically and spiritually strong hauled some 14,000 of the slabs to this, their final destination.’”

—Franklin J. Wong, AIA. Franklin Wong & Associates


Photo: Douglas Peebles

4. Stones from the Honolulu Fort, 1816, now lining Honolulu Harbor

“After demolition in 1857, the fort’s walls provided the materials for a harbor front retaining wall, 14 feet high and seven feet thick, to reclaim 17 to 22 acres of tidal land. A portion of this wall can still be seen off the small parking lot at Pier 12.”

—Scott Cheever



Photo: Douglas Peebles

5. Wailuku Elementary School, Maui, 1904

“Dickey and Newcomb, architects, May 21, 1904. The stone entry porch provides light and ventilation to classrooms along a T-shaped corridor. Diagonal placement of stones at the base of the outlying walls is reminiscent of niho, or teeth, from Hawaiian stone building tradition.”




Photo: Douglas Peebles


6. Mookini Heiau, Kohala, Big Island

“Mookini Heiau is said to be born of the religious order of

Pa’ao, the Kahuna Nui from Tahiti, who instituted a new religious order in Hawaii sometime around the 12th century. … At this prominent heiau acts of purification would be performed, and at times a living person would be offered as a mohai, or sacred offering. … It is the valleys, mountaintops and multitudes of generations of native people who have made Kohala their home, for literally translated, Mookini is the living representation of 40 generations.’”

—Pohaku (Thomas Kealiiahonui Stone III)