Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lanai City Named as One of America's Most Endangered Historic Places

On April 28, 2009, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Lanai City to its list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America.

What does this mean?

Inclusion on the list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America acknowledges that a historic site is threatened; this could be for a variety of reason ranging from development, to neglect, and natural disasters. While inclusion on the list will not offer protections for Lāna‘i City against demolition or alterations, it does help to raise awareness as to the importance of Lāna‘i City and how the structures within the town help to tell the stories of those who live there.

What Makes Lanai historic?
Lanai City is on of the last remaining intact plantation community in Hawai‘i, a state in which pineapple and sugar production were once the backbone of the economy. There are no longer large-scale producers of pineapple or sugar in the state and these once vibrant plantation towns are being demolished to make way for new development.

The historic structures in Lāna‘i City collectively convey the stories and the histories of the plantation workers who lived and worked on Lāna‘i. The compact, walkable nature of the town, in which the majority of the commercial structures front the central Dole Park, seems purposefully organized to foster community togetherness.

The historic layout of the town, which is still largely intact, and the character of these structures coupled with the welcoming spirit of the people who live there are what makes Lāna‘i a unique and special place. It is one of the few places where everyone living there knows each other and wave as they pass by. The historic design of the town and the low-scale nature of the historic structures help to maintain this sense of community that has been strongly present in Lāna‘i City throughout its history.

What Threatens Lanai City?
There are now two Four Seasons resorts on the island; prior to 1990 the only hotel on the island was the 10-room Lāna‘i Inn, now called Hotel Lāna‘i. Since the construction of the resorts, the number of visitors to Lāna‘i has increased. Recently, Castle & Cooke proposed plans for the downtown area, commonly called the Business County-Town (BCT) district. These plans include a new, large grocery store, more parking, renovations to many of the existing structures, and the demolition of 11 buildings in and around the BCT. The demolition permit applications are currently being reviewed by Maui County Department of Planning. Permit applications have been filed for the demolition of: three residential structures; two shed/garage buildings; the police lieutenant’s house; the Lāna‘i City jail; the old police station; the launderette; and two other commercial structures. These permits have not yet been issued.

What are the possible solutions? Incorporating the intact plantation community into tourism activities is a potential solution. Tourism has become the primary economic stimulus for Lāna‘i. Interpreting the plantation history in a way that will draw tourists to Lāna‘i could prove to be an economically viable solution, as without their unique plantation history, the tourists that visit Lāna‘i may just as likely visit one of the other islands.

Heritage tourism is extremely important for residents, owners, and those operating businesses in Lāna‘i City. Tourism is Lanai’s main source of economic growth. Tourists who are interested in experiencing the authentic local culture and learning about the history of a place are generally attracted to Lāna‘i because of its rich history. These visitors have respect for the place they are visiting, they tend to stay longer, and spend more money at local businesses. They will put more money into the local economy and leave with a stronger understanding of Lānai’s history.

What is being done?
A nomination to the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places was prepared for Lāna‘i City. The nomination was reviewed by the Maui County Cultural Resources Commission, who voted unanimously to recommend that it be listed. The Hawai‘i Historic Places Review Board will vote on whether or not to list Lāna‘i City on the Hawai‘i Register of Historic Places in the upcoming months. Listing on the Hawai‘i Register of Historic Places will not protect a building from being demolished and does not prevent alterations from being made to these historic structures. It does however serve to recognize the importance of these sites and ensure that changes to the historic character of the town are reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Division. Changes to the historic structures are already reviewed even though the structures are not currently listed on the register.

Through continuing conversations with the community, Castle & Cooke, the Maui County Cultural Resources Commission, the State Historic Preservation Division and others, we hope that a solution will be reached that benefits the people who live and work on Lāna‘i and the historic resources, both of which make Lāna‘i a wonderful and unique place for those who live there and visitors alike.

What can you do to help?