Behind the Scenes of Honolulu’s Oldest Buildings

Submitted by Malia Van Heukelem (Art Archivist Librarian of the Jean Charlot Collection at the University of Hawaii at Manoa)

Each summer the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Graduate Certificate in Historic Preservation Program offers a field school or field seminar. This year it was a two week seminar titled Buildings of the Hawaiian Kingdom led by Dr. Ralph Kam. As a frequent contributor to the Hawaiian Journal of History, and an editor and author of monographs on Hawaiian history during the kingdom era, this was a rare opportunity for in-depth study of the buildings and their stories with a noted local scholar.

Ralph Kam and students studying the buildings in the Merchant Street Historic District

The tour took our small group of just seven students to over twenty historic sites, dating from the first wood frame house built by New England missionaries in 1821 to ‘Iolani Palace, covering most of the remaining structures on Oahu built before 1893. Behind the scenes tours were arranged for many of the buildings with local experts, and a couple of abandoned buildings required written permission to access. We also had private instruction on accessing archival materials relating to the buildings in the Hawaii State Archives, Bureau of Conveyances (land ownership records), and the Land Survey Division where they have tons of old Hawaii maps.

Mission Houses Museum: Frame House, Printing House and Chamberlain’s House
‘Iolani Palace: Hawaii’s last royal residence, operated as a historic house museum

Buildings included several listed on the National Register and a few in a historic district on Merchant Street where many of the exteriors are intact. The range of buildings was impressive: historic house museums which are the former residences of Hawaii’s royal families, to a continuously operated saloon, royal mausoleums, a natural history museum, three of Hawaii’s earliest churches, government buildings, and several successful examples of re-use.

St. Andrew’s Cathedral: Begun in 1867, first completed in 1886, with three successive additions through 1958

Dr. Kam prepared a guidebook covering each of the historic buildings discussed in the course. Additional readings included National Register nominations for the Merchant Street Historic District and for a private merchant building in Honolulu’s Chinatown which was recently renovated for use as an apartment.

Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum: Hawaii’s oldest museum with core collections from the Hawaiian monarchs

Contact the University of Hawaii’s Historic Preservation Program at the Department of American Studies for information on a future field seminar (AMST 674) or field school (AMST 696).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *