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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Group fights to preserve historic military sites

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

'Ewa Field Marines fired rifles at attacking Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941. Four Marines were killed. The land is being transferred to a developer and historians are hoping to preserve part of the base.

U. S. Marine Corps

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2008 Historic Hawai'i Foundation's Most Endangered Historic Places

St. Sophia Church (Kaunakakai, Moloka'i)

Fort Kamehameha (Hickam Air Force Base)

'Auwai of Nu'uanu Valley (Nu'uanu)

Kalauha'eha'e Fishpond (Niu Valley)

Engineering Quad (UH-Manoa)

IBM Building (Honolulu)

Maui Jinsha Shinto Shrine (Paukukalo, Maui)

'Ewa Marine Corps Air Station (Kalaeloa)

Coco Palms Resort (Wailua, Kaua'i)

Source: Historic Hawai'i Foundation

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Two military properties are included on the Historic Hawai'i Foundation's annual list of most endangered historic places in the state, a concern that the organization said can be overcome by preservation and re-use.

The Fort Kamehameha Historic District of 33 early-1900s homes, a general store house, battery Hawkins annex, bandstand, chapel and flagpole at Hickam Air Force Base are being examined by the service for demolition or lease, or movement of the structures elsewhere.

At Kalaeloa, meanwhile, large portions of the former Marine Corps Air Station 'Ewa, hit by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941, are being transferred by the Navy to Texas-based developer Hunt Companies, earning a second spot on the Historic Hawai'i Foundation list for the military because of demolition concerns.

Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of the foundation, said there are ready-made answers to the preservation issues.

The State Historic Preservation Division would like to take over the Fort Kamehameha Historic District, using several of the homes for offices and the others for the storage of iwi, or bones, and other items, officials said.

In the case of 'Ewa Field, historically significant areas can be incorporated into future development plans, Faulkner said.

"Those are fairly straightforward and easy solutions," Faulkner said.

The last Shinto Shrine on Maui and the oldest buildings at the century-old University of Hawai'i campus also are on the foundation's list of the state's most endangered historic sites for 2008.

"The nine sites vary by historic era, architectural style and original purpose," Faulkner said. "But they all contribute to our understanding of Hawai'i's history. The historic places we preserve, and the people whose stories they tell, make Hawai'i what it is."

Faulkner said the list is intended to draw attention to threats to historic places from neglect, natural disaster or deliberate demolition, and to encourage community action to reverse those threats.

The 2008 list includes six locations on O'ahu, and one each on Moloka'i, Kaua'i and Maui.

Faulkner said military bases are under orders from the Defense Department to reduce their inventory and footprint of property deemed "excess."

"All of the military is under tremendous pressure to reduce their inventory and their maintenance costs because all of the money is going to the wars," Faulkner said.

"The military owns and manages and is steward of some of the most important historic resources in Hawai'i, and they do not have the money to take care of them."

In the case of the Fort Kamehameha Historic District, the Air Force is putting together an environmental impact statement to examine the ramifications of demolishing, leasing or moving the homes.

According to the Air Force, the Defense Department in 1984 determined that the housing and associated structures in Fort Kamehameha were eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A former Army coastal artillery post, Fort Kamehameha originally included five artillery batteries, officers' housing, barracks and other structures.

The Air Force said all of the homes were constructed in about 1916, and that "the handmade appearance of the homes in the shoreline setting manifests the rural lifestyle of the era."

The homes were vacated by August, Faulkner said, after the Air Force determined that living in the homes was a safety hazard because of their proximity to runways at Honolulu International Airport.

The Air Force said the majority of the Fort Kamehameha housing is within a mile to a mile and a half of the runways, which places it in an "Accident Potential Zone 1" safety zone.

Although Faulkner said there have been no aircraft-related accidents, the Air Force said in documents pertaining to the historic district that the commander of the 15th Airlift Wing at Hickam "views this as an unnecessary safety risk."

"They haven't been able to give us a good explanation of what are the changed circumstances that made this an issue now," Faulkner said.

An Air Force official at Hickam said the environmental examination is ongoing. The base did not respond to a request for further comment.

Faulkner said several of the homes are outside the accident zone, and the State Historic Preservation Division wants to use those as offices. Nancy McMahon, the state's deputy historic preservation officer, said most of the buildings would be used as "curation facilities."

Faulkner said the Air Force "has given every indication that they see this (the lease proposal) as a good solution," in part because the service wouldn't have to incur the demolition costs.

But because the Air Force still is looking at demolition as a possible alternative, Fort Kamehameha is on Historic Hawai'i's most endangered historic places list, Faulkner said.

At Kalaeloa, the Navy plans to transfer 499 acres to Ford Island Properties, including a large portion of 'Ewa Field, one of the first U.S. bases to be attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.

Ford Island Properties is part of the Texas-based Hunt Companies.

The State Historic Preservation Division, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the Historic Hawai'i Foundation all have raised red flags over the land transfer, saying more needs to be done to preserve the history of the military land.

'Ewa Beach historian John Bond wants to preserve portions of the Marine Corps air station, but Ford Island Properties' plans for the land remain unclear.

Japanese fighters attacked 'Ewa Field minutes before Pearl Harbor, and four Marines were killed.

Bond is trying to line up support for a preservation plan.

"I'd say we're making a lot of unofficial, good progress," Bond said. "We haven't yet made the official progress."

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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