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Monday, November 14, 2011

Oahu’s beautiful architectural legacy disappearing one home at a time

By J.R. Robinson, for Honolulu Star Advertiser

This stately Colonial Revival home at 2346 Manoa Road was not protected by preservation restrictions and was torn down.
In early October, the City Council finalized its amendments to Ordinance 11-7, the rule that grants a significant property tax exemption to owners of historic homes. The amendments provide new clarity, transparency and improved enforcement to the city’s historic homes preservation program.
My purpose in writing is, first, to applaud the City Council members for supporting this measure. The continuation of the property tax exemption for historic homes was by no means assured. Abuses of the exemption privilege by homeowners were exposed in investigative reports published in the Star-Advertiser and certain vocal activists attempted to turn the issue into a debate about social equity. To its great credit, the Council was able to see the larger, more important picture — that preserving our architectural heritage is absolutely critical to maintaining the sense of “old Hawaii” in Oahu neighborhoods. In truth, the property tax exemption for historic homes is a proven, effective tool for encouraging preservation, and it is indisputable that historic homes enhance the values of surrounding properties and their neighborhoods.
My second inspiration for writing is to provide an unfortunate example of what happens in the absence of either economic incentives for preservation or zoning restrictions on alterations to historic residences. On Manoa Road, there stood a stately home that was one of a handful of Colonial Revival houses built in Manoa in the 1920s by the same architect. The home had a beautiful lava rock fireplace, double-wall redwood construction, white oak floors, a sleeping porch and many interesting visual architectural features. I toured the house during a Realtor’s open house last year and, while it was in need of major interior restoration, it was by no means beyond salvation. On my drive home from work recently, I was saddened to discover that the house had been demolished and the site leveled for new construction.
To be clear, I do not begrudge the new owner of the property for his actions — the house was not on the historic register and, in the absence of other preservation restrictions, he has the right to do with his property as he sees fit. I also understand that not everyone shares my appreciation of old houses. However, to those who do not see the value of preserving Oahu’s architectural heritage, I maintain that Manoa suffered a very real economic and cultural loss when the house was destroyed. Aside from the loss to an Oahu landfill of the old growth redwood, pine and koa from which the house was constructed, the disappearance of this irreplaceable home undeniably diminishes the character of the neighborhood and Manoa Valley. The cost of losing this house is tangible, obvious and permanent.
To my knowledge, this is at least the third such property to disappear in Manoa in 2011 alone. Had these homes been on the historic register, it might have deterred the people who demolished them from buying the houses in the first place.
Make no mistake: The incremental loss of these properties is extinguishing the charm and character of Oahu’s residential neighborhoods, and underscores the importance and need for further measures to preserve the startlingly small number of pre-WWII homes that remain.
I hope that in some small way this example will raise awareness of the importance of Ordinance 11-7 and of the need to do more to preserve Oahu’s architectural legacy.

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