Editor’s note: This year, the historic Kaua`i County Building celebrates its centennial with free First Friday walking tours. Click here to read more.
The 2011 photo above celebrates the re-opening of the building after renovation.
The following article, first published in 1995, highlighted the 91st Anniversary of the first meeting ever held in the County Building. It covered changes the Kaua`i County Building underwent in its lifetime. It was re-published in September 2011 after re-opening following a 16-month, $4.8 million restoration.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: 1995
Restored County Building Celebrates Anniversary
First meeting held there 91 years ago
by Anne E. O’Malley
It’s been bombed. Modernized. Painted Royal Hawaiian Hotel pink with green trim. Through it all, the County Building endures and will be featured in a celebration on May 7 of the 91st anniversary of the first meeting held on its premises.
Listed on the National Historic Register, the County Building has undergone significant changes in its restoration by a volunteer committee that’s kept at it for 22 years.
The committee’s progress is due to funds raised, the help of many volunteers over the years, and to the long-term view of volunteer committee heads Phyllis Kunimura and Robert Schleck, in it from the beginning. Patricia Layosa is the committee treasurer.
These days, TV programs kidnap willing fashion-disaster victims for a day or install themselves in somebody’s kitchen for a week and perform drastic makeovers, but that’s hardly possible with an entire two-story historic building. Instead, over time, Kunimura and Schleck have rescued furnishings, ordered replicas of items such as railings, ceiling lights and doors, unearthed covered treasures and features and firmly put things back the way they were.
They’re doing it for “the pride in the building, and for the island and the community,” says Kunimura. “This is the oldest county building still in use, and the first one of the Territory.”
The idea to restore the building began when Kunimura helped her husband, former Mayor Tony Kunimura, move into his office. It’s now the headquarters of the Kaua`i Historical Society.
“We started with the mayor’s office so that would be in period and look nice,” says Kunimura.
That simple idea would begin a scavenger hunt of 22 years, unearthing copper railings under black and beige paint, a scored, cement floor under grey tiling, airy space trapped beneath lowered ceilings, a grandfather clock and more.
For a period of time, there was a plywood wall along the gallery on the entrance side, when that space was used for a law library. An extruding air conditioner dripped down into the lobby, etching its mark over time, and the railing section disappeared.
The team located the county council table and chairs that once served as the meeting table in the mayor’s office. They found it in the planning department—painted black, down to the cane chairs surrounding it.
“We had a table made for them
The committee inherited the results of a bomb that blasted the skylight and front doors, leaving remnant pockmarks still visible today. It was a trying time for the people of Kaua`i.
Voters approved an initiative in 1980 to stop construction of a hotel-condominium complex at Nukoli’i Beach, but the developer sponsored another initiative, passed in 1984, to authorize completion of the half-built project.
“The community was incensed,” says Schleck. “That whole controversy was a very strong issue in the community, to the point of bombing the mayor’s office.”
One impact of the blast was that the glassed-in front doors were replaced with solid doors.
“The whole impression in here was of a tomb,” says Schleck. “It was very dark, basically solid, because of being under siege.”
The committee turned to photographs of the original doors to have new ones made.
They asked Mr. Yoneji to repair the clock on the outside of the building. He told them he had the clock that used to be on the wall at the landing that led to the second floor, and returned it to them in working order.
As the committee worked, the community, cautious at first, developed enthusiasm.
“I think they weren’t sure what we were going to do,” says Kunimura.
“They were being very protective, in a way,” says Schleck.
Says Kunimura, “Protective, and then I guess, too, used to seeing things as they were—modernized–so is it better to go back to the old? Or is it better to be modern looking?
“I think there was that play there, but once they saw that we were doing it so tastefully, and how nice it looked, then I think the pride came into it.”
In 1987, the committee saw the dedication and blessing of the newly restored boardroom and completion of phase 1. There’s still work to do.
“We want to be sure it’s still used by the council,” says Kunimura who’s enthusiastic about the remaining phase.
“Our goal is for us to see that they [council members] all have a nice restored office, so that they’re not stuck in little cubicles,” she says. “So that when people go to see these members of the legislative government, they see them in a nice place–that’s pride in our government.”
County Building Restoration
At A Glance
Building: The County Building is a classic 1913 concrete structure designed by the architectural firm of Ripley and Davis in 1912 and built for $60,000 by Lord-Young Engineering. In company with the County Building Annex and the County Courthouse and park it is listed on Hawai`i and National Registers as part of Lihu`e Civic Center Historic District. The first meeting at the building was held May 6, 1914.
Funding: Restoration kicked off with a $50,000 State of Hawai`i Historic Preservation Acquisition & Development Program grant—a one-time matching grant for which former Mayor Tony Kunimura raised an additional $75,000. Many organizations and individuals donated generously.
Partial Highlights of County Building Restoration Committee’s Work
- Started with mayor’s office and worked outward
- Removed vinyl wall covering
- Removed lowered false ceiling
- Removed wooden louvered windows; replaced with original French windows with transom
- Tracked down meeting table and cane chairs; restored them, removing black paint
- Removed black and beige paint from copper railing in lobby
- Removed mustard yellow carpeting from stairs leading to second floor
- Removed plywood wall from entrance-side gallery on second floor; had railing replicated by firm in Florida and installed
- Found two original ceiling lights of copper with snaking—black on copper, a period treatment; had 15 custom made by a firm in Milwaukee, removed modernized globe lamps, replaced them with copper lamps
- Removed grey tile flooring to base, scored cement that had also been covered with grey paint that had to be removed
- Replaced termited window overlooking entrance
- Replaced existing windows with original style casement windows