Artifact intact


POSTED: Monday, August 03, 2009

Former Bishop Museum director Don Duckworth was fond of calling Hawaiian Hall a “;museum of a museum.”; When it was constructed during the closing years of the 19th century, it was a grand example of Victorian design, a lofty poem in crafted basalt and carved koa, an intricate jewel case created solely to show off what still could be collected of Hawaiian prehistoric culture.

It was lighted by sunlight and cooled by the winds. And then, over the years, museum curators learned that sunlight destroys artifacts and the wind brings in bugs that eat artifacts. So the windows were closed, the light filtered and the air grew stale.

Other Victorian-era museums coped with changing times by gutting their structures until there was little left of the original vision. Hawaiian Hall, despite some cosmetic changes, was still intact.

The newly restored Hawaiian Hall opens to the public this weekend after several years of intense work. Although the overall vision and design work was largely done by New York firm Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the heavy lifting of the architectural detail work was accomplished by local preservationists Mason Architects.

“;Where do you start?”; mused Glen Mason, head architect. “;Well, the building itself is an artifact. That colors everything you do. From the very beginning, there were meetings on what to keep, what to restore, what to lose. The main issue immediately was building access.”;

Even though Hawaiian Hall and neighboring Polynesian Hall were built only six years apart, none of their levels matched—not to mention that their stonework was in two different styles—and so Mason Architects had to figure out a way of creating six entry levels.

“;The problem was vertical circulation. Also, this was not a handicapped-accessible building,”; said Mason. “;And when you entered Hawaiian Hall, you couldn't go anywhere else. Big problem, on a technical level.”;

It was solved by creating a galleria in the former courtyard that enclosed a multistop elevator. New entryways were holed in the building, with old entries and windows altered and moved. Castings were made of the original block so the styles would match.

The galleria “;also gave the museum a flexible exhibit space,”; said John Fullmer, one of Mason's stable of preservation architects. “;A place to have events. We felt it wasn't good to have entertainment and such in Hawaiian Hall. It's a sacred space.”;





        » Place: Bishop Museum, 1525 Bernice St.

» When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday


» Admission: Kama'aina rate is $5 for adults, $3 for ages 4 to12, and free for 3 and younger. For others, regular admission of $15.95 for adults, $12.95 65 and older and children 4 to 12, applies.


» Call: 847-3511 or visit www.bishopmuseum.org





        Hawaiian Hall lecture series in Atherton Halau, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

» Saturday topics: The restoration of Hawaiian Hall, Native Hawaiian realms and world view, and Anti-Annexation efforts.


» Sunday topics: Native Hawaiian master artists, the history of Bishop Museum and Hawaiian Hall, and dramatic storytelling.


Throughout the event, there will be entertainment, cultural activities, exhibitors, vendors and cultural practitioners.


All of Bishop Museum's exhibits will be open, including Polynesian Hall; Castle Memorial Building which features Backyard Monsters; the Mamiya Science Adventure Center; and the J. Watumull Planetarium.




THAT SOLVED, their attention focused on the technical problem of modernizing Hawaiian Hall without altering its original decor. Somehow, they had to shoehorn fire extinguishers, new wiring, lighting systems, data cabling and smoke detectors into the room without being obvious.

Almost all the wiring and cabling was placed in a massive conduit running beneath the guard rails. “;We call it the Trough,”; said Fullmer. “;It's all new.”; Fire sprinklers are hidden in the ornate wrought-iron grillwork, and the pipes are kept dry to prevent leakage.

Electricity didn't come to Hawaiian Hall until 1965.

“;It was a huge problem to control the lights,”; said Mason. “;When the windows were closed, it helped, but then there's the air problem.”;

Indeed. The biggest hurdle was air conditioning, or as the museum people call it, climate control.

“;There's no room for ducts,”; said Mason. “;We were able to put a huge air conditioner in the attic, but how do you pull air? We hid tiny fans in the floor.”;

Fullmer pointed at slots cut neatly in the koa trim of the floor landings. “;We used the floor joists as ducts, making sure there was no stale air in the niches.”;

During the installation of the original electrical system in the '60s, an effort was made to brighten up the place by painting everything white, covering over the original Victorian colors.

“;What color was the original pine ceilings in the landings? We didn't know,”; said Mason.

“;And then a display case was moved and there was a pristine ceiling that had not seen light in 100 years,”; said Fullmer.

The architects also credit artist Suzette Duvall for bronzing the support pillars and woodworker Bobby Marcos for recreating the extraordinary koa paneling.

The main floor is constructed of marble chip terrazzo. There was a fair amount of debate about the platforms hosting the grass house and the large heiau model. Eventually, they were lowered a bit, and the former “;stage”; area in between refloored with a slighter darker terrazzo to indicate what had been there before.

“;The heiau is a spiritual thing, because the real one it's based on is now covered with lava,”; said Fullmer.

To create an electrical conduit, they drilled straight down and then laterally beneath the building.

“;We discovered that beneath Hawaiian Hall, in a layer about four feet thick, is the rubble of basalt chips from the workers who shaped the building stones,”; said Mason.

In case you've ever wondered what sort of thing makes preservation architects giddy, the above is a prime example.

“;Hawaiian Hall has been the most challenging—and the most fulfilling—work I've ever done,”; said Fullmer. “;It was technically difficult, and we had to be innovative and think thorough every detail.”;

“;And, once we started, it was fast-tracked,”; said Mason. “;There were a lot of players involved, and a lot of emotion and cultural sensitivity. It was an honor to be involved.

“;Plus—there simply aren't many buildings left from the Victorian era that are still Victorian. They are gone, never to return. Except here.”;