Wat Dat Oldies!

Strange things you see and say...

Monday, September 1, 1997

Presented on this page are all the ‘Wat Dat’ items that ran in 1996 prior to the opening of ‘starbulletin.com.’ The 1995 ‘Wat Dat’ archive is also here on the next page.

‘Smoke Tower’ used for HFD training

Combination high-rise, blackout chamber, vertical cliffside and obstacle course, the “Smoke Tower” near Nimitz Highway on the approach to Hickam Air Force Base looks like none of these things. It looks like ... well, what dat?

It belongs to the Honolulu Fire Department and is sited on the Charles H. Thurston Training Center next to the Fire Station No. 8. HFD crews practice there for potentially dangerous building-fire situations. The seven-story tower went into operation in 1987.

“At the Smoke Tower, we simulate drills,” battalion chief Keith Williams said. “We can rappel down the side, we can practice with sprinklers, we can run through ‘ladder evolutions’ and ‘hose evolutions,’ we can connect standpipes, we can conduct search-and-rescues ...”

He paused for breath.

“... We can blacken out rooms and rearrange the stuff in it so firefighters can find their way around, we can do that and fill the rooms with smoke, we can do that and have them search for a ‘victim’ as well, we can do that and set up mazes for the firefighters to work through. We can even have the firefighters practice going through a hole in the roof!”

And you thought there was a lot to do at those McDonald’s jungle gyms.

By Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin

Mysterious estate needs an owner

WE’RE talking fixer-upper here, but then most bargains are. Major-league, industrial-strength, big-mamoo, you’ve-got-your-work-cut-out-for-you rambling wreck of a property, and it can all be yours for $8.4 million, more or less. Fee simple, too.

It’s the rather mysterious Department of Transportation estate at 3860 Old Pali Road, known for years by the cryptic acronym HIMAG, which stood for Hawaii Institute for Management and Analysis of Government.

HIMAG is no more, having been absorbed by a department with a bigger acronym, the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, or DBED&T (rhymes with “debit”). In its heyday, or what passed as a heyday, HIMAG was a place where government-payroll thinkers thunk great thoughts and, occasionally, threw swell parties.

These days, the buildings are empty and starting to crumble. The front lawns are trimmed to keep the neighbors from whining. The rear landscaping resembles an Indiana Jones movie. All yours for the right kind of scratch.

The property is also known as the Marks Estate, after the folks the state bought it from in the mid-’50s.

A. Lester Marks was a wealthy wheel in local politics and territorial lands commissioner in the 1940s. In 1946, Marks’ even-more-wealthy wife Elizabeth (daughter of Lincoln L. McCandless) bought the property from the Academy of Arts, which had inherited the estate.

Marks resigned his government post in 1949, reportedly because of tiffs with then-governor Ingram M. Stainback. Soon after, Stainback personally chose a Pali Highway plan that ran directly across Marks’ Nuuanu property. Marks became a gubernatorial candidate himself -- as well as filing a legal dismissal of the highway plan. The territory moved to condemn the Marks estate.

Most of the following seven-year court battle was in Mrs. Marks’ name, as she was the registered owner of the property. In 1956, the government bought seven acres of the 17-acre estate, of which two acres were needed to complete the highway, and also bought the buildings. The Markses kept a 10-acre piece on the mauka side of the highway.

The price for the land was $190,260; the landscaping $86,780; the buildings and other improvements $347,730; bringing the total to $624,750. A sweet deal for 1956, particularly since the tax-assessment value on the property had been $205,000.

Even sweeter, the Markses continued to live in the mansion. The first three years were free, then the Territory charged them $1,500 a month rent. After a couple of months, Marks said he was going to move out unless the rent came down. The Territory, faced with maintenance costs on the property, lowered the rent to $500 a month.

This fabulous deal lasted until the mid-’70s, when Mrs. Marks -- by then a widow -- stubbornly attempted to jack up the rents on Waiahole-Waikane farmlands she owned. The resulting political explosion backfired on Mrs. Marks, and she was invited to leave the estate. (The suddenly homeless 83-year-old widow paid cash for a million-dollar-plus Black Point cottage, thank you.)

So, HIMAG had a home. The state government think-tank moved in, and the Department of Accounting and General Services took over upkeep. Soon, the elegant mansion featured glary fluorescent lights, cozy cubicles, and the smell of Wite-Out filled the air.

Over the next decade and a half, staties beavered away at think-tanking up there in Nuuanu, and the estate hosted state-sponsored events such as “ancient Hawaiian encounter sessions,” futurist chat-ups, a workshop on the costs of ocean-thermal energy transfer that concluded that to pay for OTEC we needed “some sort of endowment,” a symposium on gay-sex education in schools, a state study of “sticky water issues” and any number of lectures in which junketing Mainland experts advised Hawaii bureaucrats how to solve their problems.

In 1990, state planner Norma Wong claimed that 13,000 government employees a year -- that’s 35.6 employees a day -- used the estate for meeting purposes. And then there was the temptation to criminals. In 1977, two masked men with handguns tied up a security guard and made off with several fluorescent desk lamps. (According to the police department, the crime is still on the books.)

HIMAG’s high-volume use was not ideal for the residentially-zoned site, and ideas were tossed out on the stoop for the cat to lick up. One recurring notion was as an alternate to Washington Place for the governor, a Honolulu hideaway for the lieutenant governor, or a kind of governmental party pad for visiting dignitaries.

Nothing clicked -- was it too difficult for government think-tankers to come up with an excuse to keep their swelligant manse? -- and DOT decided to divest itself of this Nuuanu white elephant. We paid a visit to the site recently with Mike Amuro, DOT’s property manager.

The estate sits back a bit from Old Pali Road, on the other end of a football-field-sized lawn. The City once tried to build a TheBus turnaround on this stately lawn, but the State’s historic preservation office cried foul.

Near the locked gate is a modest 696-square-foot caretakers’ cottage, now used for storage. The driveway loops by the mansion and a combo live-in servants’ quarters-and-garage. Since the government rarely requires servants, this latter building appears to have been ignored.

It is in dreadful shape, and dangerous to enter. Canec ceilings have fallen in, stairs have rotted away, full-grown trees poke through the roof. This building once featured six bedrooms and 2,408 square feet of living space. At this point, restoration is best accomplished with a flamethrower mounted on a bulldozer.

The main structure, however, is something else. Estimates of square footage vary -- depending on whether you’re including courtyard, storage and lanai spaces -- but it’s more than 6,000 square feet and less than 10,500.

The porte cochere is faced with what appear to be ballast bricks. “This is the part where I fantasize about what kind of estate it was,” said Amuro, and indeed, you can visualize a gleaming Daimler pulling up and discharging Jay Gatsby.

The interior is an odd mix of Art Deco grandeur and state-government busy-ness. The carved-plaster ceilings in the ballrooms, for example, have utilitarian office light fixtures hammered into the design. A wonderful wall of Chinese-puzzle shelves coexists with grim, gray steel fire doors. Walk-in closets have been converted to supply rooms. The two banquet-sized kitchens appear to have been used as photo labs sometime in the last two decades.

The floors and ceilings were rehabbed by DAGS in the early ‘90s, and other than the occasional broken window and swirling leaves, the main structure only looks forlorn and forgotten.

The rear yard, which includes a stream and a poolhouse, resembles a Mayan temple peeking out of the jungle. Groundskeeping efforts seem to consist primarily of keeping the forest at bay.

“It’s a great property with a lot of potential,” said architect Carol Ogata with the State Historic Preservation Division. She said that SHPD would have input if the state decided to retain the property and restore it.

“For example, those light fixtures in the ballrooms were supposed to be removable,” she said. “The state would have to get our concurrence before they do anything to the property.”

Dion Coschigano of Historic Hawaii Foundation, said the Marks estate was “beautiful in its time, though today it has no resemblance to its former glory. Its history and style of architecture makes it an exemplary example of an upper-class Hawaii mansion of the ‘20 and ‘30s.

“Clarence Hyde Cooke, who built it, came from a missionary family. Hardie Phillips, who designed it, also designed Hawaiian landmarks such as the C. Brewer Building. It’s on both the Hawaii Register and the National Register of historic sites.

“The state is not keeping it up, so, God yes, sell it, but sell it to someone who’ll restore and maintain it.”

What about leasing it to an organization such as YouthBuild, the Mainland-based head-start program that teaches kids practical carpentry skills by allowing them to rehab historic structures?

“The decision is to sell the site,” said Amuro. “We aren’t considering alternatives at this time. But if something like YouthBuild were in here -- hey, I’d be out here on weekends myself, swinging a hammer.”

By Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin

Old church bell tolls for no one

While the New Year was being rung in, one bell continued to be silent.

It’s visible to H-1 motorists on the Diamond Head side of the Middle Street intersection, protected by a rough lean-to against the chain-link fence.

Manufactured by the C.S. Bell Co. of Hillsborough, Ohio, the bell was acquired by Kalihi Union Church around 1910, when the church moved to its present site on North King Street.

The original meeting room and bell tower were moved there just before World War I, and a larger church constructed. In the meantime, Kalihi church-goers met under tarps.

The church was completed in 1917 and became a Kalihi landmark, fronted by four massive square columns.

By the mid-1950s, however, the wooden building had structural problems, and it and the belltower were demolished. The current A-frame structure was dedicated in 1957.

By Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin

Sculpture at UH
once graced Marketplace

Though it’s brand new on the campus of the University of Hawaii, it’s a familiar sight to Manoa residents. Look familiar to you?

The Bumpei Akaji sculpture called “MAKA‘A, E‘ike Aku I Ke Awawa Uluwehi I Na Kuahiwi O Manoa,” now nestled among the eucalyptus on the grounds of the Biomedical building, spent the ‘80s gracing the parking lot at Manoa Marketplace.

The sculpture is welded copper plate, distressed by heat and chemicals, and the curving sides and layered top echo the funneling valley and lowering clouds of Manoa. The name literally means “CLEARING -- to look at the lush valley in the mountains of Manoa.”

Akaji’s work is widely known throughout the state. A 442nd veteran who went back to Italy to study art, Akaji has done many government and private commissions, textured abstracts that are admired for their massive grace and delicate humor.

As a parking lot sculpture in a shopping center, however, “MAKA‘A” has less appeal than a plastic Col. Sanders statue. The merchants at Manoa Marketplace let the university know that the sculpture was available, and it was officially accepted by UH on Nov. 30, 1994. (Some community colleges vied for the piece as well, but it was thought best that it remain in Manoa.)

The sculpture was appraised ($50,000!) and a contractor hired to dig up, move and plant the piece. “They were surprised that so much of the concrete base went below the surface,” UH facilities architect Wally Gretz said. “They had to jackhammer off enough of it so that a forklift could drive it to the campus.”

The piece has been in its new home since last summer.

By Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin

Street sign probably was recycled

It’s confusing enough up there on the sunrise side of Punchbowl where Nehoa, Pensacola and Prospect streets collide in front of Stevenson Intermediate School. Imagine reader Carol Reed’s consternation to also discover a “KING ST” sign permanently embedded in the lava rock wall fronting the school.

The letters are engraved into the surface of one of the wall stones, and are painted red.

Why? The short answer is, dunno. Historical solutions are lost in a haze of overlapping municipal jurisdictions and retroactive maintenance programs.

The wall is clearly on school property, making it the responsibility of the Department of Education and, by extension, the Department of Accounting and General Services. In other words, the state. But the school predates DOE’s assumption of statewide schools in the early ’70s, making Stevenson originally a Honolulu works project. In other words, City/County.

So, whodunnit? Neither public-works bureaucracy has a clue. But cut lava rock and bluestone is expensive, and public workers are motivated to recycle as much as possible.

Lester Chuck, facilities director with DOE, speculates that the rock might have come up the hill with next-door Lincoln School, from the days when the school was on Thomas Square. (Linekona is Hawaiian for Lincoln.) Stevenson principal Dennis Manalili inspected the wall and thinks the pieces come from an old sidewalk.

The sign came either off the side of a building or a curbstone. In the 1930s, state historic-preservation honcho Don Hibbard says, a county ordinance required buildings to have plainly visible street names engraved or inset on corners.

By Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin

New life for an old building

It looks like a cross between a dance hall and a barn, and it was almost torn down. But the Hale-iwa Community Center is being reborn for about $90,000, cheap by preservation standards.

The reason is that it’s being repaired, not restored, project architect Robert Fox said.

The structure was built in 1934, on land donated to the community on the condition that it be used for community events. “The kiss of death for an old building is to make it vacant. Little things that would be repaired in a used structure can quickly become a big problem,” Fox said.

Even so, in the early ’90s, the community center’s insurance agents claimed the building was about to collapse. “It was a typical insurer’s tactic, to scare the community into tearing down the building. Instead, we made a survey and discovered the structure was really quite sound. From there, it was a matter of making a checklist of repairs and carrying them out.”

Fox’s firm has donated about $20,000 in architectural work, and much of the labor and materials are donated. (They still need financial help, by the by.) Much of the work can by done by the average homeowner.

Colors are plantation-specific. The center will be a cream color with Forest Green trim.

In the meantime, the building is still being used. “Think of all the baby luaus it’s seen. It’s the most important building in Haleiwa, and certainly the oldest continuously used community building on Oahu,” Fox said.

By Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin

Water tunnel isn’t used much by BWS

It looks like the lair of an underground ogre and yet some maps show a lake in the area -- a good trick considering it’s the side of a hill.

This grand entrance to a water tunnel in Kaimuki will also officially become historic this year when it turns 50.

Visible through the chainlink at the corner of Keanu Street and 10th Avenue, the massive structure is not a train tunnel. It’s not a military ammunition depot held in reserve in case World War II flares up again. It’s 1,450 feet of access tunnel, driving deep into the watery bowels of Kaimuki’s hillside.

The Keanu Tunnel was built under Frederick C. Ohrt, the first manager of the Board of Water Supply. The real name of the structure is “Unit 3-B,” which includes the 8- by 8-foot tunnel, the approach road and grounds plus 1,750 linear feet of 24-inch cast-iron pipe.

The first 700 feet of the tunnel is sleeved with gunite, reinforced with wire mesh. This is a kind of spray-on concrete that hardens to a rough finish -- it’s often mistaken for the mountain rock itself.

The tunnel isn’t used that much by the BWS any more. The approach grounds, however, are handy for storing pipes and such.

By Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin

‘Krypton’ has been at UH for 23 years

Citizen Larry Burke wonders what that big slab is on Correa Street on the University of Hawaii-Manoa campus. “Whenever I see it, in my mind I hear the theme from ‘2001, Space Odyessey,’ aka ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra,” e-mails Burke. “Is it the teaching monolith, something UH needs so desperately?”

Good guess, Larry. The work, dubbed “Krypton,” was erected in 1973 and was indeed inspired by the movie “2001.” The artist was designer Bruce Hopper, then a consultant to the city and in the midst of an industrial-designing jag that gave us, among other things, the paint scheme for TheBus and Honolulu Hale.

“Krypton” is 18 feet tall, 6 feet wide, and 1 foot thick; dimensions with some sort of mathematical resonance. The sizes in the movie were smaller, but represented prime numbers, or integers, or some sort of damn-fool equation to represent smarts on the part of the builders. How smart? “Krypton” cost $7,500 in 1973 dollars.

The original Arthur C. Clarke short story used a tetrahedron, an equal-sided pyramid, as the signalling device/warp portal, but director Stanley Kubrick decided that was too prosaic. Now, a breadboard sitting on its keester -- there’s your impressive outer-space totem.

But wait! The original was supposed to make noise. It was thought that wind caressing the steel surfaces would produce a sympathic harmonic hum. It didn’t. So Hopper installed an electric device that buzzed. The slab rumbled like it had indigestion for a year, and then was switched off during the 1974 “energy crisis.”

By Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin

Kaniakapupu was cottage for royalty

It glimmers in the eucalyptus groves and susurrant chiming of the bamboos. Kaniakapupu, the ghost of an elegant structure hidden deep in Nuuanu, surprises hikers when it rises from the trail like the ruins of a lost civilization.

Not that old, as it turns out. Kaniakapupu “Sound of the Land Snails” is what’s left of Kamehameha III and Queen Kalama’s Nuuanu getaway cottage. The 40- by 45-foot ruin is often grandly referred to as a “summer palace.”

It was ground zero for Restoration Day festivities on July 31, 1847, a couple of years after the cottage was completed, and more than 10,000 Hawaiian citizens came to the party.

Nuuanu at that time was more open and grassier than it is now. When the site was abandoned, eucalyptus and bamboo planted by the CCC overwhelmed the area. Kaniakapupu was “rediscovered” in the 1950s and a historical marker plaque installed.

In the 1980s, the site became a ward of the state Historic Preservation Department and declared a historic preserve, although technically it’s on state forestry land. Forestry helps keep it up and in the last couple of years the site has been cleared by the Historic Preserves Volunteer Corps. (Want to help? Call Lynn Apo at 524-3321.)

By Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin

‘Giant barbecue rack’
is used in fire training

One reader thought it resembles a giant barbecue rack. Another assumed it’s a sculpture of some sort. But look closer at this thing out on Lagoon Drive, on the backside of the airport. It’s really a DC-10 airliner.

“Missing the tail, of course,” said equipment operator Albert Pfaltztraff, one of the Department of Transportation firemen at Station No. 2, where the thing is parked.

“And the fuselage is too small. And the wing isn’t a wing. Actually, it’s just a big thing made up of pipes and scrap steel pieces we had lying around.”

The firemen call the pipe-and-girder construction The Mock-Up. It simulates the height and bulk of an airliner admirably. What’s unusual about aircraft fires is the concentrated flow of flaming fuel, and, accordingly, the Mock-Up has hidden pipes spewing flammables on command. Cabin fire. Engine fire. You name it.

“It’s an FAA requirement that aviation firemen undergo live-fire training at least once a year, so they can be confident in their equipment,” airport Fire Chief James Kalawa said. “A mock-up of an airliner is better than a pit in a field. Obviously, we call it off when the prevailing winds blow back toward the city.”

The aviation fuel used is a kerosene blend that produces black smoke. A small drill is scheduled for this Friday, so don’t be alarmed if there’s black smoke out Reef Runway way.

By Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin

Wat Dat Oldies 1995

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