Yesterday, Salvation Army property maintenance supervisor Doug Stillwell inspected the structure that collapsed in the wind, destroying the Robert Louis Stevenson Grass House in Manoa.

Winds destroy replica
of historic grass hut

Guests once strolled through an old Hawaiian thatched house at the Manoa Waioli Tea Room and imagined a simpler Hawaii, when author Robert Louis Stevenson lived there and Princess Kaiulani played on the lanai.

But on Aug. 1, strong winds knocked down a protective structure that crushed the Robert Louis Stevenson Grass House.

"It's as flat as a pancake," said Daniel de Costa, spokesman for the Salvation Army, which owns the property.

The house's only furniture, a table and chairs, is propping up the roof of woven coconut leaves. Heaps of pili grass bundles litter the garden.

Salvation Army officials are seeking donations to rebuild the hut.

The Robert Louis Stevenson Grass House, reconstructed from the original 1920s thatched house, attracts many tourists and residents.

"People would come here after eating at the tearoom and say, 'Ooh, Robert Louis Stevenson lived here,'" said property maintenance supervisor Doug Stillwell. "It's not the original house but people like to romanticize."

The original house was first built in Ainahau, an estate owned by Archibald Cleghorn, in the present-day International Marketplace. It was a guest house for the royal family's many visitors, including Stevenson. But in 1926 the house was moved to Manoa's Salvation Army property after the estate was broken up.

The Salvation Army restored the house based on archival photos, and in 1983, Stillwell rebuilt the house from the ground up with pili grass from Molokai and ohia logs from the Big Island.

"Everyone is so emotional about seeing another piece of old Hawaii fall down," Stillwell said.

He walked around the flattened house, inspected a 5-foot ohia log he stripped with his knife years ago and sighed. "It's sad," he said.

The house has sentimental value for him, since he grew up a few streets away from the property and his mom, Betty, was the manager at Waioli. Stillwell wants to rebuild it and was encouraged to find that some of the pili grass and ohia poles can be used again.

The Salvation Army plans to build a more durable structure and is "hopefully optimistic" it will receive the needed donations, said de Costa.

"We have to be realistic. We can't build the same thing of natural materials," he said. "We need to build something more durable, with a permanent foundation."

The Waioli Tea Room will close at the end of the month for about six weeks, and de Costa said one of the possible new vendors wants to bring back the original Waioli Tea Room recipes.

Then, Manoa residents and tourists will again socialize at high tea, stroll through dew-dropped gardens and romanticize about a famous writer in an old Hawaiian grass house.

Donations can be sent to the R.L. Stevenson Memorial Grass House Fund, The Salvation Army, 2950 Manoa Road, Honolulu 96822.


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