Thursday, October 31, 2002

Elizabeth Marks posed for a photo at the Marks Estate. The state sold the property yesterday to Unity House for $2.5 million.

Unity House considers
how to use historic
Marks Estate

By Lyn Danninger

Unity House will take some time to decide how best to use the historic Marks Estate it bought yesterday for $2.5 million, said Tony Rutledge, president and chief executive officer.

"We're going to seek community input before we make any hard decisions. We also need to have people like architects come in to take a look at it. Some of it is already usable -- the roof is not bad in the main house -- but some of the other areas need work," he said.

Unity House nabbed the estate over one other bidder at an auction by the state Department of Transportation. The upset price was $1.8 million.

The state acquired the property in 1956 but had been trying to sell it since 1996. At that time, the asking price was $8.4 million.

Unity House had the property appraised recently and found it was estimated to be worth about $4.5 million, according to Rutledge and Randall Harakal, executive director and general counsel.

There are a number of possibilities for the property, both Rutledge and Harakal said.

Among the ideas are consolidating Unity House offices and using the estate as a center to house activities for retirees.

"We had office facilities that weren't completely what we wanted," Harakal said. "We also wanted a safe place for the retirees to come."

Unity House has 90 days to close the deal.

By buying the estate, Harakal said Unity House returns to its roots. "Unity House has a house," he said.

The nonprofit plans to preserve the estate in keeping with its designation on the state and national registers of historic places.

Rutledge said he began considering the purchase of the property about six months ago.

"I thought it would be a good buy if we could get it cheap. We were surprised at the upset price," he said.

Unity House will also be eligible for federal grant assistance to help with renovations because the house is a historic residence, Rutledge said. But Rutledge said he plans to seek community input before making a final decision on how the property will eventually be used.

The estate, at 3860 Old Pali Road, includes a 24-room Hawaii-style brick and frame mansion designed by architect Hardie Phillips, who designed other Hawaii landmarks such as the C. Brewer Building.

Built in 1929 for Clarence H. Cooke, the property also has a gate house, guest cottages and a two-story garage that includes upstairs living quarters. The property consists of two separate parcels totaling about 218,000 square feet of land.

Cooke was the grandson of William Harrison Rice and Amos Starr Cooke, who helped found the firm of Castle & Cooke. Clarence Cooke was educated at Punahou and Yale and succeeded his father as president of the Bank of Hawaii in 1909. In 1937, he became the chairman of the bank.

Cooke bequeathed the estate to the Academy of Arts, which sold it to Lester and Elizabeth Marks in 1945. Lester Marks was territorial land commissioner in the 1940s but resigned his position in 1949.

Following World War II, the territorial government under Gov. Ingram M. Stainback decided to put a new highway through Nuuanu Valley to the windward side. The route bisected the 16-acre property.

In 1950, Marks went to court to block the proposed highway. After a seven-year legal battle, the territorial government bought the parcel for $624,000 so it could complete the Pali Highway.

Even after the purchase, Elizabeth Marks continued to live on the estate, eventually paying $500 a month in an arrangement that lasted until 1976.

After that, the Hawaii Institute for Management and Analysis in Government, part of the Department of Budget and Finance, acquired the property for a research, training and conference center. The institute was eventually absorbed into the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

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