Preserving History

Historic Hawaii Foundation is conducting a walking tour of three iconic down town buildings, including a structure where award-winning architect Glenn Mason runs his firm, Mason Architects. It’s fitting that an architectural firm that specializes in historic preservation is located in a Merchant Street relic … and that that firm would be run by someone named Mason. You can take the elevator to Mason Architects at 119 Merchant St., or relish the historical nostalgia of the place by taking the winding stairs set with wooden banisters inlaid with hand-carved designs ― a mark of the meticulous personal attention afforded to structural detail in bygone days. The staircase is small and dark, and has an old feel, but there’s a certain comfort in being in a building that has withstood the test of time, while the rest of the world around it has changed and warped so drastically.


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(Clockwise, from left) Junior Tesoro, Lavour Addison, Alvin Chan, Brittni Shambaugh and Maile Holck. Photo by Brad Goda

The six-story edifice was built in 1901, making it the tallest building in Hawaii ― “the skyscraper of Honolulu,” says Mason ― until Aloha Tower was built in 1926. Mason and his team of 20 are pretty familiar with treasured Merchant Street buildings, as they’ve worked on many of them.

“I love Merchant Street,” says Mason. “It’s one of the best streets in Hawaii. It still has a number of historic buildings as well as some new buildings. It’s a wonderful mix ― from beginning to end, it’s fun to walk down. It’s a narrower street, so you feel comfortable, whereas King Street is big and broad and not that personal.”

Mason’s job is essentially to become a caretaker for buildings, which means a major renovation or restoration, followed by years of maintenance.

“Old buildings often use materials that are not common today, so it takes a certain amount of expertise to deal with those materials properly,” he says. “People will call us about how to fix a window, and they’ll also contact us to do multimillion-dollar restorations and renovations of historic buildings. We run the gamut.”

Mason was recently given the Frank Haines Award for lifetime achievement in preservation by Historic Hawaii Foundation. For nearly 40 years, he has been repairing and reinvigorating hundreds of treasured landmarks from Iolani Palace and Barracks to Pacific Hall at Bishop Museum, Davies Hall at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, and churches, noted buildings and military structures throughout the state. He also lends the historical research and preservation expertise of his team to other architects.

“In Hawaii, we have enormous financial pressures to develop,” says Mason. “We live on an island with limited land mass, so there’s this push to maximize density and return. Those pressures are always going to be there, so I value people in the community who push to save a little bit more of what we’ve got. From an urban design point of view, it’s important to not have everything new ― to have historical lynchpins to your past.”

Historic Hawaii Foundation’s walking tour happens Aug. 28 (523-2900, Cost is $50, with proceeds benefitting the foundation.

Bollywood Fervor

It’s easy to shout “Hana hou!” at the end of the giddily festive romp Bollywood Robin Hood (through Sept. 20, 839-9885). Produced by Honolulu Theatre for Youth and created by ever-industrious Alvin Chan, with the help of cultural consultants, there’s authenticity in the Indian dance, sari and dhoti costumes, Hindi and Arabic terms and manners, and a Bollywood spin on the original characters’ names. The show employs the traditional story, with Junior Tesoro as the title character wearing a peacock feather in his cap, like Krishna, and carrying a bow, like god Rama — now didn’t that work out swimmingly?

Strung with colorful madrases and festooned with cloths and hanging lanterns, as well as a screen playing classical Indian films, the Bollywood bug attacks theater guests instantly. Classic and contemporary elements meld, like a rhythmic fight scene making use of Bharata Natyam stepping and drumming at one moment, and lessons in Bollywood dance move “Turning the Lightbulb,” the next. References to yoga, the ubiquitously confusing head shake that might mean yes or no, and popular Indian spices and foods — turmeric, samosas, pakoras — abound. Requisite themes like a dance in the rain and, yes, a wedding are tended to. Sure, it’s a kids’ show, but it’s one for the whole family. Plenty of audience interaction elicits raucous laughter from keiki and gets the whole theater up and dancing.

Alvin Chan is a joy as the evil vizier and Maile Holck is lovely in a sari. Energetic musical composition by Max Louie and lively choreography by Rohini Acharya and Harmony Turner complete the celebration. Bollywood Robin Hood is a super-charged kick off of HTY’s 60th season.