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As Honolulu architect Harry Seckel noted, “The Hawaiian climate invites a special type of building but does not compel one. . . . It is sufficiently special to favor the development of a regional architecture but it is insufficiently extreme to force it.”1 Nestled in the latitude of lassitude, straddling the Tropic of Cancer, between nineteen and twenty-two degrees north latitude, the Hawaiian Islands are renowned for their benign climate. Moderate humidity, abundant sunshine, and year-round gentle trade winds combine with an equitable temperature to give Hawaii one of the most salubrious climates in the world. Here, human survival requires very little in the way of buildings, but architecture does more than simply provide shelter.

A myriad of factors influence architecture within a locale and in Hawaii these factors have been as diverse as its climate has been stable. A remote geographic location and the limitations of island living have greatly affected Hawaii's architecture for the past millennium. The polyglot of peoples now living in the Islands has contributed a cosmopolitan quality to local life and architecture, and the political shifts from independent nation to colony of the United States to statehood have resulted in equally compelling architectural manifestations. The importance of religion, as well as the socioeconomics of plantation life and its aftermath, also cannot be ignored, nor can the recent acceleration of human travel with its accompanying globalization. The intermingling of these conditions has inexorably led to a distinctive architectural tapestry found nowhere else in the United States.

Lying almost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, two thousand four hundred miles southwest of California, Hawaii is the most geographically isolated place on the earth, farther removed from any major land body or port of call than any other. The vast expanse of the Pacific, however, does not seem as daunting today as it once did. Now California is a mere five-hour jet journey, and New York or Tokyo but ten to twelve hours distant. Long distance communication via cellular phones, the Internet, and satellite television has built bridges across much of the Pacific Ocean's seventy million square miles. However, Hawaii's isolation profoundly affected its architecture and culture until at least the 1960s.


From the termination of Polynesian migrations sometime in the thirteenth century A.D., and until the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778, the Hawaiian people remained in virtual solitude. Stray Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese sailors may have happened upon these shores, but if they did, they left no lasting imprint upon the Islands' architectural heritage. Rather, the architecture encountered by Captain Cook and his immediate successors was similar in form to that of the Marquesa Islands, an indication that the Polynesians who came to occupy the Hawaiian archipelago may well have migrated from that eastern Polynesian island cluster, some two thousand seven hundred miles to the south. Similarly, the thatching methods used by Hawaiians, although common in eastern Polynesia, are not found in central and western Polynesia. In addition to the forms employed, names for various structural members can be traced back to earlier Polynesian tongues. Like the peoples who came after them, the Polynesian immigrants brought their architectural traditions with them.

The Hawaiian people utilized ages-old technology to construct their structures without the aid of metals or the wheel. Stone adzes formed notches, tenons, and forked mortises, which were bound by sennit lashings made from olona. The superior strength of olona cordage is confirmed by its continued use by nineteenth-century Hawaiians long after the introduction of hemp rope by American and European sailors. The cord was usually made by women, who also gathered the thatching material and were responsible for the furnishing and interior adornment of their houses. Men gathered the necessary timbers and also undertook construction of the buildings.

The buildings usually stood aboveground on stone foundations, were framed with a variety of hardwoods, and were thatched with one of several available grasses, dried leaves, or banana trunk fiber. They featured steep gabled roofs whose rafters either extended to the ground or to walls which stood a mere three to four feet in height. Doors invariably were placed in the middle of a side wall, although mua (men's eating houses) had a second door at their gable end. Materials were all gathered locally, with most predating human occupation of the Islands, including the durable, fragrant pili grass with its long flat blades, which was the Hawaiians' favored thatching material.

The typical house form was succinctly described by American missionary Charles Samuel Stewart in 1823:

Their houses are generally not more than eight or ten feet long, six or eight broad, and from four to six high: having one small hole for a door, which cannot be entered but by creeping, and is the only opening for the admission of light and air. They make little use of these dwellings, except to protect their food and clothing, and to sleep in during wet and cool weather; and most generally eat, sleep, and live in the open air, under the shade of a kou, or breadfruit tree.2

As with peoples worldwide, Hawaiians understood that their buildings did more than provide shelter; they conferred status and articulated boundaries between the sacred and the profane, male and female, and aliʻi (member of the ruling class) and makaʻainana (commoner). A building's size and location were primary indicators of its occupant's social status. A common person's house had to be placed and built so that its ridge was below that of any nearby aliʻiʾshouse. The house of a konohiki, a caretaker and overseer of an aliʻiʾs lands, would be larger than that of the other workers and placed in a desirable location within his area of responsibility. In addition to the greater size of their houses, aliʻiresidential compounds were more complex than the housing areas of commoners and were demarcated by such symbols of royalty as a kahili (a feathered standard) and a puloʻuloʻu (a tapa-covered ball on a staff). The compounds of all classes contained multiple thatch structures, each serving a specific purpose. Among these buildings were a heiau (religious structure), mua (men's eating house), noa (sleeping house), hale ʻaina (women's eating house), kua (place for women's work), and peʻa (women's menstrual period house).

Heiau, for worship and religious ceremony, also demanded their own forms. The most elaborate were demarcated by walls of stone or wood palings and contained a lele (a tower for offerings), as well as other ceremonial structures. Only males of the ruling or priestly classes were allowed in this sacred domain where relationships between the gods and society were solidified or reconciled. But, many heiau were very simple, sometimes merely an upright stone.


Western contact greatly impacted the Hawaiian building tradition, and eventually obliterated it. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, hipped roofs, windows, taller doors, and porches, which the Hawaiians called lanai, appeared on thatched houses. The presence of foreigners, who were not subject to the kapu (taboo) system, also helped undermine the traditional religion and contributed to its abolishment by King Kamehameha II in 1819, just prior to the arrival of American Protestant missionaries. The discarding of religious practices had architectural reverberations, as men and women no longer needed to eat separately and heiau were abandoned or destroyed. The ensuing changes were sufficiently jarring that within forty-seven years Mark Twain would view the remnants of heiau as vestiges of some ancient time.3

In 1847 the Reverend Hiram Bingham, with a tone of superiority inherent to missionary endeavors, recalled the effect the Christian presence had upon the people and buildings of Molokai during the early 1830s:

Mr. Hitchcock took charge, Nov. 1832. He found it salubrious and agreeable as a field of missionary toil. His parish, to use a familiar term, embraced about 5000 souls, living sparsely around the shores of the whole island, most of them being poor, destitute, and ignorant. Many of their habitations were not more than two or three times as large as a common bedstead, being from seven to nine feet square on the ground, and no taller than to allow a man of ordinary stature to stand erect under the ridge-pole. . . .

Within a year many habitations, more comfortable, were built, having separate sleeping apartments, and other accommodations which gave them an air of neatness and comfort before unknown there. Then a spacious school-house was erected to ornament the village at the station, and soon, as in commencing other stations, a rude and roomy temple to Jehovah.4

While all the improvements referred to by Bingham were thatched structures, missionary influences eventually led to more thoroughly Westernized construction. Missionary wife Sarah Joiner Lyman observed the architectural fruits of her and her husband's labor, twenty-three years after the establishment of a mission outstation in Hilo:

There have been several new buildings erected in our village. Some of the natives are beginning to improve their houses considerably, by having substantial frames—windows—doors and boarding on the outside. . . . There are three houses in this vicinity nicely painted and papered inside—all owned by young men who were educated at our schools.5

An even greater impact of Western contact was the introduction of such diseases as cholera, smallpox, measles, and syphilis to the Hawaiian community, which through its isolation had little opportunity to develop immunities. Between 1778 and 1890, the native Hawaiian population declined by at least 90 percent.6 This dramatic drop in the number of people resulted in the loss of many of their traditions, architectural and otherwise. The thatched house is one instance. For example, in the construction of a thatched house, the weaving of the thatch along the ridgepole to assure a watertight seal was a specialized task. As these experts and their knowledge disappeared from their society, so too did the capability to erect thatched dwellings. The introduction of fleas, scorpions, and centipedes, which found Hawaiian matted stone floors to be splendid abodes, further led to the abandonment of the thatched house, and by the 1920s such structures had become quaint curiosities found only in the most rural districts.7


Foreigners who settled in Hawaii quickly realized their isolation. For much of the nineteenth century, occasional visits by sailing ships provided the only contact with the outside world, and no ships regularly serviced Hawaii until the 1870s. The treacherous Cape Horn, one of the most hazardous shipping routes in the world, separated the Islands from the population centers of Europe and the United States' East Coast. A writer sending a letter to New England easily waited from twelve to twenty-four months for a response. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 and the increased use of oceangoing steamships from the 1870s improved this situation only somewhat.

Such isolation not only affected the residents' relationship with the outside world and each other but also their architecture. Throughout the nineteenth century, Hawaii rarely kept pace with the latest architectural trends, and as with many frontier situations, skilled builders and craftsmen were not always readily available to translate high aspirations into built form. Acquiring building materials presented yet another difficulty. As the Reverend Charles Stewart noted in 1823,

We are at a loss to determine what the materials of our permanent dwelling shall be. If constructed of wood, every part must come from America, the islands affording no timber for house building, that is accessible, or to be obtained for a reasonable price. If of stone, the lime and lumber necessary to finish them must be procured in the same distant country; for the expense of burning lime here, would be greater than the cost of it in America, and its freight to the islands.8

At the time of Stewart's writing only a handful of non-thatch buildings stood in Honolulu. Spanish horticulturalist Don Francisco de Paula y Marin had constructed a stone storehouse for King Kamehameha in Waikiki during winter 1809–1810 and a year or so later, with the monarch's permission, a two-story stone residence for himself in downtown Honolulu. In addition, Kamehameha purchased a prefabricated frame house from the Russian ship Nevain 1809. Boston sandalwood merchant Captain Nathan Winship lived next door to Marin in a frame house which had been built around 1812, and the Boston merchant company Marshall and Wildes constructed a two-story wooden building nearby that functioned as a store on the first floor and a place of entertainment on the second. Built by carpenter Edward Jackson in 1819, the building introduced wallpaper to Hawaii. A coral-block fort, which was built in 1816 at the foot of today's Fort Street, dominated the harbor. None of these buildings survive.

The prefabricated frame house that had accompanied the Protestant missionaries around the Horn and their single-story stone printing house (OA61) were standing in 1823. A year later, two leading aliʻi, Kaahumanu, an early convert to Christianity who ruled the Islands as regent for seven-year-old King Kamehameha III, and her cousin Kalanimoku, another staunch adherent to Christianity who managed the affairs of the Hawaiian kingdom, each built Western-style houses; neither house survives. Reverend Stewart proudly noted:

It [Kalanimoku's residence] is of stone, plastered and whitened, two and a half stories high, sixty four feet in front, and forty in depth; and externally, except in the roof, is not unlike Mr. J. Fennimore Cooper's house, at Fennimore [New York]. The second story, the front doors and window of which open on a covered piazza or verandah, is that in which the regent will live. It consists of one very large apartment in front, upwards of fifty feet long, and proportionally wide, designed for a saloon, in which to entertain strangers—commanding, from its elevation, a fine view of the island and ocean—and a small neat room at one side for a cabinet, to be furnished with an escritoir, etc. The rest of the floor is divided into sleeping rooms, for himself, and one or two confidential attendants.

Kaahumanu has also had a new house built during the year; it is of wood, and was prepared in all its parts for erection, before it was brought from America. It is well papered and painted, and in its dimensions and general appearance, similar to some of our best wooden houses in Cooper's town. These two buildings, with the consulate [Marshall and Wildes' building], which is also a two-story frame house, a smaller one belonging to Kaahumanu [the 1809 Russian prefab], and the two Mission houses, give quite an European aspect to the town; and while they render it more picturesque, by the contrast with the native huts, afford evidence of the civilization to which the nation is approaching.9

Certainly, in the eyes of Kaahumanu and Kalanimoku, their grand Western-style buildings stood as symbols of their position and authority. However, the missionaries saw a larger vision, as the construction of each new Western building represented a step toward fulfilling their initial charge, “You are to aim at nothing short of covering these islands with fruitful fields, and pleasant dwellings and schools and churches, and of Christian civilization.”10

Over the next three decades, the impetus of foreigners to transplant their forefathers' built environments and perceived comforts to Hawaii was in large part impeded by Hawaii's geographic location and the modest resources available to construct such buildings. The limited amount of lumber that arrived in Hawaii came primarily from the East Coast of the United States, with eastern white pine being the most common. In addition, during the 1840s the Hudson's Bay Company shipped small quantities of lumber from North America's Pacific Northwest, almost all of which was Douglas fir. There were no wharves and the lumber had to be shuttled to shore. From here it was delivered in handcarts pushed by Hawaiians.

Stone, predominantly coral block but occasionally sandstone or lava rock, was sometimes used as a building material, despite the labor involved in both obtaining it and producing lime for mortar. The coral was cut from the reef, initially with axes but later with saws, with Sumner's Reef/Island in Honolulu being a favored location for this activity. On Maui, the dense coral found in the waters off Olowalu was favored for making lime.

Early buildings in Honolulu to utilize coral block included British consul Richard Charlton's store (1827; demolished) at what would later be Queen and Kaahumanu streets; the two-story missionary house occupied by Levi Chamberlain and his family (OA61.3); Honolulu Hale (1835; demolished), a two-story building on Merchant Street; and Oahu Charity School (1832; demolished). The last, with its prominent belfry, was built by a group of foreign residents to educate children with foreign fathers and Hawaiian mothers, as well as children of other foreigners. Supported by donations from home and abroad, pupils came from as far as Kamchitka, Alaska, and California. The bell for the school was donated by American consul John C. Jones, who with his part-Hawaiian wife, Hannah Holmes, lived in a two-story, stone residence built in 1832, “the most pretentious [house] in town, built of coral, with high basement and broad steps leading up to wide verandahs.”11 In the 1840s this impressive house was converted into the Globe Hotel; it has since been demolished.

Outside of Honolulu stone houses were constructed during the late 1820s and 1830s for missionaries residing in Waimea on Kauai, Kailua Kona on Hawaii, and Lahaina and Wailuku ( MA9) on Maui. In addition, a coral-block and rubble church, Wainee (1828–1832; demolished), was constructed in Lahaina, and John Adams Kuakini, the brother of Kaahumanu and governor of the island of Hawaii, provided funding for the construction of Mokuaikaua Church (1837; HA1) in Kailua Kona. He then built his own two-story house across the street (1838; HA2). Both of these buildings utilized lava rock. Other aliʻi, most notably Hoapili, as well as Kekauonohi; David Malo; and Abner Paki and his wife, Konia, had two-story coral-block residences (all demolished) in Lahaina, which then served as the capital of the nation.

The removal of missionary activities from thatched to wood or stone structures remained an important construction program for more than three decades. The Protestant missionaries, who held a nearly exclusive monopoly on the spiritual well-being of the Islands since their arrival in 1820, found themselves faced with competition after 1839 when King Kamehameha III, in response to demands and threats of war made by Captain Laplace, entered into a treaty with France allowing religious freedom throughout the kingdom. In 1831, the Protestant missionaries' staunch supporter Kaahumanu had harried Roman Catholic priests out of the land and six years later the Catholic religion had been outlawed. Now the holy fathers were back, and in August 1840 the cornerstone was laid for a coral-block cathedral, Our Lady of Peace (OA39).

The Protestant missionaries, under the direction of Hiram Bingham, had been busily at work on their own coral-block mother church, Kawaiahao (OA58). Begun in 1837 and completed in 1842, it stylistically recalls the Wren-Gibbs-inspired Congregational churches of the missionaries' New England homeland. Between 1842 and 1860 no less than thirty-eight stone churches supplanted thatched mission structures throughout the Islands. Most of these modest vernacular buildings echoed the Wren-Gibbs model in its most basic form: simple rectangular plans surmounted by gable roofs with a front, centered steeple. Viewed by today's standards these diminutive churches exude a quaint charm; however, in their day these structures literally lorded over the rural communities they served, being in many instances the sole building of substance for many miles. They stood as mighty achievements, which the Reverend Elias Bond, a missionary residing in North Kohala on the island of Hawaii, recorded in 1849:

It was soon evident that we had undertaken no child's play. . . . The stones were gathered from neighboring ravines and brought on men's shoulders to the site. The lime was provided as follows: men in canoes with ropes and sticks for loosening up the bunches of coral would go out in three, four or five fathoms of water, some diving with a stick to loosen the coral and attach the rope thereto, whilst those in the canoe would draw up the clumps into the canoe. After being piled on the shore, it was carried on the shoulders of the people to the church site. And then the wood for burning, it was brought in the same way from eight to 10 miles mauka. A fathom pile of coral required the same measure of wood for burning. Then came the sand, hundreds of barrels. It was brought by the women and children from along the coast, from Kawaihae around to Pololu, in bits of kapa, in small calabashes, in rags, if they had any, in small lauhala bags, pints, quarts, gallons, from any and all places where it could be scraped up, on the shore. . . . And so little by little materials were collected during several years. I would not agree to beginning to build till we had all the materials on hand.12

In addition to the unpretentious, gable-roofed stone structures, other church forms developed. In 1837 Kahikuonalani, an adobe mission church (demolished), was erected in Ewa on Oahu. The origins of this single-story building's design remain shrouded; however, it appears to have embodied both Hawaiian and Western elements, with a steep, thatched, double-pitched hipped roof and an encircling gallery. Kaumakapili church (demolished), intended to be a two-story structure, assumed a form similar to its mission Kahikuonalani when its adobe walls kept collapsing under the weight of the proposed second story. Located on Beretania Street in Honolulu, it was dedicated on August 29, 1839, serving the makaʻainana, while Kawaiahao catered to the aliʻi. Other churches with double-pitched hipped roofs included the stone church at Waialua on Oahu (1841; demolished) and the plastered, wood frame Waioli Mission Hall (KA46) on Kauai. In the 1920s, architect C. W. Dickey referenced the roofline of Waioli Mission in his development of a distinct regional architecture for Hawaii.

With lumber and stone difficult to obtain, adobe, most likely introduced in the late eighteenth century by Mexicans who came to Hawaii with Captain Beckley, became a popular building material. Cooler and more substantial than thatched houses, more readily obtainable than wood and much cheaper than stone, mud and straw adobe structures accounted for a majority of Honolulu's non-thatched buildings through 1850. In August 1844 Scotsman Robert Critchton Wylie counted 113 substantial buildings in Honolulu: 59 adobe, 38 stone, and 26 wood.13 Three years later, the Polynesian newspaper undertook a more comprehensive building census of houses (thatched, 875; adobe, 345; coral, 49; wood, 49; and mixtures of stone/adobe and wood, 29) and stores (stone, 15; adobe, 15; and wood, 10). The newspaper went on to note that few of the buildings had “any pretensions to taste or elegance.” The Sandwich Islands News, in response to the article, was less generous in its appraisal of the city's built environment, claiming Honolulu displayed “the world's worst taste, or lack of it.” With slight exaggeration it argued that most structures looked like barns with cattle sheds against their sides.14


The gold rush of 1849 in California greatly accelerated the Westernization of Hawaii's built environment. Entrepreneurs from around the globe, hoping to cash in on California's overnight wealth, shipped prefabricated buildings and building materials to that booming West Coast market. It quickly glutted and Honolulu became a beneficiary of the bargain-priced oversupply, with nearly four hundred wood frame houses built in the city between May 1850 and June 1851. In addition, the gold rush prompted the development of a Pacific Northwest timber industry, which would ultimately provide Hawaii with a steady supply of lumber at reasonable prices.

A smaller-scale result of the gold rush was the arrival of carpenter Samuel Johnson and his family to Honolulu in 1849. Coming from Liverpool, England, by way of Australia with a load of Australian blue gum, Johnson intended to sell the cargo in San Francisco and then set himself up in business. However, when the ship stopped in Honolulu he decided Hawaii offered a better opportunity for his family. Three years later he formed a partnership with recent Irish immigrant Christopher H. Lewers. Their lumber and contracting business eventually grew to become Lewers and Cooke, one of the major building supply companies in the Islands during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. When C. H. Lewers established a steam sawmill on King Street in 1859, which was the first complete planing mill in Hawaii, the city's access to finished lumber products vastly improved.

Augmenting the 49er-induced influx of wooden buildings was an increase in prosperity, a result of the Pacific whaling fleet's regular presence in the Islands between 1843 and 1867.

This led to more masonry buildings on the streets of Honolulu. The land division of 1848, known as the Great Mahele, and the land laws surrounding it, also contributed to a positive environment for private construction, as King Kamehameha III divested himself of sole proprietorship of all lands. Legislation in June 1847 permitted foreigners to acquire lands already in their possession and a law passed in July 1850 gave aliens the unrestricted right to purchase and dispose of real estate. The legislation of 1847 caused a small building boom. The Polynesian estimated that new construction during 1846–1847 totaled over $170,000, which included fourteen new stores or warehouses and seventeen new residences. The houses ranged in cost from $2,500 to $12,000.15

The law of 1850 only accelerated this boom. Two months after its passage, the Polynesian noted:

The number of buildings going up in Honolulu at the present time is quite unprecedented in the history of this city; and persons returning, after an absence of a few months, are hardly able to identify the place, so many changes have taken place.

Many of the buildings which are now occupying the places of thatched huts, are but little better, either in reality or appearance; but the majority which have been built during the past year are not only better, but some of them ornamental to the town, and indicate a greatly increased degree of prosperity in the business of the islands . . . now is the time for investment in real estate for lands will never be lower than at this moment.16

An atmosphere of rampant speculation accompanying the authorization to buy and sell land had come to Hawaii. As a result of the changing economic and social scene, between 1843 and 1860 more business buildings, residences, and government buildings were constructed of coral block and brick, many with slate roofs. However, these buildings remained the exception rather than the norm.

Having prisoners at its disposal to cut blocks from the reef and do the construction, the royal government undertook a number of coral-block buildings. Among them were a custom house (1842), government printing office (1848), market house (1850), courthouse (1852), a second custom house (1860), and government house (1863); none of these survive. Most of these buildings had little architectural pretension, a fact not overlooked by the editor of the Polynesian, who described their new government printing office as “a substantial building but whose style of architecture baffles description, though it will be none the less useful for its want of symmetry and elegance.”17 Of them all, the courthouse was the most imposing structure. It was designed by engineer William Brandon of Boston, who came to Honolulu to develop the town's water system. Utilizing the still popular Greek Revival, the two-story building lorded over Queen Street with its pedimented front gable, pilasters, and centered, single-story portico, which had a simple entablature carried by a set of coral-block Doric columns. When completed, it was one of the largest buildings in the city and the most costly at $34,229.50.

The architectural antecedents of the 40 × 90–foot coral-block market house with its pedimented gable end may also be traced back to New England. Built as a place where Hawaiians could gather to sell food and supplies to whalers, the two-story building's first-story, round-arched bays with offices and storage above recalls Peter Harrison's still standing, hipped roof, two-story brick market house (1762) at Newport, Rhode Island. Hawaii's climate allowed an open, rather than enclosed, first floor. Constructed and most likely designed by Charles W. Vincent, a prominent Honolulu builder of the period, the Polynesian looked forward to its replacing “the miserable, filthy, thatched apologies that have long annoyed all five senses.”18

Several merchants followed the government's lead, secure in the potential profits extended by the whalers' semi-annual return for supplies and repairs. The two-story coral-block building of B. F. Snow (1844) and J. H. Wood's two-story brick shoe store (1846), both demolished, anchored the corner of Fort and Merchant streets. The latter, described as “rather a novel edifice,”19 is the first known building in Honolulu to use brick; it was followed by the three-story, “fire-proof” McKee and Anthon Building (1854; demolished). The Friend, “with emotions of delight and gratification,” declared the latter to be, “the handsomest and most noble structure on the Hawaiian Islands,”20 and compared it to buildings in Boston and New York. Its use of granite in the facade was “something new in Honolulu,” as previously granite imported from China had only been used for fence posts and gateposts.21

In addition to the houses of commerce and government, a number of more substantial residences appeared in Honolulu. One of the first was a one-and-a-half-story coral-block house (1844; demolished) built by the governor of Oahu, Kekuanaoa, for his daughter, Victoria Kamamalu; this was immediately usurped by King Kamehameha III for use as his palace. A verandah with coral columns supporting the roof surrounded the house and its windows extended to the floor so that when open they served as portals to the lanai. James Jackson Jarves, editor of the Polynesian, described the house as built:

In a fashion we have never seen elsewhere. It reminds one of the style of building among the aborigines of Yucatan, as figured in the plates given by Stephens in his last work. Without it and the Lutheran windows the edifice would be more in accordance with the rules of architecture, but as it is, the effect of the whole is not bad, and it is by far the most costly and imposing dwelling which has been erected here.22

The palace's prominence was soon superseded by the splendor of American merchant Theodore Shillaber's single-story, twenty-foot-high, coral-block “bungalow” (1847; demolished). Built “in the East Indian style of architecture,” the mansion featured fluted Corinthian columns and a pedimented facade of a sort not previously seen in Hawaii.23 Presenting Honolulu with a new sense of architectural grandeur, the building's cost alone most likely prohibited its emulation. However, a number of other substantial houses joined Shillaber's mansion as part of the building boom begun in 1847, including Captain John Dominis' Greek Revival residence (OA45), as well as the now demolished coral block houses built for Abner Paki and Konia (1847) and Dr. Robert Wood (1848). These were all of two stories with verandahs inset under hipped roofs encircling both floors. Reflecting a popular design of the period, they were similar in form to houses found in other warm climates, including the Caribbean and the French Mississippi River valley, and the tradition most likely migrated to Hawaii via ships traveling around the Horn to the Islands. In the ensuing years, other like-minded houses (now demolished) were built for E. O. Hall (1852) and Governor Kekuanaoa (c. 1850), among others. The form disappeared with the decline of whaling, however.

By 1870, the initial transformation of Honolulu from a Hawaiian settlement dominated by thatched buildings into a city of almost 15,000 people characterized by Western building forms was complete. “More useful than elegant,” most of these early structures would vanish during the ensuing thirty to forty years, as Honolulu underwent its second and third rebuildings.24


During the last three decades of the nineteenth century, Hawaii was influenced by a more diverse and regular interaction with the rest of the world. A growing comprehension of foreign powers, as well as an increasing and assertive American presence in the Islands, figured prominently in the thinking and behavior of Hawaiian leaders. The implications these forces held for the destiny of the Hawaiian people became more apparent. An architecture more cognizant to the ways of the outside world emerged that manifested a deeper appreciation of architectural styles and their nuances. The peoples of Hawaii began to perceive visual forms in terms of intellectual images and to use architectural styles as a symbolic language.

Developments transpiring elsewhere, especially on the West Coast of the United States, materially affected the course of Hawaii's architecture. Ocean-going steamships linked Hawaii to San Francisco, which in turn opened the Islands to the entire American continent thanks to the transcontinental railway. San Francisco offered a wide array of products, including building materials, which could be shipped to Honolulu in a matter of weeks. In addition, the amount of lumber from the Pacific Northwest expanded enormously as the introduction of the circular saw, among other innovations, helped production increase from 160,000 to over one billion board feet between 1879 and 1890. To access this ever-growing supply, Lewers and Cooke maintained its own fleet of trans-Pacific lumber carriers from the 1880s through 1935, and the other major building supply company, Allen and Robinson, likewise maintained its own fleet of ships.

Although Honolulu's architectural needs were too small to support a full-time, permanent professional architect until the 1890s, skilled designers and builders were increasingly attracted to the Islands and infused the city with the necessary talent to produce buildings of higher architectural merit. Also, the architectural expertise of architects from Sydney, San Francisco, and even London were called upon, resulting in designs that were ever more in keeping with international trends.

The expansion of Hawaii's sugar industry filled the economic void resulting from the demise of the whaling trade. After the Reciprocity Treaty of 1876 gave Hawaiian sugar duty-free access to the United States, plantations greatly expanded both in terms of the number of workers and their physical plants. This growth provided the critical mass necessary for economies of scale when importing building materials.

The prudent fiscal management of the kingdom's revenues by King Kamehameha V (1863–1872) allowed the government to usher in the new period with several impressive buildings in Honolulu. The Kamehameha V Post Office (OA23), the Hawaiian Hotel (1872; demolished), and Aliiolani Hale (OA54) not only introduced concrete block as a building material, they also brought a new architectural elegance to the kingdom. With these buildings, a loosely interpreted Renaissance Revival style debuted in Honolulu. The king already would have been somewhat familiar with the style, having surely encountered it in 1850 at the age of twenty when he and his brother, Prince Alexander Liholiho, had traveled to London.

The use of reinforced concrete was still in its infancy when these buildings were erected. The designer and builder of the Kamehameha V Post Office, J. G. Osborne, was a native of Yorkshire, England, who arrived in Honolulu in 1866. Advertising himself as a “Mason Builder and Contractor,” he experimented with making local bricks before moving on to reinforced-concrete blocks. Following the post office commission, he designed the reinforced-concrete Hawaiian Hotel (1872; demolished), which was built by Christopher Lewers. Osborne also produced reinforced-concrete commercial buildings for C. E. Williams (1871) and Dillingham and Company (1872), both demolished. Compared to the government buildings, the commercial buildings were straightforward, functional structures devoid of architectural pretensions.

Aliiolani Hale was the largest and grandest building in the kingdom. Conceived as a royal palace and built to house the government, King Kamehameha V intended it to make an architectural statement about Hawaii and its monarchy. Australian architect Thomas Rowe prepared the plans, as no one in the Islands was considered capable of such a project, and Australian Robert Lishman was given the contract to build it. The government justified turning to Australia, rather than the United States, on the grounds that Australia's climate in summer was more like that of Hawaii, which would lead to a more suitable design. The British backgrounds of Minister of the Interior Dr. F. W. Hutchinson and Superintendent of Public Works Robert Stirling may have tilted the decision in the direction of Australia. More to the point, though, it may have been the caution exercised by King Kamehameha V and his brother King Kamehameha IV to try to balance the American influence in the Islands. They did not forget how members of Hawaii's American community, motivated by a desire to export sugar and other agricultural products duty-free to Oregon and California, had aggressively pursued annexation of the Islands by the United States near the end of Kamehameha III's reign in 1853–1854. This annexationist undercurrent still seethed beneath the surface of Hawaii's economic and political life, posing a grave threat to the autonomy of the Hawaiian people.

In another move to strengthen Hawaii's bonds with England, King Kamehameha IV and his wife, Queen Emma, had earlier forsaken the missionaries' Congregational faith and had invited the Anglican Church to come to Hawaii in 1859. Following her husband's untimely death in 1863, Queen Emma traveled to England two years later to raise money to build an Anglican cathedral in Honolulu. She returned with plans for St. Andrew's Cathedral (OA44) and sandstone quarried in England with which to build the Gothic Revival church.

With the death of King Kamehameha V in 1872, followed in 1874 by his successor King Lunalilo's demise, any hope of keeping American interests in Hawaii in balance disappeared as the legislature elected Kalakaua, rather than the popular Queen Emma, to the Hawaiian throne. Annexation or a reciprocity treaty was again proposed, and in November 1874, nine months after his inauguration, Kalakaua became the first monarch in the world to visit the United States. In September 1876, the provisions of a reciprocity treaty allowing duty-free importation of Hawaiian sugar into the United States went into effect. An era of unprecedented prosperity ensued. Eleven years later, Kalakaua approved an amendment to the treaty granting the United States exclusive use of Pearl Harbor.


With the decline of whaling, sugar was viewed as a possible new source of revenue for Hawaii.25 The American Civil War assisted the industry's growth, as the Union was momentarily cut off from the sugar of the Southern states. With the conclusion of the war, Hawaii's sugar industry struggled to survive. In 1872 there were thirty-two plantations in existence, but four years later there were only twenty-six, and several of these were faltering. The signing of the Reciprocity Treaty in 1876 greatly increased the profitability of Hawaii's sugar, and by 1884, the number of plantations reached an all-time high of eighty. Sugar production expanded tremendously in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In 1875 Hawaii produced 11,154 tons of cane sugar, less than 1 percent of the world's output. By 1898, this tonnage had risen to 200,667, more than 7 percent of the global supply.

This agricultural expansion increased the kingdom's wealth and its population. Between 1876 and 1900, Hawaii's population jumped from slightly under 54,000 to more than 154,000, as workers were imported from China, Portugal, Russia, Norway, and Japan to work in the cane fields. After the turn of the twentieth century, Puerto Ricans, Koreans, and Filipinos further diversified the Islands' workforce.26

With increased population and prosperity came dramatic shifts in Hawaii's physical appearance, especially in rural areas. Contrary to the history of much of the United States, few towns were built in Hawaii during the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century. Rather, villages were being abandoned as Hawaiians died or relocated to the more lucrative opportunities offered in Honolulu and other centers of Western economic activity. Thanks to the rise of sugar plantations, irrigation ditches, flumes, and railways became familiar elements within the rural landscape by the turn of the twentieth century, and sugar mills as well as plantation-based towns and worker housing appeared on the coastal plains.

To house the workers, camps were developed, and filled along ethnic lines. As most of the workers were single men, barracks were the favored housing form, along with some duplexes, and a few single-family units. Kitchens and outhouses were separate buildings, usually serving the camp as a whole. The camps' single-wall housing was primarily board and batten in construction. By 1898, more than 125,000 acres were planted in cane. And by 1909 the land in Hawaii devoted to sugar cane cultivation exceeded 200,000 acres, reaching a high in 1933 of 254,563 acres.27

The boom in sugar also affected the look of Honolulu. In the dozen years following the Recipocity Treaty, Honolulu was transformed into a city of picturesque High Victorian forms, with northern Italian Renaissance Revival and Italianate—well out-of-date on the East Coast, and losing favor in California—the styles of choice for commercial buildings. One of the earliest indications of “the influence of better times and still better prospects,” sugar factor C. Brewer contracted Thomas J. Baker to design and build their new headquarters and store (1877; demolished) at Fort and Hotel streets. The Pacific Commercial Advertiserproclaimed the new building to be “the finest looking and perhaps most substantially built structure in Honolulu (aside from the Government Building [Aliiolani Hale]).”28

Reflecting the dynamic enthusiasm surrounding Hawaii's surging economy, another Baker-designed building, Bishop Bank (OA25), introduced northern Italian Renaissance Revival. The now demolished Campbell Building (1883) at Fort and Merchant streets and Hobron Drug (late nineteenth century), with its turreted corner dominating the intersection of Fort and King streets, followed in a similar style. In 1884 the newspapers announced that retailer Michael McInerny planned to construct a two-story building similar to the Campbell building.29 But contractor E. B. Thomas did not commence work until Merchant and Fort streets were widened, and McInerny's store finally opened on March 10, 1888. Designed by H. W. McIntosh, the High Victorian Italianate building complemented the rhythm of its neighbors, the Cummins (1878; demolished) and Campbell buildings. With their windows and cast-iron pilasters rhythmically marching along Fort Street, the city's premier mercantile avenue, the buildings left no doubt that Honolulu, although situated at the periphery of Western civilization, was a stylish and contemporary society.

Thomas J. Baker, the architect for the C. Brewer and Bishop Bank buildings, came to Honolulu from San Francisco in June 1876. Advertising himself initially as a brick worker, and then as an architect and builder, he designed and built several commercial buildings, including a single-story brick building for grocers H. E. McIntyre and Bro. (1877; demolished) at Fort and King streets. Baker is best known as the designer and initial architect of Iolani Palace (OA51). Like Baker's other buildings, the palace was constructed of brick, but it had a much larger budget and even greater owner aspirations. The rather eclectic building typified its times and equaled the grandiose architecture of the day in California, including the exuberant ostentation of a number of San Francisco mansions. Furthermore, like its palatial counterpart of 1884 in Bangkok, Thailand, it used Western architectural idioms as a visual metaphor to proclaim the legitimacy and progressivism of the Hawaiian monarchy and the independent status of the island kingdom.

Baker's successor on the palace was Irish-born Charles J. Wall, whose best work came after Wall was relieved of his duties as palace architect in late 1880. Across the street from the palace he designed a two-story brick Music Hall (1881), a sedate Italianate bauble with its entablature-encrusted windows, balustraded parapet, brick pilasters, and cupola. The music hall was demolished, as were his Lunalilo Home (1882) and Kaumakapili Church (1882), both of which utilized restrained Gothic Revival forms.

In response to Iolani Palace, Princess Ruth Keelikolani, the half-sister of kings Kamehameha IV and V, built an even more elaborate residence on Queen Emma Street in 1881. Designed by Chicago-born Charles J. Hardy, the house (now demolished) surpassed the palace in applied ornament and height, as its two stories sat on a raised foundation, and a mansard roof was capped by an elongated cupola. A newspaper photograph of a San Francisco mansion supposedly served as its inspiration. Almost equally impressive was the three-story mansion (1881; demolished) at Punahou and Beretania streets, built for sugar baron Claus Spreckels, the “ex-officio Emperor of the Hawaiian Islands.”30 The Pacific Commercial Advertiser found in 1881 that “Many new residences have been erected during the past twelve months in Honolulu for our prominent citizens, but they are all thrown into the shade by that which has been built for Claus Spreckels on Punahou Street. This handsome structure with its lofty tower presents an imposing appearance and is the most conspicuous object in the south-eastern part of the town.”31 Spreckels, the dominant figure in the political and economic life of the Islands, thus tangibly lorded his position over his contemporaries through his residence, while remaining a respectful step below the majesty of King Kalakaua and Princess Ruth. James M. Kelly of San Francisco was sent to Honolulu to superintend the construction of this lavish, High Victorian Italianate pile, whose ornamentation included a stained glass skylight and a stained glass window at the stair landing.

Many other residences, although not so grand or elaborate, appeared on “the Plains” of Makiki as Honolulu expanded to the east during the 1880s. These houses, with their Italianate and picturesque Queen Anne forms, reflected the tastes of San Francisco, the extravagant joy of a new and rapidly acquired wealth, and the period's exuberant individualism. Expressing varying degrees of decorative restraint, most of these dwellings took into account the climate, the need for cross ventilation, and the local preference for outdoor living. It is during this period that lanai living came into vogue.


The tranquility of the Islands was shattered on January 17, 1893, by a small segment of the American community, some of whom had ties to missionary families. Characterizing themselves as “the intelligent part of the community” and propelled by an apparition of a monarchy beyond their control and a desire to eliminate the duty on sugar imposed by President William McKinley's tariff in 1890, they usurped the reins of government and established a provisional government.32 Their dreams of annexation by the United States became a specter that loomed over Hawaii during the waning years of the nineteenth century.

For those dwelling under a provisional government (1893–1894) and then a republic (1894–1900) marked by martial law and a disenfranchised Hawaiian and Asian population, the Richardsonian Romanesque architecture of those years seemed to shore up the instability of the times. The solidity of its forms, promising to stand for the ages, briefly dominated Honolulu's architectural scene between 1895 and 1898. Almost a dozen buildings were constructed in this style, using a dense local lava rock, called bluestone.

Richardsonian Romanesque was introduced to the Islands prior to the overthrow of the monarchy by banker, businessman, and in-law of the Kamehamehas, Charles Reed Bishop. He commissioned San Francisco architect William F. Smith, of the firm Smith and Freeman, to design a pair of buildings. The first was a museum (OA3) built in memory of Bishop's wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, whose death in 1884 marked the end of the Kamehameha line. The second was built on a lot adjoining the museum, a two-story, bluestone administration and classroom building (OA3.2) for the newly formed Kamehameha School, the primary recipient of Princess Bernice Pauahi's estate. Charles Bishop also was instrumental in the selection of Oakland architect George A. Bordwell to design a Romanesque Revival sanctuary for Central Union Church (1889; demolished), the church of the American Congregational community. The fraternal order of Freemasons followed suit and hired the Honolulu firm of Ripley and Reynolds, whose senior partner was a member of the society, to design a two-story, Romanesque Revival lodge hall (1892; demolished) with a corner tower and piquant turret.

The Masonic hall's architect, Clinton Briggs Ripley, arrived in Hawaii in December 1890, bringing with him over twenty years of California building experience. Initially employed by the Enterprise Planing Mill to prepare house plans for their customers, by the fall of 1891 he had entered into a partnership with Arthur Reynolds. This partnership and its successor, Ripley and Dickey, which Ripley formed in 1895 with the Maui-raised, MIT-trained Charles W. Dickey, dominated Honolulu's architectural scene throughout the 1890s, garnering the choicest commissions in this period of uncertainty.

Following the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani in 1893 and the return of relative calm, a number of bluestone buildings, most of a Romanesque derivation, appeared in Honolulu. Ripley and Reynolds designed the rather straightforward Von Holt Block (1894; demolished) with stepped gables and Pauahi Hall at Oahu College (now Punahou School; OA116.2), donated by Charles Reed Bishop as another stone memorial to his departed wife. Other stone buildings of this era included the Ripley and Dickey–designed Irwin Block (OA17), Bishop Estate Building (OA26), and three now demolished buildings, Love Building (1896), Waverly Block (1896), and Central Fire Station (1897). The last was one of the few capital improvement projects undertaken by the republic as part of an effort by the new government to bolster its still tenuous position. The fire station symbolized this government's authority, as prior to the overthrow of the monarchy, Honolulu possessed an extensive volunteer fire department. Upon assuming power, one of the first acts of the provisional government was to disband these potentially dangerous cadres of organized men, and in their stead institute a professional fire brigade under government control.

After Hawaii's annexation by the United States in 1898, Romanesque Revival lost currency. The bluestone Model-Progress blocks (1898; Fort and Beretania streets) designed by Ripley and Dickey were bereft of the style's signifiers, as was Dickey and Newcomb's bluestone Wailuku Public School (MA15) on Maui. The style briefly reappeared in a sewer pumping station (1900; OA87) and was last seen in an entrance archway in the otherwise Beaux-Arts-inspired, bluestone McCandless Building (OA24) designed by H. L. Kerr.

Richardsonian Romanesque marked a conclusion to an era in which Honolulu rebuilt itself to reflect the first flush of sugar's sweet prosperity. Heavily influenced by the architecture of California, the period's buildings transformed the look of the city from a rough and tumble frontier town dotted with thatched buildings to a civic center with both commercial and residential streetscapes reminiscent of those found in the United States. Similarly, many rural areas throughout the Islands were also being transformed by an ever-expanding sugar industry. Thatched buildings became scarcer and in the next two decades would disappear from the landscape.


On July 7, 1898, President William McKinley signed the Newlands Resolution annexing Hawaii to the United States, which led to the establishment of the Territory of Hawaii on June 14, 1900. This shift in political authority elicited a celebratory outpouring of construction which remade Honolulu along the lines of the buildings that reflected the American City Beautiful movement. The media was exultant as the city witnessed unprecedented construction activity. Between 1899 and 1901, at least twenty-nine new business buildings appeared in Honolulu, and brought with them a new sense of style and scale. Reinforced concrete, whose use had waned with the departure of J. G. Osborne, returned to the Islands, and steel-frame construction was introduced to Hawaii. First four-story and then six-story buildings appeared, altering the appearance of the city not only in terms of height but also design. Beaux-Arts forms, especially those following the Renaissance Revival style, transformed the architectural image of the city almost overnight, from one of “commonplaceness in design, to style and dignity.”33

The person most responsible for Honolulu's new look was Oliver G. Traphagan, the city's preeminent architect during the immediate post-annexation period. Born in 1854 in Tarrytown, New York, he established himself in Duluth, Minnesota, in the early 1880s, where he advanced from a carpenter and builder to an architect. In 1897, he left a highly successful career in Duluth, having been elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, to come to Hawaii for his daughter's health. Traphagan arrived in October and within three months secured the commission for the Renaissance Revival Judd Block (OA27). Boasting an iron and steel frame and a passenger elevator, it was the first four-story office building in the city. Other commissions followed and when Traphagan departed Hawaii in 1906, he left a legacy of over a dozen major buildings in downtown Honolulu. While several survive, others have been demolished, including the Elite Building (1899), Boston Building (1900), Collins Building (1901), Hackfeld Building (1902), Waity Building (1902), Lewers and Cooke Building (1903), and Odd Fellows Lodge Hall (1904); they all followed Renaissance Revival or Classical Revival forms. Of these, the Renaissance Revival three-story, bluestone Hackfeld Building, encompassing an entire city block, was the most impressive with its rounded corner entrance capped by a dome. Traphagan further held the distinction of designing buildings on all four corners of King and Fort streets, the city's main intersection; these also conformed to Beaux-Arts lines. Other demolished works by Traphagan were the wood frame Immigration Station (1905) and a hotel in Haleiwa (1899).

However, the boldest and grandest statement on annexation was the Alexander Young Hotel (1903; demolished) designed by San Francisco architect George Percy, with Traphagan supervising construction. The hotel was the culmination of Percy's long career, as he died while it was under construction. The Honolulu press claimed the majestic, three-hundred room, six-story hotel to be the largest and most magnificent hostelry west of Chicago, other than San Francisco's Palace Hotel.34 Extending a full city block, it was the largest and most costly building in Hawaii. With its Colusa sandstone walls, Renaissance Revival facade, towering four-story-high Corinthian columns dominating the six-story end bays, and granite entrance columns imported from the owner's homeland of Scotland, visitors rightly mistook the building for a palace. The hotel's two parlors further exemplified the prevailing enthusiasm over annexation, being modeled after those in the White House. In addition, the building sported a roof garden, most likely by Traphagan, who had previously used this feature at the Moana Hotel (OA143) and at the Odd Fellows' lodge hall (1904; demolished). The Alexander Young Hotel represented an act of unrestrained zeal, considering Honolulu's population of approximately 40,000 and a visitor count of less than 4,000; it did not show a profit until the 1920s.

Ripley and Dickey could not compete with Traphagan's experience and ability, and after his arrival they appear to have concentrated on garnering a number of large-scale residential commissions, several of which were rendered in Colonial Revival. In 1899 alone they designed fourteen of the thirty-six residences illustrated by the Pacific Commercial Advertiser's end-of-year coverage of the post-annexation building boom.35 They also prepared the plans for the Stangenwald Building (OA28), Honolulu's first six-story structure. Commissioned by the Pacific Building Company, which included staunch annexationists Lorrin Thurston and Alfred W. Carter as officers, the steel-framed brick building added a highly ornate Beaux-Arts form to the city. The Honolulu Malting and Brewing Company's four-story brick brewery (OA57) by Herman Steinmann employed similar forms.

At the same time that Traphagan arrived, so too did Harry Livingston Kerr, with fifteen years of architectural experience in New York and on the West Coast. Not as strong a designer as Traphagan, he obtained a number of commissions for smaller, brick commercial buildings in Honolulu such as the Hustace Block (1901; S. Beretania Street), Hawaiian Electric Building (1901; 223 S. King Street), and Anin Building (1901; demolished). The three-story Sachs Building (1902; demolished) at the intersection of Fort and Beretania streets was his most important early building, combining retail, office, and residential space.

Another new face in Honolulu's small circle of architects was William Matlock Campbell, who designed and built more than eighty middle-class residences during 1900–1901. A native of Oregon, he worked for a number of years in the San Francisco and Palo Alto areas, and initially came to Hawaii at the invitation of sugar planter R. R. Hind, who was familiar with his California work. Campbell erected several buildings on the island of Hawaii for Hind in 1899, and then moved to Honolulu, where he opened an architectural office and contracting business. On speculation, Campbell built houses in east Honolulu; in McCully, Pawaa, and the Baseball Tract; as well as Makiki, Waikiki, Manoa, and Pacific Heights. He operated a mill, producing all his sash, doors, moldings, and turned pieces. Campbell remained in Hawaii until 1906, when he returned to the mainland. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser proclaimed him “a true friend for families of small means,” as he made it possible for a worker on a modest salary to become a homeowner.36

The fading glow of annexation, accompanied by a downturn in Hawaii's sugar-based economy, resulted in a major slump in Hawaii's construction industry. Clinton Briggs Ripley, who had ended his partnership with C. W. Dickey in 1900, was one of the first to see this coming and in January 1902 he sailed for the Philippines and new opportunities in the United States' recently acquired colony. Dickey and Traphagan held on a little longer, leaving for the greener fields of California in 1905 and 1906, respectively. The departure of these major figures left Hawaii's modest building industry primarily in the hands of H. L. Kerr. During the next dozen years he rendered buildings in a wide variety of styles, including the Beaux-Arts Yokohama Specie Bank (OA20) and the Georgian Revival Mission Memorial building ( OA63). Kerr's Spanish Mission Revival Methodist church (1910; demolished) at Beretania and Victoria streets represented one of the earliest appearances of this style in Hawaii. A more regionally attuned Craftsman design appeared in the two-story Alexander Young Memorial Building (1916; demolished) at Leahi Hospital, with its use of lava rock and open-air wings for the tuberculosis patients. Kerr also operated his own brickyard and was one of the first in Hawaii to manufacture concrete blocks in imitation of rusticated stone, which he used in both the original McKinley High (now Linekona) School (OA92) and the Maui County Courthouse (MA11).

Between 1900 and 1910, Honolulu's population rose from 39,306 to 52,183 and by 1920, it had climbed to 81,820. Such growth was sufficient not only to keep Kerr busy but to attract other architects to the city. In 1910 a reunited Ripley and Reynolds returned to the Islands to prepare plans for the Spanish Colonial Revival Central YMCA (1912; demolished) at Hotel and Alakea streets. However, before its completion, Reynolds opened his own office in 1911 and Ripley entered into partnership with Louis E. Davis, who recently had arrived from San Francisco. In addition, Walter Emory and Marshall Webb started their partnership in 1909. They were responsible for designing the Honpa Hongwanji Temple (OA80), perhaps the most noteworthy building of the period, with its Mughal-inspired form. Aiming to supplant the earlier Japanese style of Buddhist temples, the patron, Bishop Yemyo Imamura, desired to evoke a sense of Buddhism as born in India, rather than the Japanese ethnicity of its congregation.


Bishop Yemyo Imamura's move to minimize stereotypical ethnic distinctions in the Honpa Hongwanji was but one of a number of manifestations of the emerging Pan-Pacific movement. Viewing Hawaii's cosmopolitan population in a positive light, the movement's leaders proclaimed the Islands to be the “Crossroads of the Pacific,” where East met West in harmony; they promoted multicultural accord in Hawaii and international understanding throughout the Pacific. Such ideas were publicized and actively catalyzed by Alexander Hume Ford through his monthly Mid-Pacific Magazine (1911–1936) and the Hands Around the Pacific Club (organized in 1911). A spin-off of the latter was the 12-12-12 Club, which periodically invited a dozen representatives from several of the Islands' different ethnic groups to meet over dinner to discuss racial misunderstandings and issues relating to Hawaii in an effort to exchange and expand perspectives.

The architectural embodiment of this broad-minded thinking was manifested early in the Honpa Hongwanji Temple (OA80) and also at St. Peter's Episcopal Church (OA43), where the Chinese congregation subtly modified a Gothic Revival church to conform with feng shui precepts. Discrete Chinese elements also adorned the interior. The Japanese-styled residence built for Mrs. Charles Adams (1913; demolished) further evidenced the emerging social philosophy, as did Liliuokalani Park and Gardens in Hilo (1919; HA25); however, it would not be until the 1920s and 1930s that a Pan-Pacific architecture would fully blossom in Honolulu.

The years between the two world wars were the highpoint in the Pan-Pacific movement's activities. During this period, Asian-influenced architectural forms appeared in increasing numbers throughout Honolulu. Hart Wood designed a Chinese-styled residence in 1924 for Mrs. C. M. Cooke to house her Asian art collection, and by the end of the decade, he had melded Asian and Western architectural elements in such buildings as the First Chinese Church of Christ (OA95), S. and G. Gump Building (1929; 2200 Kalakaua Avenue), Alexander and Baldwin Building (with C. W. Dickey; OA34), and Henry Inn Apartments (1931; demolished). Following the lead of the First Chinese Church of Christ, a number of other Christian churches were constructed to reflect the ethnicities of their congregations in Hawaii, and Chinese American commercial buildings began to appear in the Chinatown district (OA16) of Honolulu. Asian rooflines, moon gates, and other Asian elements appeared in various residential districts throughout Honolulu. In addition, Theodore Richards in 1927 platted the Kokokahi Tract in Kaneohe on Oahu as a multiethnic community designed to include families representing all the prominent ethnic groups in the Islands. Prospective buyers were selected according to their ethnicities, with each group represented in proportion to its percentage of the territory's population. As the name “Kokokahi,” or “one blood,” indicates, the subdivision demonstrated the biblical proclamation that all men are of one blood. Claude Stiehl and Mark Potter were commissioned in 1935 to design buildings for the Kokokahi YWCA and cabins and an amphitheater for Camp Kokokahi.

These buildings, while enduring embodiments of the Pan-Pacific movement, were but one manifestation of Hawaii's new spirit of multiculturalism. The period also saw the emergence of Hawaiian and Asian architects practicing within the territory. Hego Fuchino, a first-generation immigrant from Japan, and Yuk Tong Char, who was born in Waipahu, were the best known. Fuchino's Makiki Christian Church (OA99) is a Honolulu landmark, while Char designed a number of Asian American buildings, including Honolulu's Wo Fat Restaurant (OA16.1). In addition, John Waiamao and Tai Hing Leong worked for the Kauai County Public Works Department, while Afong Heen and later Frank Arakawa were the County of Hawaii's public works architects. Toe Y. Awana, a surveyor employed by the Territorial government, entered into a private partnership with his boss, Louis Cain, head of the Territorial Department of Public Works, to form a surveying and engineering firm. Cain and Awana designed a number of commercial buildings and theaters during the 1930s. Also in that decade Fred Fujioka opened an architectural office; his contributions to Hawaii's architecture are, as yet, little known.

The Pan-Pacific movement was only one aspect of broader efforts to improve conditions in the Islands during the opening decades of the twentieth century. In the years immediately following annexation, five major Hawaii companies—Alexander and Baldwin, Castle and Cooke, Theo Davies, C. Brewer, and Hackfeld (later reorganized as American Factors), all agents for Hawaii's sugar industry—almost overnight became multimillion-dollar corporations. Referred to as the “Big Five,” these companies came to dominate the economic, political, social, and cultural life of Hawaii during the first half of the twentieth century. Between 1898 and 1933, the number of acres planted in cane doubled, as did the labor force, and sugar production quadrupled from one-quarter of a million to over one million tons per year. Equally significant, during the first three decades of the twentieth century the Big Five expanded their hold over Hawaii's sugar industry. In 1910 they controlled 75 percent of the sugar crop in Hawaii; by 1933 this figure had increased to 96 percent. During this period, virtually all businesses in Hawaii associated with sugar—irrigation companies, banks, utilities, wholesale and retail merchandising, marine and ground transportation, as well as California's major sugar refinery, California and Hawaiian Sugar Company—fell under the Big Five's influence. Rather than compete, the five companies cooperated with one another, with members sitting on one another's boards. As a result, the 1920s marked a period of unprecedented prosperity for Hawaii, during which construction boomed. In 1921, the Islands experienced their greatest year of construction activity thus far, and throughout the decade this record would be repeatedly broken.

Money was made, not on the scale of a John D. Rockefeller or an Andrew Carnegie, but sufficient to allow a certain pride of accomplishment, as well as a social conscience, to emerge. The latter, well grounded in the missionary past, was further prodded by labor unrest and a realization that the children of the immigrant workforce would soon not only constitute a plurality of the Islands' population but would also be voting citizens of the United States. Thus, a spirit of social progressivism pervaded the 1920s and 1930s, one concerned with education, social justice, and humane institutions, as well as social stability and order.

Accepting their social responsibilities, Hawaii's leaders sought to provide a sense of direction, guiding Hawaii to a beneficent future while supporting their existing power structure and economy. The built environment benefited. Nationally known planners such as Charles Mulford Robinson and Lewis Mumford were invited to provide input on the future development of Honolulu. The Outdoor Circle, an organization formed by socially prominent women in 1912 to preserve, protect, and enhance Hawaii's scenic environment, successfully campaigned to ban billboards in the territory. The development of parks and playgrounds expanded considerably during the 1920s and 1930s, and tenement housing reform was strongly advocated, with the construction of the Kalakaua and Kamehameha Public Housing projects (1939–1940; demolished), funded by the federal Housing Act of 1937, being but one result. Public secondary education dramatically increased and privately supported organizations with altruistic goals, such as the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Hawaii Humane Society, and Palama Settlement were founded.

Reform also occurred on the plantations. The Big Five undertook sweeping worker housing reform between 1912 and 1940. Plantation executives started thinking of housing improvements as a result of the efforts of the Territorial Board of Health and the Palama Settlement. Concerned with the spread of tuberculosis and other diseases, these entities advocated for improved sanitary conditions in plantation camps. The Board of Health offered architectural plans for single-family and duplex housing to the plantations in 1911, and a year later Palama Settlement built a demonstration model house. The sugar industry responded in a positive manner, especially after 1920, allowing the Hawaii Sugar Planters' Association to prepare standard plans for plantation owners' use and eventually to hire Ted Vierra as an in-house architect. Emphasizing a more stable, family-oriented workforce, plantation housing shifted from crowded barracks and duplexes to single-family housing. The new accommodations were more commodious, with larger windows to improve ventilation and extended eave lines to allow windows to remain open in inclement weather. Houses sat on individual yards, kitchens and washrooms had cement floors as well as hot and cold running water, and concrete-lined drainage systems replaced the camps' earlier dirt ditches. Almost all the plantation housing still dotting Hawaii's landscape, with its distinctive tongue-and-groove single walls, dates from this period of reform. Gyms and social halls were built for the workers and their families, and plantation owners assisted in the construction of schools, temples, and churches, by providing land and often materials and labor as well.37 Many of the Buddhist temples recalled Japanese forms but were adapted to utilize available building methods and materials. Thus, like the nineteenth-century missionary churches, the temples harked back to the devotees' homeland, while addressing the exigencies of this foreign land.


The prosperity and social progressivism of the times catalyzed new ideas about architectural form. The Outdoor Circle in 1916 began to discuss the need for an architecture which reflected the beauty of Hawaii and its subtropical conditions. After viewing the expositions of 1915 in San Francisco and San Diego, the organization's president, Cherilla Lowrey, yearned for a Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, Louis C. Mullgardt, or John McLaren to come to Honolulu, “for never has there been such an awakening and need for higher, better things in architecture and landscape gardening than is now manifest here.”38 In fact, within six months both Goodhue and Mullgardt visited Hawaii. San Francisco architect Mullgardt arrived in spring 1917 on a vacation to restore his health following an automobile accident, while Goodhue came in August 1917 at the invitation of Oahu College (OA116), later renamed Punahou School, to prepare a master-plan for its campus. Both men reinforced the idea of developing a distinct Hawaii-based style, and both ultimately obtained commissions: Mullgardt to design the terra-cotta-clad, four-story, Hawaiian Renaissance Revival corporate headquarters for Theo Davies and Company (1921; demolished), and Goodhue to design the inspired, Hawaiian-style Honolulu Academy of Arts (OA91). The academy was one of Goodhue's last commissions, as he died at the age of fifty-five on April 21, 1924, and Hardie Phillip, a partner in Goodhue and Associates, completed the drawings.

Other prominent mainland architects came to the Islands in these years. Chicago's society architect David Adler designed an Italian villa on the side of Diamond Head for Mr. and Mrs. Walter F. Dillingham (OA154), which was named “La Pietra” after the Florentine villa where they had wed. The New York City Beaux-Arts firm of York and Sawyer received the commission for the Honolulu post office (OA50), and then returned to design its neighbor, The Hawaiian Electric Company building (OA49). Warren and Wetmore, who had a national reputation for hotel design, was selected to plan the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (OA137); and Boston's Ralph Adams Cram, a major proponent of Gothic-styled churches, came to deliver the Central Union Church (OA110). Julia Morgan presented the city with several YWCA buildings, including the Mediterranean-styled Richards Street YWCA (OA48). Her former employer and dean of the University of California at Berkeley's department of architecture, John Galen Howard, added the dramatic Spanish Colonial Revival Harris Memorial Methodist Church (1925; demolished). Such efforts lent an unmistakable mark of high architectural quality to Honolulu, and were augmented by fine residences built by affluent mainlanders as part-time dwellings. The latter included such houses as Case Deering's Waikiki abode, designed by Holabird and Roche of Chicago (1916; demolished), the William Wooster– designed Thomas Balding residence (1933; demolished), and Doris Duke's “Shangri La” (OA155), the work of Marion Simms Wyeth of New York City and Palm Beach.

Many of the buildings designed by mainland architects employed Mediterranean forms, which their architects saw as a solution for semitropical locations. While their buildings addressed the climate in a pleasing manner, they did not respond to Hawaii's distinctive sense of place. Fortunately for Hawaii, a number of highly innovative local architects worked to develop forms specific to the Islands' way of life.

A strong sense of architectural regionalism pervaded the 1920s and 1930s in Hawaii. No longer was it necessary to emphasize the American presence via architectural forms, since those in power felt secure that Hawaii was indeed not only an American territory but one under their control. As one of the foremost proponents of a regionally appropriate architecture, C. W. Dickey returned to the Islands in early 1919 from the San Francisco Bay area accompanied by a new partner, Hart Wood. They brought with them the regionalist proclivities of San Francisco's architectural community, as well as Dickey's earlier hopes that a “most charming,” perhaps distinct, Hawaiian style might develop, “in which broad lanais, interior courts, fountains and the like will play an important part.”39 However, in less than a year, Dickey returned to Oakland to become supervising architect for that city's school system. Wood remained in Hawaii, handling their commissions, including the restoration of Waioli Mission Hall (KA46) on Kauai, a missionary church erected by Dickey's grandfather, William Alexander.

Drawing upon lessons learned in the restoration of Waioli Mission, Wood began to develop an innovative architectural response to Hawaii, in such commissions as the parish hall for the Lihue United Church (KA20); Wilcox Memorial Library (KA23), also in Lihue; and the First Church of Christ Scientist (OA112) in Honolulu. The last employed local basalt as a primary material and sweeping gabled roofs sheltered broad side lanai. Sets of double bifold doors completely opened the church's nave on one side to access the lanai, allowing the outside in. This was a first for ecclesiastical architecture in the Islands, and a feature frequently emulated in ensuing years.

Wood explained to the public that regional design evolved from tradition and precedent, which the Islands' almost negligible architectural history scarcely furnished. He advised that the development of a distinct style suitable for Hawaii's needs would take considerable time, and most likely would be the result of an amalgamation of forms borrowed from various sources.40 Over the next five years Wood explored the appropriateness of various forms, melding Mediterranean, Colonial, Tudor, and Asian forms in his residential designs. He also began opening up Hawaii's houses through pocket sliding doors, allowing interior living spaces to flow onto spacious lanai and terraces. By the end of the decade, large sliding glass doorways became commonplace in Honolulu homes.

Dickey returned to Honolulu in late 1925 to resume his partnership with Wood, and within the year designed three cottages for the Halekulani Hotel (1926; demolished), setting forth his basic premises for a Hawaiian-style building. Gracefully sloping, double-pitched hipped roofs with broad, overhanging eaves that followed the lines of the roof on Waioli Mission Hall dominated these simple wooden cottages. Large expanses of casement windows and screened lanai further opened these buildings to the Islands' tropic balm. Prominent roofs sheltered the cottages' openings from sun and rain, while the double pitch gave clearance for the casement windows to open. The character of the style derived from its simple massing and its dominant roof, rather than applied ornamentation. The double-pitched hipped roof, although not original to either Hawaii or to Dickey, soon came to be a hallmark of the emerging Hawaiian style of architecture, with the press repeatedly referring to it as either a “Dickey” or “Hawaiian” roof.41

One of the first people to grasp the beauty and utility of Dickey's cottage designs was Ray Morris, head of the architecture department from 1926 through 1936 at the building supply company Lewers and Cooke. In this position he played a major role in popularizing the new island style, as many of the thousands of modest cottages he designed for Lewers and Cooke customers demonstrate. In addition, many larger, upscale houses incorporated the new style, as did business and government buildings. A Hawaiian style of architecture featuring the Dickey roof and open, flowing interior-exterior spaces thus blossomed.

Particularly good examples of the emerging island style in the 1920s and early 1930s include Dickey and Wood's Alexander and Baldwin Building (OA34), Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue and Associates' and C. W. Dickey's buildings for the Kamehameha Schools (OA2.1, OA2.2, and OA2.3), the Harkness Nurses' Home at Queens Hospital (OA66) and the main building for the Halekulani Hotel (1931; demolished) in Honolulu, and the Wailuku Library (MA13) and Territorial Building (MA12) on Maui. Dickey designed Honolulu's U.S. Immigration Station (OA86) in association with Herbert Cohen Cayton, with its broad roof, spacious lanai, and Chinese details. New York City architect Hardie Phillip, with the firm of Mayers, Murray and Phillip, contributed such fine Hawaiian-style buildings as the Bank of Hawaii (1927; demolished) and the C. Brewer Building (OA38). Harry Sims Bent, who was supervising architect for the C. Brewer Building, remained in the Islands and was responsible for the Hawaiian-style Pineapple Research Institute Building at the University of Hawaii (OA122.2), as well as much of Ala Moana Park (OA102). His incorporation of Mughal-inspired forms in the McCoy Pavilion (OA102.1) provided still another idiom for regional design consideration.

Other new faces appeared in Honolulu's architectural circle as the 1920s fizzled into the Great Depression in the early 1930s. Claude Stiehl, Albert Ely Ives, Vladimir Ossipoff, Harry K. Stewart, and Roy Kelley brought modern influences with them, injecting the Hawaiian style with a more contemporary appearance, as reflected in such Honolulu buildings as Stiehl's Church of the Crossroads (OA124); Stewart's Hale Auhau, now named the Ii Building (OA56); and Kelley's Fong Inn Store (1939; demolished). By the end of the 1930s, Dahl and Conrad's many modern apartments and stores further contributed to Honolulu's alluring new modern appearance.

The new regional architecture of Hawaii, both distinctive and well publicized in the newspapers, took its place on the streets of Honolulu amidst bungalows and the prevailing period revival styles of California and other locations on the mainland. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Honolulu architects including Emory and Webb (OA29), Furer and Potter, Tom Gill, J. Alvin Shadinger, Louis Davis (OA21), Ralph Fishbourne (OA96), and Robert G. Miller (OA4) designed a multitude of buildings in a variety of styles. The last three often worked in a Spanish or Mediterranean vocabulary, while Shadinger executed a large number of Tudor Revival houses as well as several Hawaiian-style residences. Fishbourne, in an article in Paradise of the Pacific (1930), discussed the movement toward a Hawaiian style, and one of his last commissions, the Ewa Plantation hospital (1935; demolished), well displayed his understanding of this “local style tendency.”42 His onetime partner Louis Davis's approach to regional design was reflected in the Waikiki Fire Station (1927; 381 Kapahulu Avenue), the Board of Agriculture and Forestry Building (OA98), and the Harold Dillingham house (1924; demolished) on Diamond Head. Mark Potter also captured the spirit of the Hawaiian style in a number of his well-appointed residences, of which the Gaylord Parke Wilcox House (KA18) on Kauai is the finest example.


The modern movement in architecture, with its emphasis on regularity, clean lines, and minimal applied adornment, easily wended its way into Hawaii's built environment during the 1930s, softened by its integration with the Islands' regional idiom. Pope and Burton's temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (OA168) at Laie had given the Islands an early glimpse of the new rationalistic architecture. However, it would prove to be the exception, rather than the norm, as Hawaii immersed itself in a regionalized modern frame of mind.

The Honolulu Academy of Arts, anticipating the arrival of a Museum of Modern Art exhibition titled Modern Architecture in England, mounted a show in August 1937 that examined modern architecture in Hawaii. Intended to stimulate public dialogue on the place of modern architecture within the context of Hawaiian living, the exhibition displayed photographs, plans, and drawings of recent works by several Honolulu architects, including Board of Water Supply pumping stations (1934–1937) by Hart Wood, C. W. Dickey's Waikiki Theater (1936; demolished), Claude Stiehl's Church of the Crossroads (OA124), and houses by Albert Ely Ives, Ray Morris, and Vladimir Ossipoff. The reporter covering the show for the Honolulu Star Bulletin noted,

In architecture Honolulu, with the rest of the world, is swinging eagerly into the modern trend. . . . Perhaps the reason why Honolulu (unlike many other places) has not become an “architectural battle ground” during the introduction of modern ideas for housing is due to the thoughtful and clever application by local men of contemporary building techniques which are particularly adapted to Hawaii.

Building problems in the islands differ vastly from those in England or in New York. . . . These problems have been met and ably solved by our local specialists and certainly everyone will agree that the results are extraordinarily satisfying. The low sloping roofline of early Hawaiian homes has been used advantageously; simplicity has been the keynote. The easy charm of semi-outdoor living (from house to garden) has been worked out by means of delightful patios and open lanais.43

The arrival of a new, modern, tropical style of architecture was reiterated in the newspaper's special section, “Grow with Honolulu, Invest in a Home.”44 Residential commissions by Claude Stiehl and J. Alvin Shadinger, and C. W. Dickey's Wilcox Memorial Hospital (1938; 3-3420 Kuhio Highway) illustrated this twelve-page insert, and articles written by Dickey, Connie Conrad, Ray Morris, and Hart Wood discussed the current scene. By far the most prolific local modernists were Dahl and Conrad, who designed many walk-up apartments and duplexes in Waikiki (OA139). Dahl and Conrad's allure was heightened in June 1939 when Alfred Preis, an Austrian fleeing Hitler, joined their firm, bringing the latest in European design trends to the Islands.

Waikiki became the hub of modernism in the city as Kalakaua Avenue assumed a sleek look thanks to Dickey's mildly Art Deco Waikiki Theater (1936; demolished) and numerous Moderne and Art Deco shops designed by Dahl and Conrad, Stiehl, and Ives. In addition, Harry Bent added Art Deco adornments to a number of Works Progress Administration (WPA)–funded parks and playgrounds.

Hawaii's fascination with the modernist idiom as a tool to glorify the island's up-to-date yet tropical situation was interrupted by World War II. However, the war effort did result in the construction of several large industrial facilities at Pearl Harbor Naval Base's shipyard which were designed by the renowned architectural firm of Albert Kahn. In addition, Hickam Field, the largest army air force base in the nation at the time of its completion in 1941, was beautifully laid out by Captain Howard B. Nurse of the Quartermaster Corps following the best precepts of the Garden City movement, with generous amounts of open space, tropical landscaping, and tree-lined streets.

In the years following the conclusion of the war, the relationship between regionalism and modernism in Hawaii subtly shifted. During the 1930s, modern elements had been but one of several garbs in which architects dressed their responses to the Islands; by the 1950s, many buildings were decidedly modern in character, and regional appropriateness was but one design consideration.

In the immediate postwar period, Hawaii's architectural scene experienced another shift as an older generation of architects made way for the new. C. W. Dickey, the father of regional design in Hawaii, had died in 1942. Other talented regional designers, most notably Claude Stiehl, Harry Bent, and Bjarne Dahl, had departed the Islands by 1942 and never returned. Dahl's partner Connie Conrad entered his family's jewelry business, while Roy Kelley shifted his interests from architecture to apartment and hotel development. Of the 1920s generation of architects only Hart Wood and Hego Fuchino diligently practiced in 1950. Although both contributed magnificent Hawaiian-modern buildings, as is evident in Wood, Weed and Kubota's Board of Water Supply building (OA67) and Fuchino and Katsuyoshi's Soto Zen Temple (OA71), the stage was set for a younger generation to assume leadership.

Vladimir Ossipoff came to the fore as the preeminent architect of the postwar period with a design staff that at one time included Ed Sullam, Tom Wells, Sid Snyder, and John Tatom. George Wimberly, who came to Hawaii in 1940 to work for Pacific Naval Airbases Contractors, opened a partnership in 1946 with Howard Cook, whom he had met at Pearl Harbor during the war. Wimberly eventually headed one of the premier hospitality and leisure-oriented architectural firms in the world, Wimberly Allison Tong and Goo (WATG). Cy Lemmon, who worked with C. W. Dickey in 1928 and Louis Davis in 1930–1931, returned to Hawaii in the late 1940s after ten years in India. He started Lemmon and Freeth in 1951, which became Lemmon, Freeth and Haines two years later, and ultimately, in 1973, expanded to become Architects Hawaii Limited, the largest architectural firm in the state for a time. Newcomers to Hawaii, including Richard Dennis, Frank Slavsky, Edwin Bauer, Phil Fisk, and Robert Law, added to the design synergy of this period. Moreover, a number of Hawaii-born architects and engineers started offices during the 1950s, including Clifford Young, Takashi Anbe, Shizuo Oka, Robert Katsuyoshi, Don Chapman, Ed Aotani, Alfred Yee, and Howard Wong. They joined Ray Akagi, Bill Merrill, George Hogan, Kenji Onodera, and Ernie Hara, all of whom had worked in various architectural offices since the 1930s. Each of these architects worked within the vocabulary of the modern movement, yet the magnificence of Hawaii and its culture was too compelling to ignore. Many of the architects were trained in the Beaux-Arts tradition and remained cognizant of architecture's symbolic role. As a result, they strove to develop distinctive forms which incorporated a Hawaiian atmosphere within a modern context.

A building's surface remained of primary importance and highly textured structures characterized the 1950s in Hawaii, in contrast to the glass and concrete austerity associated with much of the modern movement. Lava rock, sandstone, and coral veneers grounded buildings to the land, and a variety of contrasting materials differentiated a facade's elements, providing a high level of visual delectation. The Canlis' Charcoal Broiler Restaurant (1953; demolished) by Wimberly and Cook in Waikiki, as well as Ossipoff, Fisk, Johnson, and Preis's Bachman Hall (OA122.4) at the University of Hawaii and their Laupahoehoe school (HA51) on the island of Hawaii, followed modern lines while celebrating place through their use of local materials and flowing indoor-outdoor relationships. Ossipoff's buildings for the Pacific Club (OA42) and Outrigger Canoe Club (OA152) took the concept of graceful, modern, outdoor living to a pinnacle.

While applied ornament was avoided in most buildings, it still was acceptable in those associated with the various ethnic groups composing Hawaii's multicultural society. Liberty Bank (OA16.2), St. Luke's Episcopal Church (OA75), the United Chinese Society building (OA16.3), and the Chinese Consulate (OA81), as well as a number of Chinese temples and society halls, placed architectural references from former homelands in a modern context. Buddhist temples continued, in updated garb, to employ the Indian forms introduced in 1918 at the Honpa Hongwanji Temple (OA80) in Nuuanu. Concrete versions of pagodas, the Kinkaku-ji (OA76) and Byodo-In Temple (OA166), perpetuated the idea that Hawaii was where East met West.

The visitor industry's “tiki culture” offered another venue for applied ornament, responding to a romantic image of Hawaii promoted by the Hawaii Visitors Bureau and fostered by the numerous military personnel passing through the Islands during World War II. Thus, modern, concrete, high-rise structures such as the Kona Hilton (HA3), Kauai Surf (1960; demolished), and Princess Kaiulani (1955; 120 Kaiulani Avenue) hotels offered reminders of an earlier Hawaii via their floors, light fixtures, elevator doors, and a variety of other surfaces. Similarly, the Hilton Hawaiian Village's Rainbow Tower (OA131.4) derived its name from the 286-foot-high tile murals adorning its walls, and the Waikikian Hotel (1956; demolished) facilely combined a hyperbolic parabaloid roof, with tiki, traditional Hawaiian tapa motifs, and spiral stairs without risers. Thatch-roofed visitor accommodations appeared at Kaiser Hawaiian Village (1955; demolished), the Coco Palms Hotel (1956– 1965; demolished), and Kona Village Resort (HA76).

Religious architecture too maintained a strong regional character. The forms laid down by Hart Wood in the First Church of Christ Scientist (OA112) now came to the fore as innumerable churches and temples ventilated their naves with side walls of sliding glass doors, and lava rock became a popular exterior wall treatment. Glued laminated timber (glulam), an innovation of the 1950s, allowed arches to span great distances without the need for supporting columns, making worship spaces even more open. Law and Wilson's Church of the Holy Nativity (OA161) in the new suburb of Aina Haina, Alfred Preis's First United Methodist Church (OA93), and Wong and Wong's Community Church of Honolulu (OA79) all stand as fine examples of the period.

The postwar years saw the advent of high-rise buildings, and by 1955, the ten-story Aloha Tower (OA36) no longer was the tallest building in Hawaii. Tall buildings began to redefine Honolulu's skyline, initially in Waikiki, with the Biltmore (1955; demolished), Princess Kaiulani (1955) and Reef (1956; 2161 Kalia Road) hotels, and the Rosalei Apartments (1955; 445 Kaiolu Street), then in the business district with the Hawaii National Bank (1962; demolished). With the Islands' land constraints and the high demand for Waikiki and downtown properties, land prices skyrocketed, which in turn led to the appearance of more and more high-rises as owners sought to amortize their initial land purchases. Honolulu engineer Alfred Yee's pioneering work in prestressed concrete in high-rise construction further facilitated the skyward trend in building. It was at this time that brise soleil found their way to the Islands. The six-story Hawaiian Life Building (OA104) by Vladimir Ossipoff was the earliest known appearance of this device. Surprisingly, brise soleil did not proliferate in Hawaii; whereas lanai, either inset or cantilevered, adorned most of the high-rise hotels and apartments, extending outdoor living into the sky.


Within the course of a single month in 1959, Hawaii became the fiftieth state and jet airplanes landed at Honolulu International Airport, reducing the travel time to Hawaii from more than seven hours to five hours from the West Coast. Both events had a profound impact on the Islands and its architectural community. Statehood brought new investors and jets diminished the vastness of the Pacific, giving everyone easier access. In the ensuing years, the Big Five gradually lost their hold over the Islands. Sugar's supremacy dwindled in the face of world competition, while tourism emerged as the driving force behind Hawaii's economy. In 1964, a U.S. Department of Justice antimerger and restraint of trade lawsuit resulted in the four American-owned members of the Big Five being barred from sharing officers, executives, and directors. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, backed by Hawaii's labor force, swept the Big Five's Republican political base out of power, gaining control over the territorial legislature in 1954, and the state's governorship in 1962.

As Hawaii moved from a rural-based society to an urban one, its built environment also began to change, forsaking the regionalism of the Big Five–dominated years for the glass and concrete of late International Style. The Honolulu Advertiser, in an effort “to stimulate wider public interest in the appearance of Honolulu,” ran a series of articles in early 1966 on buildings which the Hawaii Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) selected as “representative of good contemporary architecture.”45 The AIA selected nine Honolulu buildings representing a broad range of functions: Queen Emma Gardens Apartments (OA15), the Chinese Consulate (OA81), the IBM Building (OA100), the University of Hawaii's East-West Center (OA122.5), the Outrigger Canoe Club (OA152), the Kahala Hilton Hotel (OA157), the USS Arizona Memorial (OA182), 320 Ward (c. 1965; 320 Ward Avenue), and the McInerny clothing store in Waikiki (1957; demolished). All followed modern lines and were discussed in terms of their functionality. The Outrigger Canoe Club was extolled as one of Hawaii's most significant buildings, as “there is never a feeling of being ‘in a building'”; and Tommy Wells's two-story office building, 320 Ward, with its landscaped courtyards, received praise for introducing light, air, and “pleasant access to the various small offices.”46 Concerns over the impact of high-rise buildings on the character of Honolulu were expressed, and Queen Emma Gardens Apartments and the IBM Building were cited as examples that addressed the needs of Hawaii.47

Such aesthetic contemplations and regionalist refrains were shortly overwhelmed by the building boom of the 1970s and 1980s. With the new state's population jumping more than 75 percent, from 632,772 to 1,108,229 between 1960 and 1990, a rush ensued to meet increased building needs, while maximizing the economic potential of urban Honolulu's properties. During the 1970s and 1980s, Hawaii was engulfed by the global economy, and by 1988, among the Big Five only Alexander and Baldwin remained locally owned. In large part, Hawaii became an investment controlled from outside rather than a community in which the economic decision makers vested their lives.

Adding to the building boom, Hawaii's visitor count jumped from less than 300,000 in 1960 to more than six million by 1990. This led to Waikiki's rapid buildup, as well as the expansion of tourist-oriented facilities on all the six major islands. The standing joke of the period was that the building crane was Hawaii's state bird, and throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, these high-rise harbingers dotted the skyline of Honolulu between Waikiki and downtown. Low-rise office buildings, for example Garden Court (1969) designed by Honolulu-born architect Donald Chapman and such single-story commercial enterprises as Vladimir Ossipoff's McInerny store (1957), ultimately yielded to larger-scale, mega-revenue-generating developments. Even such highly touted signs of mid-1950s and early 1960s progress as the twelve-story Waikiki Biltmore and the eighteen-story Hawaii National Bank were imploded, giving way to newer, taller structures.

Although one-third of the nine buildings presented by the Honolulu Advertiser in 1966 were by mainland architects, the number of high-profile, nationally known firms working in Hawaii in the last half of the twentieth century was rather limited. Buckminster Fuller led the way with his geodesic dome (1957; demolished) at Kaiser Hawaiian Village, followed by I. M. Pei's East-West Center, Minoru Yamasaki's Queen Emma Gardens Apartments, Edward Killingsworth's Kahala Hilton Hotel, Raphael Soriano's eleven all-aluminum houses (1965; demolished) on Maui, César Pelli's Kukui Gardens Housing Project in Honolulu (1970), and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (HA74), the first building in Hawaii to receive a national AIA honor award. Paul Rudolph was commissioned to design a visual arts center at the University of Hawaii in 1965, but the building was never realized. A similar fate befell the I. M. Pei–designed Metropolitan Tower project of 1960. The state hired John Carl Warnecke to design its new State Capitol Building (OA46) and the University of Hawaii's Campus Center (1973). These two Warnecke commissions brought a number of talented architects from his San Francisco and Washington, D.C., offices to Hawaii, some of whom decided to stay, including Tom Creighton, Steve Au, Charles “Ty” Sutton, Ted Candia, and Gus Ishihara. Other San Francisco Bay area architects attracted to Hawaii included University of California at Berkeley's professor Roger Lee, who designed St. Stephen's Roman Catholic Church in Nuuanu (1968; 2747 Pali Highway), and Leo S. Wou, who was brought in for the Financial Plaza of the Pacific (OA31). Following this, however, few out-of-state architects worked in Hawaii until the late 1990s.

The upward spiral of buildings generated in the 1970s and 1980s frequently assumed the form of concrete slabs and boxes, with few exceptions. At the start of the period, the S-shaped Marco Polo (OA126) moved outside the box, at least in footprint, and the Davies Pacific Center's (OA33) lower level perpetuated the open flow of Financial Plaza. Warner Boone's visually enticing Diamond Head Vista Apartments (OA147), Canterbury Place (OA130), and Waikiki Trade Center (OA138) stand as some of the more inspired high-rises of the period. Smaller-scale commercial buildings too often followed the austere lines of the high-rise boxes, though Kawaiahao Plaza (OA69) and a number of First Hawaiian Bank's branches (OA184) rose above the ordinary.

Worldwide, the modern movement of the 1960s to 1980s experienced a number of permutations and a series of “isms.” Hawaii seemed to miss most of this late modern architectural identity crisis, with only a few mildly Brutalist buildings and a handful of expressionist-influenced ones, including the fourteen-story Punahou Circle Apartments (1965; 1617 Beretania Street) with its folded plate-roofed portico, which was Barack Obama's primary residence from the time he was ten in 1971 until he departed Hawaii in 1979, following his high school graduation. However, by the late 1980s postmodernism began to appear in Honolulu, first in interior decoration and then in buildings such as Daniel Mann Johnson and Mendenhall's Alii Place (OA41). More significant, a revived interest in regionalism accompanied the Postmodern rejection of International Style modernism. Kauahikaua and Chun and Group 70 International, headed by Francis Oda, moved the regionalist frame of mind forward, using a variety of forms, and the custom residential designs of John Hara, Philip White, George Heneghan, and Peter Vincent combined a high level of quality with a sensitivity to Hawaii's ambiance.

Kauahikaua and Chun developed buildings evocative of ancient Hawaiian architectural traditions while using modern materials and spaces in a highly original manner, translating into architecture the 1980s revitalization of the Hawaiian cultural awareness initially generated by the hula, as can be seen in their chapel at the Kamehameha Schools (OA2.4). Group 70 International's Banyan Tree Restaurant (OA141) was an early indication of the firm's desire to respond to Hawaii, glorifying the pleasure of outdoor dining in Waikiki. Their Manele Bay Hotel (LA11) harked back to C. W. Dickey's work of the 1930s at the Kamehameha Schools (OA2.2 and OA2.3), indicating a renewed interest in 1920s–1930s Hawaiian-style design. The building's stuccoed walls and green tile double-pitched, hipped roofs popped up throughout the Islands during the 1990s and beyond in houses, commercial buildings, and even government structures—wherever owners desired to invoke a sense of Hawaii. The new style, when applied to small-scale projects, also fit cost-effective contemporary EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems) construction materials and techniques. Since 2000, Group 70 International has moved beyond reviving earlier forms to concentrate on structures reflecting their natural environment; the Hanauma Bay Marine Education Center (OA163) and Nanea Golf Clubhouse (HA78) strive to merge with the surrounding topography.


Since statehood, hotels were among the earliest buildings to extol the splendor of Hawaii. While many hotels of the 1960–2000 period followed the fast and functional approach, addressing the overnight need for reasonably priced visitor shelter, others strove to convey a special sense of place. The latter are among the most treasured architectural spaces in Hawaii, at least in terms of the time and money people were willing to spend to experience their ambiance.

George “Pete” Wimberly and Roy Kelley were among the earliest Honolulu architects to concentrate on resort hotel design, each approaching it from a different perspective. Kelley not only designed, he also owned his hotels. Providing low-priced rooms, he became the largest hotelier in the state, thanks to his bare-bones, no-frills structures such as the Edgewater (1952; demolished), Reef (1955; 2169 Kalia Road), and Outrigger (1966; 2335 Kalakaua Avenue) hotels. Wimberly, however, believed travelers not only wanted to relax but to feel a part of the place they were visiting. Hotels, through their designs, could facilitate such interaction. As he explained, “If we can combine good features from the local culture with such standard creature comforts as good plumbing and air conditioning, then we've got something.”48 Such a viewpoint led the firms of Wimberly, Whisenand, Allison, Tong and Goo and of Wimberly Allison Tong and Goo to garner an international reputation for resort design, having more commissions included in Travel Leisure and Condé Nast Traveller's lists of the world's finest hotels than that of any other firms. Their Hyatt Regency hotels in Waikiki  OA144), Maui  MA37), and Kauai (KA17) stand with Edward Killingsworth's Halekulani (OA133), Kahala Hilton (OA157), Mauna Lani Bay (HA75), and Kapalua Bay (1978; demolished) as well as Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's Mauna Kea Beach (HA74) hotels as some of the finest in Hawaii for their immaculate indoor-outdoor forms that reflect a high awareness of Hawaii's sense of place.

In addition to resort hotels, Hawaii's architects also lent their talents to the design of golf clubhouses. They reconceived this building type with the Royal Kaanapali Golf Course Clubhouse (MA36) by Wimberly, Whisenand, Allison and Tong, and Vladimir Ossipoff, establishing a prototype that has been widely emulated throughout the island chain. Likewise, David Stringer's Bay Club Restaurant (MA41) at the Kapalua Resort redefined the design of oceanfront dining with its strong emphasis on indoor-outdoor relationships.

Hawaii's architects have had a global impact on approaches to the design of tropical resort architecture, as well as the environments in which such buildings are placed. Concepts developed for master-planned resort destination areas were pioneered in Hawaii. Donald Wolbrink, head of Harland Bartholomew and Associates' Honolulu office, took many of the nationally known planning firm's ideas for residential communities and translated them into a resort context, with Kaanapali on Maui being possibly the earliest master-planned destination resort of the twentieth century. Following in its footsteps, resort complexes at Mauna Lani, Waikoloa, and Hualalai emerged along the lava-encrusted shores of the coast of the island of Hawaii, while Wailea transformed Haleakala's barren southwest coastline.

Such developments in the visitor industry have taken the architecture of a tiny island chain in the north Pacific to tropical areas around the globe. Thus, in the course of two hundred years, Hawaii has shifted from a civilization living in nearly complete isolation to a major visitor destination and a member state of the dominant superpower on the earth. Its designers and planners influence the environments in which people vacation worldwide. The Islands now attract international investors and people from the far reaches of the globe, people who not only enjoy but also help shape Hawaii's ongoing architectural development. May the specialness of Hawaii remain foremost in their minds.


Harry W. Seckel, Hawaiian Residential Architecture (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1954), 6.

Charles Samuel Stewart, Journal of a Residence in the Sandwich Islands during the Years 1823, 1824, and 1825 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1970), 182–83.

A. Grove Day, Mark Twain's Letters from Hawaii (New York: Appleton-Century, 1966), 52.

Hiram Bingham, A Residence of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Islands (Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle, 1847), 467.

Margaret Greer Martin, Sarah Joiner Lyman of Hawaii, her own story. (Hilo, Hawaii: Lyman House Memorial Museum, 1970), 136.

James King's observations, recorded in the published logs and journals of Captain James Cook, estimated that from 250,000 to 400,000 persons populated the island chain in 1778. See J. C. Beaglehole, ed., The Journals of Captain James Cook (Cambridge: Hayluyt Society and University Press, 1967), 3:620; and James Cook, The Three Voyages of Captain James Cook, Round the World, vol. 7 by James King (London: Longman, 1821), 118–19. Others have estimated larger and smaller numbers, see David Stannard, Before the Horror: The Population of Hawaii on the Eve of Western Contact (Honolulu: Social Science Research Institute, University of Hawaii, 1989); Andy Bushnell, The “Horror” Reconsidered: An Evaluation of the Historical Evidence for Population Decline in Hawaii, 1778–1803 (Honolulu: A. Bushnell, 1992); Tom Dye, “Population Trends in Hawaii before 1778,” Hawaiian Journal of History28 (1994): 1–20; Tom Dye and Eric Komori, “A Precensus Population History of Hawaii,” New Zealand Journal of Archaeology14 (1992): 113–28; and Robert C. Schmitt, Demographic Statistics of Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1968). Almost fifty years after Cook, missionary William Ellis, Journal of William Ellis, A Narrative of an 1823 Tour through Hawaii or Owhyhee (Honolulu: Advertiser Publishing Company, 1963), estimated the Hawaiian population to be about 140,000. The first reasonably reliable census by missionaries was taken in 1836 and disclosed a population of 107,954. In 1890, Hawaiians were a minority in their own land, numbering only 40,622 (this figure includes both pure Hawaiians and part-Hawaiians). See Robert C. Schmitt, Historical Statistics of Hawaii (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1977).

For documentation on thatched architecture in Hawaii during its waning years, see William T. Brigham, The Ancient Hawaiian House (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1908).

Stewart, Journal of a Residence, 241.

Ibid., 310–11.

Instructions of Prudential Committee of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to the Sandwich Islands Mission (Lahaina: Lahainaluna, 1838), 27.

Gorham Gilman, “Early Streets of Honolulu,” Hawaiian Annual for 1904, 91–92.

Ethel M. Damon, Father Bond of Kohala: A Chronicle of Pioneer Life in Hawaii (Honolulu: The Friend, 1927), 145.

Friend, August 1, 1844, 72.

For the Polynesianand Sandwich Islands Newsarticles, see Richard A. Greer, “Honolulu in 1847,” Hawaiian Historical Review (1969): 59–60.

Polynesian, September 25, 1847, 74.

Polynesian, September 7, 1850, 2.

Polynesian, September 25, 1847, 3.

Polynesian, September 7, 1850, 2.

Polynesian, September 25, 1847, 3.

Friend, July 6, 1854, 56.

Polynesian, April 1, 1854, 2.

Polynesian, November 9, 1845, 3.

Polynesian, May 22, 1847, 3.

George Washington Bates, Sandwich Island Notes (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1854), 59.

Prior to sugar emerging as the Islands' primary crop, other endeavors were tried, including silk, cotton, coffee, tapioca, and tobacco.

The peoples who came to work on Hawaii's sugar plantations included: Chinese, who began to work on the plantations in 1852 (56,000 legally between 1852 and 1899) and by 1884, Chinese constituted 24.6 percent of Hawaii's population; 12,000 Portuguese from Madeira and the Azores between 1878 and 1888, and 13,000 from 1909 to 1913; 3,000 Russians in 1879; 68,777 Japanese from 1885 to 1900, and another 71,281 from 1900 to 1907, making them the largest ethnic group in Hawaii; 5,000 Puerto Ricans in 1900–1901; 8,000 Koreans from 1903 to 1905; and 125,917 Filipinos from 1906 to 1934. In all, by 1930, the importation of labor to Hawaii's sugar plantations brought approximately 450,000 people to Hawaii, of which more than half (approximately 250,000) stayed. See Eleanor C. Nordyke, The Peopling of Hawaii (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1977).

Schmitt, Historical Statistics of Hawaii.

Pacific Commercial Advertiser, October 27, 1877, 3.

Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 19, 1884, 6.

Joseph Feher, Hawaii: A Pictorial History (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1969), 295, refers to this sobriquet for Spreckels.

Pacific Commercial Advertiser, September 24, 1881, 3.

Ralph S. Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom, 1874–1893 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1938–1967), 3:587.

W. E. Pinkham, “New Era of Building in Honolulu,” Hawaiian Annual for 1902, 145.

See Don Hibbard, “In Memoriam: The Alexander Young Building,” Hawaii Architect (November 1981): 6–9.

Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 1, 1900, spec. sec.

“W. M. Campbell,” Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 1, 1902, 73.

In November 1938 the Honolulu Academy of Arts, in partnership with the Hawaii Sugar Planters' Association, mounted an exhibition, Recent Architectural Developments on Plantations, which highlighted the accomplishments of the reform program. The show emphasized works from the previous five years when the plantations spent between $1 million and $1.5 million a year on construction. See Honolulu Advertiser, November 6, 1938, 14; Honolulu Advertiser, November 20, 1938, 16; and Honolulu Star Bulletin, November 5, 1938, sec. 2, 10.

Cherilla L. Lowrey, “A Plea for a More Tropical Honolulu,” Paradise of the Pacific (December 1916): 33.

Charles W. Dickey, “Picturesque Homes of Hawaii,” Hawaiian Annual for 1899, 137.

Honolulu Star Bulletin, April 21, 1920, 8.

For example, see Dean Sakamoto et al., Hawaiian Modern: The Architecture of Vladimir Ossipoff (New Haven, Ct.: Honolulu Academy of Arts in association with Yale University Press, 2007), 39, for typical period media coverage of the Hawaiian style; see also Honolulu Advertiser, January 22, 1928, 12, for the Lewers and Cooke advertisement.

Ralph Fishbourne, “The Development of Architecture in Hawaii,” Paradise of the Pacific (August 1930): 54–57.

“At the Academy of Arts,” Honolulu Star Bulletin, August 21, 1937, sec. 2, 11.

“Grow with Honolulu, Invest in a Home,” Honolulu Star Bulletin, February 12, 1938, spec. sec.

Honolulu Advertiser, January 16, 1966, A-14.

Honolulu Advertiser, February 20, 1966, 27.

Honolulu Advertiser, January 23, 1966, A-8.

Charles A. Ware, “Architect of the Pacific Area—Tropic Air About His Planning,” Honolulu Advertiser, October 10, 1965, A-8.


Writing Credits

Don J. Hibbard

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