Holoholo Honolulu

Territorial Office Building
is district’s underrated gem

No respect. The Territorial Office Building, also known as the Kekuanaoa Building, is "architecturally perhaps the least significant of all the buildings in the suggested Capitol District area," according to the state's own register of historic places. To heap insult upon injury, "The interior spaces, other than the main lobby, are simple unadorned offices and administrative spaces of no architectural consequence ... the major cultural and environmental asset of this structure is its location within the Capitol District area."

Like the embarrassing in-law who's pushed to the back of the family picture, the Territorial Office Building is pretty much ignored in the golden crossroads that includes the State Library, City Hall and Kawaiahao Church. It is even largely hidden behind a war memorial, a parking lot and a screen of large monkeypod trees.

Too bad, because in scale, texture and character, the Territorial blends in like a charm. It is stately, dignified and efficient, everything you'd expect in a representative of the U.S. government.

Completed in 1926 and designed by Hawaii architect Arthur Reynolds, it was built to house the bustling warren of cubicle dwellers who epitomize government work. Although the departments come and go, the government workers remain. Their individual spaces are purposefully bland -- the building's lively Beaux Arts/Deco sensibility comes with the common spaces like the two-story circular lobby (surmounted by a stain-glass decorative dome depicting the Code of Arms of the Territory of Hawaii!) and the mathematically balanced facade.

Visually, it's even kind of playful, like two buildings in one -- a vertical four-story tower plopped atop a squarish two-story base. The exterior treatments include pilasters separating the windows and tied together with classical cornices and dentils. The signature design element is the massive stairway entrance with double landings leading to an archway lobby -- all four of the buildings on the crossroads feature stair entrances -- and above the lobby, a grandly peaked architrave that seems to loft two gigantic Corinthian columns to the roof.

The architrave, flanked by rosettes, still proclaims the structure is the Territorial Office Building. The craze for naming government buildings after dead Hawaiian royalty, however, has dubbed this building after Mataio Kekuanaoa, the father of Princess Ruth.

In the gloaming, when the round lanterns are lit and the sky has turned indigo, the building has a peculiarly magical Maxfield Parrish quality. But there's no one to enjoy it. The building is empty and locked by then, because otherwise it would mean that government workers are actually earning their overtime.

Territorial Office Building

Opened: 1926
Architect: Arthur Reynolds
Style: Classical Revival
Address: 425 S. King St.
National Register: 1978
Hawaii Register: No

The Territorial Office Building gets the least attention of its neighbors, but is an architectural marvel of its era.

Every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin Travel section, rediscover the charms of old Hawaii through a tour created by the Honolulu Historic Trail Committee and Historic Hawai'i Foundation and supported by the city's Office of Economic Development. The yearlong project commemorates Honolulu's bicentennial.

See Holoholo Honolulu for past articles.


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