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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 9, 2001

Pearl Harbor becomes preservation battleground

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

The Navy has torn down 257 historic buildings in the past two decades on O'ahu and has set its sights on 121 more as part of a pattern of unwarranted demolition, according to a consulting preservation architect who worked with the Navy at Pearl Harbor.

The Navy plans to raze Building 1C. But preservationists see it as "historic fabric" in design that links two eras.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Douglas P. Luna, a consultant to the Navy from December 1999 to last March, said there is a "crisis in management" of historic properties here, particularly those constructed during World War II.

"During World War II, we had 12 million people in uniform, and there is a huge amount of buildings that should be demolished because they have no (historical) merit — but they are throwing away the baby with the bath water," Luna said. "What they (the Navy) fail to do is make a distinction between the ordinary buildings constructed during that era and those of true historic significance."

Capt. Jennifer Mustain, commanding officer for the Navy Public Works Center, Pearl Harbor, said she believes that the Navy has done a good job of saving architectural history — given competing requirements for meager financial resources.

For fiscal year 2001, that meant about $10.7 million in discretionary money to pay for a $550 million backlog of maintenance and repairs for crumbling piers and collapsing buildings.

Within 12,600 acres of land and water that make up the Pearl Harbor Naval Complex, more than 1,200 structures are within a National Historic Landmark District established in 1964.

"If I had unlimited funding, could I do a better job? Absolutely," Mustain said. "If cost were no factor — the things I could do."

But groups like the Historic Hawai'i Foundation, National Park Service, and National Trust for Historic Preservation tend to agree with Luna that the Navy is going overboard with demolition.

"We understand they (the Navy) will have to get rid of certain buildings," said David Scott, executive director of Historic Hawai'i. "We just want them to get rid of the right buildings."

For two years, a group of "preservation partners" has tried to forge a new agreement with the Navy that would replace an outdated 1979 pact and provide a greater degree of historic protection. In the meantime, they have been losing a war of attrition.

Building 1C in the Pearl Harbor shipyard, a three-story wooden office building dating to 1942 with peeling paint and heavy slat awnings, has become the latest preservation rallying point.

The Navy, which plans to demolish 1C sometime after Oct. 1, says it has termites, asbestos floor tiles and lead paint.

Link between eras

A bungalow sits in disrepair on Ford Island. "We understand they will have to get rid of certain buildings," says David Scott, executive director of Historic Hawai'i. "We just want them to get rid of the right buildings."

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

It's not the same building Luna sees. Connected to the concrete Building 1 by a wooden bridge, 1C "uniquely presents the urgent transition from the impressiveness and permanence of Building 1's unhurried peacetime design and construction to the utilitarianism of wartime design," he says.

Other preservationists agree.

"Lose one (of that style building) and it's no biggie," said Historic Hawai'i's Scott. "But if we are going to lose them all — and Building 1C is the last of that style — it becomes significant."

The destruction of "historic fabric" that 1C represents nibbles away at the past, Scott said.

"I guess what I'm concerned about is in another generation, people won't even know this place suffered an attack on Dec. 7, 1941," he said. "The living memory of that day of infamy will be lost."

Luna said an economic analysis showed 1C could be renovated for less cost than building new. The Navy counters that the review was "hypothetical," and didn't take costs fully into account.

Other buildings the Navy has demolished or has plans to destroy include:

• Building 191, a bachelor enlisted quarters built in 1942 that was one of two remaining two-story, wood frame H-shaped structures near the main wharf. Originally, the base receiving barracks, the building was demolished this year.

• Building 4A, a sheet metal shop built in 1941 in the shipyard with nearly full-height windows. Designed by Albert Kahn, an architect noted for cleanly resolved industrial facility designs, according to Luna, 4A was razed this year.

• Building 453K, built in 1943 as a dispensary. One of the last remaining wood-frame gable-roofed structures at Kuahua Peninsula, it was demolished last year.

• Four senior enlisted bungalows adjacent to Ford Island's Battleship Row were built in the 1920s and narrowly missed destruction on Dec. 7, 1941, but were damaged by cinders from fires after the attack. The bungalows are targeted for demolition, but the Navy has agreed to review that status.

Defense Department documents make it clear that preservationists are waging an uphill battle.

A 1998 directive from the office of the deputy secretary of defense noted too many "excess and/or obsolete structures" at U.S. military bases and set ambitious demolition goals: 53.2 million square feet for the Army by fiscal 2003; 9.9 million square feet for the Navy by 2002; 14.9 million square feet for the Air Force by 2003; and 2.1 million square feet for the Marines by 2000.

Historic buildings too often and too readily are lumped in as "obsolete" — despite renovation costs that are often lower than building new ones, preservationists say.

Different mindsets

Roof damage is extensive at this bungalow on Ford Island, the landmark that is central to the historic events of Dec. 7, 1941.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Some commanders do a good job of preserving architectural history but many do not, said Michael Crowe, the National Historic Landmark coordinator for California, Nevada, Hawai'i, and the Western and Southern Pacific. The mindset is one of "we'll get rid of (old buildings) and build new buildings because we know how these new buildings work," Crowe said.

The Navy then hastens the process by neglecting large holes in roofs and leaving windows open in what Luna calls "demolition by neglect."

"They will do nothing to protect property they don't have an interest in," Luna said. Licensed as an architect in Hawai'i since 1984, Luna said he was increasingly "marginalized" out of his preservation role, leading up to the termination of his two-year contract eight months early. The Navy has said it would not discuss specifics of the personnel matter.

Luna argues that some property can be mothballed with minimal maintenance and little cost for re-use or restoration later, whether by the Navy or a private enterprise.

A developer in 1998 turned shuttered Fort Sheridan in the Chicago area into 551 housing units, taking advantage of barracks, a bakery, a firehouse and former officer's homes to create a unique community on the former Army stomping grounds of Gen. George S. Patton Jr..

It's a concept the Navy already has explored here to a limited degree with a public-private venture to finance a $300 million Ford Island improvement project by selling off several O'ahu land holdings.

Luna's accusations follow the National Trust for Historic Preservation's announcement in June that it had named 450-acre Ford Island to its 11 most endangered historic places list for 2001 based on concerns that redevelopment is being pursued for the World War II landmark without an overarching preservation plan.

Disputing the notion that it is bulldozing every old building in sight, the Navy rattles off a list of notable renovations in Pearl Harbor, including that of the World War II headquarters of Adm. Chester Nimitz, a 1932 submarine escape training tower, the art deco 1934 Lockwood Hall officers quarters, and a five-story concrete warehouse built in 1943.

$83 million vs. $6 million

During the past several years, 15 times as much money has been spent in Hawai'i on preservation as demolition, the Navy said. For fiscal 2000, that meant $83 million for preservation and $6 million for demolition.

"We carefully balance our devotion to history with our requirements to support and maintain Pearl Harbor as an active, operational Navy base," said Rear Adm. Robert T. Conway Jr., commander of Navy Region Hawai'i and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific.

In the case of Building 1C, Mustain said the Navy obtained money to preserve neighboring Building 167, of greater historic significance, as part of a construction package that consolidates offices and does away with 1C and several other dilapidated buildings.

The Navy is required by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to consider the effects of a proposed action on properties eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and to allow preservation agencies to comment on it.

Section 110, meanwhile, states that "to the maximum extent feasible" federal agencies must use and rehabilitate historic properties.

Mustain said the Navy has "bent over backwards" to work with preservationists. But what each group wants has been a moving target.

Housing or open space

The Navy initially was told by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that putting up to 750 family housing units near the center of Ford Island was an appropriate use and sensitive to historic preservation, Mustain said.

Later, some of the "preservation partners" said they wanted the Luke Airfield area left as open space, she said. Some of the partners want preservation to focus more on Hawaiian artifacts.

"The views within the historic preservation community have in fact changed, and we have changed with them because of the consulting process," Mustain said.

But there still is no guiding preservation agreement.

The National Historic Landmark program's Crowe said after two years of talks with the Navy "and you still don't have something you are comfortable with, you wonder where you are going."

"My concern is we have a very, very important cultural resource here, and I'm not sure what the management plan is because there isn't one," he said.

Preservationists remain hopeful. Richard Shields, the chief executive officer of the Town of Fort Sheridan Co. — which developed the Chicago-area Army base — recently was in town to see if some equally creative reuses can be applied to Ford Island.

But Elizabeth Merritt, the National Trust's deputy general counsel in Washington, said the Navy continues to engage in "after-the-fact" preservation consulting.

"They basically decide what they want to do, and we're being asked to tinker with the edges of it," Merritt said.