Sunday, November 9, 2003


Holoholo Honolulu

Building’s corner entry
even grander than most

One of the characteristics of buildings in this part of town are attractive corner entrances, and few are as grand as the sophisticated terra cotta step-up in the Yokohama Specie Bank at the corner of Merchant and Nuuanu.

The first Japanese bank to successfully stay in business in Hawaii, Yokohama Shokin Ginko was chartered by the Imperial Japanese government to act as agents overseas. The Honolulu branch was one of several throughout the world. Built on the site of the Sailor's Home -- just a few feet from the Royal Saloon -- Yokohama Specie Bank was the design of architect Harry Livingston Kerr, responsible for more than 900 buildings erected in Honolulu.

He was proudest of the bank, and declared it the finest building in Honolulu when it finally opened for business in 1910.

A two-story brick and steel structure, the triumphal corner arch is clad with terra cotta, and the L-shaped building also sports copper window casings and doors; Carrera glass wainscoting, marble window trim and interior stairs and decorative painting by Hawaii artist William Wiley. It had separate reception areas for Japanese, haole and Chinese customers, and there is a courtyard in back.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the building was confiscated by the Alien Custodian Agency, and some customers spent years trying to get their money back. The government paid no interest on these impounded monies until forced to do so by lawsuits in the 1960s. During the war, the first floor was used for storing confiscated possessions, while the basement was converted into a 250-man drunk tank for inebriated military personnel. Showers, toilets and cell bars were installed.

The government sold it to City Realty in 1954, and since then it has served as office space. In the early '80s, a historically sensitive restoration and remodeling was completed -- most notably a mezzanine level added -- by architects Spencer Ltd.

The primary tenant for the last two decades was Colony Resorts and Honolulu Magazine, but the publication recently moved out and currently the building stands empty.


Yokohama Specie Bank

Opened: 1910
Architect: H.L. Kerr
Style: Renaissance Revival
Address: 36 Merchant
National Register: 1973 (District #73000661)
Hawaii Register: No

Today, the Yokohama Specie Bank stands empty, awaiting new tenants.

The view up Nuuanu Street during the early 1920s shows that mules were still a common sight in downtown Honolulu.

Quicktime VR Panorama
Click on pictures to view panaromas


Every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin Travel section, rediscover the charms of old Hawaii through a tour created by the Honolulu Historic Trail Committee and Historic Hawai'i Foundation and supported by the city's Office of Economic Development. The yearlong project commemorates Honolulu's bicentennial.


See Honolulu City Highlights

Various Honolulu historical organizations have clamored for years to have some sort of survey created of downtown Honolulu's historical sites. The mayor's Office of Economic Development stepped in last year to create order, and 50 locations were chosen as representative of Honolulu's history.

There is, of course, far more history in Honolulu's streets than indicated here, but these sites give the high points and can be visited on a walking tour lasting about three hours.

Click to view enlarged map

To commemorate Honolulu's bicentennial, the Star-Bulletin kicks off "Holoholo Honolulu" today, a year-long project to examine these historic properties. For the next 50 Sundays in the Travel section, stories and photographs will illuminate these sites.

But that's just the tip of the architectural iceberg. Viewers can step right into these locations via the magic of QuickTime Virtual Reality, a computer process that allows visitors from around the world to feel as if they're standing right there on the street.

WE'RE ALSO looking for old photographs of these sites to scan for public use. If you have anything, let us know:

Write to:
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
7-210 Waterfront Plaza
500 Ala Moana
Honolulu, HI 96813.



E-mail to Features Editor


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