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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 1, 2004

Loft showcases what Chinatown could become

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

A recently completed loft apartment in the historic Tan Sing Building is being used to demonstrate how such living spaces can help revitalize Chinatown and create a unique arts and culture district.

Local artist Ramsay shows off the kitchen area of her loft, which is above her gallery on Smith Street in Chinatown.

Ramsay's husband, Dr. Norman Goldstein, relaxes in a reclining chair in the bedroom of the second floor loft. Advocates say renovation of such spaces could help draw new people to Chinatown and foster an arts and culture district in the area.

Photos by Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Downtown/Chinatown residents and a group called the Honolulu Culture & Arts District hope to amend the city Chinatown's Special District requirements to allow lofts. City rules allow multifamily use of buildings in the district, but don't provide for a single-family dwelling above a business, so a variance has been required to create a loft occupied by just one person or couple.

The city administration is working on a bill to allow lofts.

Many of the upper floors of the area's historic buildings, some more than 100 years old, sit empty and the city hopes the new rules would be an incentive for redeveloping and renovating the area.

"The whole thing evolved from the Mayor's Downtown/Chinatown Task Force meetings," said local artist Ramsay, owner of the new loft along with her husband, Dr. Norman Goldstein. "The necessity to bring people to Chinatown to live and work became so clear over the course of time that the loft idea was just a natural with all these second floors unoccupied."

When they were first built, the properties were typically used by families that ran a shop downstairs and lived above. Those businesses are mostly gone and the upstairs spaces are often left empty.

Ramsay and Goldstein renovated the Tan Sing Building on Smith Street years ago for their art gallery and medical offices.

Their recently completed 1,000-square-foot studio loft has large open windows that allow breezes in and overlook a tree-filled back lot. The loft has wall units for storage, a simple refrigerator and sink and a bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub.

Ramsay said she loves the old Chinatown buildings and lofts would work perfectly for mixed use, residential above and commercial below.

"What artists need is a place they can live and work 24 hours," Ramsay said. "The idea of living in one place and having a studio elsewhere is really not the best situation for a practicing artist. They might get an idea at 1 a.m., and they need to get up and act on that idea."

Reach James Gonser at 525-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.