Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Cemetery group works
to save Honolulu Memorial

The owners close the Nuuanu
cemetery in the face of bills

Owners have shut down the bankrupt Honolulu Memorial Park indefinitely, saying they do not want to continue paying $5,000 monthly maintenance bills.


Those visiting grave sites, however, may still enter the Nuuanu cemetery, known for its 119-foot pagoda.

However, buildings, housing niches and offices have been locked. Water and phones have been turned off. Trash pickup has ceased. And its three employees have been laid off.

But the Friends of Honolulu Memorial Park, a group of plot and niche holders seeking to acquire the cemetery, say the closure is temporary.

City Councilman Rod Tam, a member of the Friends, said the Richards family, which holds 90 percent stock ownership in the cemetery, and the Friends have agreed to the terms of an ownership transfer, but legal details are being worked out.

The cemetery has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy since Dec. 20, 2001. As part of a reorganization plan, the cemetery proposed demolishing the pagoda, prompting a rush to save the structure.

Manning Richards, treasurer and director of Honolulu Memorial Park, said the Friends have twice failed to meet court deadlines, and the cemetery did not want to pay for maintenance.

"The Friends seemed to be quite willing, but they can't get their act together," Richards said.

An obstacle remains. A 10 percent minority shareholder, Nils Katahara, has not yet agreed to turn over his shares. Katahara belongs to Concerned Niche and Plot Owners, a group that has disagreed with the Friends' plans for the pagoda.

"We are in communication with him," Tam said. "We do not want the state to take over," Tam said.

The state provides minimal care to abandoned cemeteries, Tam said.

Almo Paraso, whose father-in-law is buried at the cemetery, said the closure is not a big deal.

"We've been taking care of a lot of things ourselves," he said. "We're going to have to carry water in a jug and haul rubbish. No biggie."

For some, the bankruptcy of Honolulu Memorial Park has been about saving the deteriorating pagoda. Now it's about saving the cemetery.

Paraso said the group he and Katahara are a part of was not concerned about a transfer of ownership to the Friends. "We were more concerned about the fact that they were insistent on making a transfer contingent on keeping the pagoda," he said.

The group is concerned that keeping the pagoda may make the cemetery financially unworkable.

Richards blamed expensive upkeep of the pagoda for the cemetery's bankruptcy.

"If it looks to us nobody really comes forward and takes over, we may have to do other things," Richards said.

That includes opening cemetery buildings and to allow niche holders to remove urns, he said.

"Then we close it up permanently," he said.


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