GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Maui architect Uwe Schulz was instrumental in paying for the restoration of the U.S. Seamen's Hospital in Lahaina, a building once owned by Kamehameha III.
Hospital celebrates 175 years
LAHAINA » In the late 1970s, the Seamen's Hospital building in Lahaina was in such poor shape, portions of it had turned to rubble.
"The walls were crumbling, and the stones from the walls were strewn on the grass," recalls Maui architect Uwe Schulz.
That's when the nonprofit Lahaina Restoration Foundation, which didn't have money to fix the building, entered into a unique agreement, giving Schulz a 20-year lease on the property in return for restoring the structure.
Now the restored historic building, one of the oldest in Hawaii, is celebrating its 175th anniversary.
Foundation Executive Director Keoki Freeland said his organization has tentatively planned an event on July 16, the day an agreement was struck to build the two-story structure.
The structure was ostensibly built by a Chinese merchant to accommodate masters and officers of whaling ships, according to a U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Bulletin.
But the land was owned by a young Kamehameha III and he spent much of his time there, on the north side of Lahaina, far enough away from Waiola Church, the Maui governor's residence, and the chiefs, the health service said.
"The interesting thing with this building is there's no reinforced steel. It's held together by its own weight."
Uwe Schulz / Architect
Bishop Museum excavated the site prior to the reconstruction of the hospital and uncovered a skeleton buried under a cornerstone, a sure indication of use of the building by royalty, according to the health service.
"No one knows if the skeleton is of someone who had died anyway, or if a Hawaiian of 1833 had the misfortune of being specially chosen for the task of guarding the king's beach front home with his spirit," said the bulletin.
Kamehameha III gave the house to Joaquin Armas as a reward for his care of the royal cattle on what is now Parker Ranch on the Big Island.
During Armas' occupation, on Jan. 24, 1841, the first Catholic mass on Maui was celebrated in the house, the health service said.
In 1844, after Armas' departure for California, Kamehameha III gave up his hideaway and granted a lease for the use of the building as a U.S. Marine Hospital for sick seamen, many of them crew members aboard whaling ships. The hospital closed in 1862, after oil was discovered in Pennsylvania and replaced the need for whale oil, and sick sailors were sent to Honolulu for hospital care, the health service said.
The building was later used as an Episcopalian boarding school, a residence for ministers and a meeting room, said the health service.
Although Schulz no longer is a tenant, the structure is occupied by Paradise Television and provides rental income for the nonprofit foundation, which also maintains a number of other historic sites from the early 1800s. These include the old Lahaina Prison and a building that once operated a missionary printing press, Hale Pa'i, on the Lahainaluna High School campus.
James Luckey, former executive director of the foundation, who agreed to the hospital's restoration, said the arrangement with Schulz was the first of its kind for a historical society in Hawaii.
But Luckey said the agreement seemed to "fit perfectly" because the organization did not have the money for restoration.
"It was at the time a little scary. Nobody had done it before. But I look on it with the greatest satisfaction," Luckey said. "It's well done, authentically done, carefully done. ... It was a milestone agreement."
The two-story building, located north of the commercial Lahaina town, appears similar in design to buildings in New England, the home region of the missionaries, but its construction was somewhat adjusted to island materials.
Rather than use cement as mortar, the builders used fired limestone to bind the fieldstones to make the walls, Schulz said. The cornerstone blocks, 2 feet wide by 2 feet thick and 18 inches high, were cut from the reefs.
"They mined it out of the ocean, probably at low tide," Schulz said.
The windows were made from ohia logs, and the roof beams made of Douglas fir came from milled timber from the mainland, he said.
"The interesting thing with this building is there's no reinforced steel," Schulz said. "It's held together by its own weight."
"There's such a tremendous heritage in this early building," he added.