GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Puunene Congregational Church, built in 1910 as the first Japanese Christian church on Maui, could be torn down if it does not find a new home.
Historic church faces possible demolition
WAILUKU » A Christian church that helped some Japanese Americans reach beyond the sugar plantation life on Maui might be demolished.
The Puunene Congregational Church, built in 1910 as Maui's first Japanese Christian church, has been a path of opportunity for a number of children of immigrants on the Valley Isle.
But it now stands in the way of a plan by property owner Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. to expand operations, including a possible ethanol plant.
Officials with Hawaiian Commercial, a subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin Inc., said they are willing to donate the building, if someone will pay to move it and an appropriate location is found.
The church building, about 40 feet wide and 84 feet long, is American in its architectural style, a mixture of Gothic and mission revival, with stained-glass windows and scissors trusses supporting a 30-foot-high ceiling.
Former church member Chuck Hazama, a retired mayor of Rochester, Minn., said he would like to see the building preserved.
Hazama, 75, whose mother was superintendent of the Sunday school, said the church helped to shape his values in a multiethnic plantation community.
"It really had an impact on my life," Hazama said.
Oahu resident Satoshi Don Shimazu, who grew up a mile and a half from the church, said he made some good friends through the Congregational ministry.
Fred Tamasaka, 75, a retired director of Maui Family Court, said he joined the church at age 17 to participate in youth activities and fellowship.
The church also provided guidance for young people trying to make adjustments from Japanese culture to an American lifestyle.
Tamasaka, whose father was a plantation laborer, said one of the church's ministers encouraged him to seek a college education through the GI Bill. Tamasaka said he took the minister's advice and earned a master's degree in social work. "I have a lot of good memories of the church," he said.
Historic Hawai'i Foundation Executive Director Kiersten Faulkner said the church helps to illustrate the full nature of life in a plantation town.
"We're losing a part of Hawaii history," she said.
Tom Quinlan, a licensed architectural historic preservation specialist, estimates the cost of moving the whole church to a central Maui location would total about $250,000.
Quinlan, who as examined the building, said while there is some termite and dry-rot damage, the building can be repaired and could be used for another purpose, perhaps as a commercial museum, store and restaurant.
Quinlan and Hazama said they like the idea of moving the church next to Hawaiian Commercial's Sugar Museum near the Puunene Mill.
Hawaiian Commercial official Derek Heafey said his sugar company does not have the expertise to restore and adapt the building to other uses and would prefer to have it moved off of plantation property.
Heafey said demolishing the building is the last resort.
"We'll go the extra mile to save it, if we can," Heafey said.
Anyone interested in helping to relocate the building can call Quinlan at 808-885-7575. Heafey can be reached by calling 808-877-2958.