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Sunday, July 11, 2004



[ A WALKING TOUR ]

Holoholo Honolulu


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HAWAII WAR RECORDS REPOSITORY
The U.S. Post Office at Merchant Street.


Downtown post office
keeps its style

The N.Y. architects decided
on 'Spanish Mission Colonial'


Over the years, whenever the Feds start thinking wistfully about messing with their structure on the corner of King and Richards -- the Merchant Street mailing address seems an affectation, yes? -- the citizens of Honolulu have squawked loudly, and for good reason: The Mediterranean-style design influenced virtually every other government building in the classic era of Hawaii's municipal architecture.

After annexation, U.S. government offices were shoehorned into I'olani Palace and elsewhere, and the city fathers were determined that the feds have their own building. Accordingly, the site of the old opera house opposite the Palace was chosen, and a New York architecture firm chosen. Their design drew on the "Spanish Mission Colonial Style" then the craze in California, thinking that the open-arched Mediterranean style would be suitable for Hawaii's climate.

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HAWAII WAR RECORDS REPOSITORY
Women lined up at the U.S. Post Office at Merchant Street, also shown below, in 1942 for sales of war bonds to help in the war effort.


The design was chosen in 1918 and the building opened for business in 1922, holding the federal courthouse, the custom house and the post office.

An addition was grafted on by the Treasury Department only a few years later, but is skillfully done using the same design elements.

The result is a comfortably blocky and elegant structure -- those thick plaster walls! Those arched openings! Those sweeping, overhanging tile roofings! -- that is, nonetheless, eccentrically warren-like as one navigates the various federal departments.

The feds eventually fled for more comfortable digs, except for the post office. The government had some scheme for pawning off the empty parts of the building to a galleria developer who planned a shopping center, restaurant, wedding chapel and high-end shoppette complex, with a skyscraper plugged into the central courtyard, but the deal fell through in 2000.

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BURL BURLINGAME / BBURLINGAME@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Spanish Mission-style popular in California in the early 20th century made its way to Honolulu in the construction of the downtown post office.


The unused offices were instead acquired by the state for more than $32 million and renovated as the "King Kalakaua Building," the new home of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. DCCA workers recently scampered across the street to their new home. Their original offices in the nearby Princess Victoria Kamamalu Building were falling apart, they say. High time too: the Kamamalu is a hideous tombstone of a building, a gray grumble in the historic cityscape. Galleria, anyone?

U.S. Post Office, Custom House
and Court House

Opened: 1922

Architect: York & Sawyer

Style: Spanish Mission Revival

Address: 335 Merchant St.

National Register: 1975 #75000620

Hawaii Register: No



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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 Holoholo Honolulu for past articles.

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