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Saturday, May 13, 2000

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Whether the planned reconstruction of Maemae Chapel
in Nuuanu will proceed is undecided. The building
was constructed in 1937.

Maemae Chapel,
slated for repairs,
collapses suddenly

'Nature took its course'
yesterday when winds collapsed
the historic wooden building

By Mary Adamski


Plans were being made and money had been raised to repair the 62-year-old Maemae Chapel in Nuuanu, which collapsed yesterday.

The green clapboard structure was the third chapel built at the historic site, which has been an extension of Kaumakapili Church in Palama since the mid-1800s.

The old building at 405 Wyllie St. was still in use as recently as last week, with Sunday services held by the Korean congregation of Jael Presbyterian Church. It was also the setting for Kaumakapili choir practice, and is surrounded by a cemetery still used for burials.

Nuuanu firefighters were called to the scene by area residents just after 9 a.m. yesterday. They used a thermal imager to scan the debris for possible victims after neighbors reported that homeless people are seen on the grounds at night.

"The ironic thing is that they were going to fix it up," said John Derby, a representative of the owners. The chapel was not on the registry of historic buildings, he said.

"They did fund-raising. They had a structural engineer working on a study and a contractor lined up. They were going to have a Kamehameha Day work party," said Derby, executive secretary of Hawaii Conference Foundation, United Church of Christ.

"A termite took an extra bite, then a gust of wind ... and nature took its course," he said.

Whether the planned reconstruction will proceed is undecided, said Derby, who met with insurance representatives, a structural engineer and building contractors at the site. He did not yet have a monetary estimate of damage.

Besides its link to the earliest Congregational missionaries to Hawaii, the chapel site is part of the history of the public elementary school next door which bears the same name.

Kaumakapili Church records show the first Maemae Chapel was started in 1863. This chapel building, begun in 1937, replaced an 1890 structure, said Derby.

The site is across the street from the historic Waterhouse mansion, which now houses Girl Scout headquarters. "Mother" Elizabeth Waterhouse taught Sunday school in the first chapel, then expanded it into a free kindergarten in 1886.

In 1891 she appealed to the Department of Education for help because classes had grown so large. Her kindergarten became a public school in 1903.

Maemae School, which celebrated its centennial in 1996, is now rated one of the best elementary schools in the public system.

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