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Main Building

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1890, William F. Smith; 1894, 1903, Ripley and Dickey
  • (Photograph by Kaoru Lovett)
  • (Photograph by Kaoru Lovett)
  • (Photograph by Kaoru Lovett)

The earliest known use of bluestone as a primary building material in Hawaii, the main building of the Bishop Museum also introduced Romanesque Revival to the Islands. Its powerful three-story entrance bay with a pyramidal copper roof is firmly grounded by the entrance's pair of Romanesque arches supported by squat columns with foliated capitals. Flanked by steep hipped-roof one- and two-story halls, the building makes an imposing statement. The three-story additions in 1894 and 1903 of Polynesian and Hawaiian halls designed by Ripley and Dickey transformed this tight multilevel building into a more restrained, horizontal composition. The additions also resulted in the expansion of the entrance hall's beautiful koa staircase and paneling, and introduced Hawaiian Hall's magnificent three-story open space—the heart of the museum. Designed by C. W. Dickey, this grand room, with its sixty-eight hundred square feet of ground-floor space, has galleries encircling the second and third floors. The iron columns supporting the galleries are ornamented with kapa patterns, and different cast-iron capitals on each floor depict such island flora as taro and breadfruit. British sculptor Allen Hutchinson designed the capitals and also the decorative keystones of the third-floor arches, which portray the carved image of Kalaipahoa, the poison god. The galleries' iron railings are ornamented with plaques depicting the coat of arms of the monarchy period on the second floor, and taro on the third. The whale skeleton that is partially clad in a papier-mâché body is a major element in the space. It is suspended from the ceiling and the building was composed around it. The thatched house on the ground floor was obtained by the museum from Milolii Valley on Kauai's Napali coast in 1900 and is the sole surviving example of a historic Hawaiian thatched house in the state. Its hipped roof reflects a Western influence on a form that traditionally featured a gable roof extending to the ground. In 2009, Hawaiian Hall reopened following a three-year renovation directed by Mason Architects.

Writing Credits

Don J. Hibbard


What's Nearby


Don J. Hibbard, "Main Building", [Honolulu, Hawaii], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Hawaii

Buildings of Hawaii, Don J. Hibbard. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011, 83-84.

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