National Historic Preservation Trust’s "2009 11 Most Endangered List" Includes Lāna‘i City

This year marks the 22nd annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Since 1988, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has used this list as a powerful alarm to raise awareness of the serious threats facing the nation’s greatest treasures. It has become one of the most effective tools in the fight to save the country’s irreplaceable architectural, cultural and natural heritage. In the days leading up to and during the National Preservation Trust’s Nashville Conference, Nashville Past And Present will highlight the historic buildings, structures and places on this years most endangered list.

One of Hawai’i’s eight main islands, Lāna’i, known as the “Pineapple Isle,” has tropical beaches, breathtaking natural beauty, lavish resorts and one attraction none of the other islands can claim: an intact plantation town. Located between Moloka’i and Maui, Lāna’i is the smallest of the main Hawaiian Islands, with 2,500 year-round residents living in and near Lāna’i City, the center of the island. The island rose to prominence with the arrival of James Drummond Dole, whose pineapple empire once stretched over 20,000 acres and employed thousands of workers. In the 1920s, Dole, who owned the entire island, created a thriving company town, complete with hundreds of plantation-style homes, a laundromat, jail, courthouse and police station, all centered around a tree-lined park named in his honor.

The least visited of the main Hawaiian Islands, Lāna‘i has remained secluded, and the company town of Lāna‘i City looks very much as it did in its 1920s heyday. There are no traffic lights, no malls, no public transportation and less than 30 miles of paved road on the 141 square mile island.

Today, Lāna’i is almost entirely owned by Castle & Cooke, one of the largest private landowners in Hawai’i. The company, which also owns Dole Foods and two high-end Four Seasons resorts on Lāna’i, recently submitted a three-part plan calling for the demolition or alteration of 15-20 historic buildings in Lāna’i City to make way for large-scale commercial development.

Currently, the two-block area that makes up Lāna’i City’s historic downtown is largely intact, but that may soon change as Castle & Cooke has already submitted demolition applications to Maui County’s Department of Planning. Permit applications have been filed for the demolition of three residential structures, the police lieutenant’s house, the Lāna’i City jail, the laundromat and other historic commercial structures.

The new development proposal includes an oversized, out-of-scale grocery store, dramatically incompatible with the historic downtown. The grocery store’s parking lot alone would consume an entire city block. Local preservationists hope to convince Castle & Cooke that a preserved Lāna‘i City is a draw for heritage tourists and is, therefore, an economically viable solution.

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