Sea History 081 - Spring 1997

Page 34

A Maritime Center for the Hawaiian Islands by MacKinnon Simpson


t is hard to comprehend, in this age floors from the State as a test of their come the Hawai' i Maritime Center. Their of jetliners, satellites and fax ma- museum idea, but the wheezy 1926 el- goal was a lofty one: to build a world chines, but the Hawaiian Islands are evator (Hono lulu ' s first) and the mini- class fac i Ii ty on Pier 7 . the most geographicall y remote Iand- mal sq uare foo tage on each tiny floor Holmes and Lyman assembled a presform on earth-farther from any conti- soon precluded the idea . Undaunted , tig iou s board of trustees and set out to nental mass than even lonel y Pitcairn or they went up to the top floor Observa- accomplish the impossible. Within three frigid Antarctica. This very remoteness tion Deck to check out the harbor for years, the parking lot had been bullhas played a major role in Hawaii ' s other possibilities. dozed to be re placed by a pri ze-w inning anth ropo log ical, social, economic and, Tugboats, container ships, fishin g new buildin g des igned by local architect of course, maritime history. trawlers , Coast Guard cutters, pineapple Pip White. It is not a typical museum These islands which came from the barges, pilot boats-Honolulu's busy building. An enormous arched window sea have also been shaped by the sea. harbor was in full sw ing. That direction frames Aloha Tower, drenching the inThe volcanic peaks thru sting through was out, so they sauntered over to the terior with natural Hawaii an sunlight, the ocean surface intercept fast-traveling Diamond Head deck, where they no- making the museum airy and open and currents and create some of the roughest ticed Pi er 7, next to the Tower, origi- very Hawaii an, although we must be waters in the world that are constantl y nally the International Steamship Pier. cautious about what we ex hibit in the nav igated . These wate rs originally The building had long since been razed, sunlit areas because of the dam ag ing shaped the Hawaiian outri gger canoe- and the pier itself macadamed over for a effects of ultraviol et rays. Called the Kalakaua Boathouse, the a rugged heavier-duty version of the parking lot. Where others saw rows of spi ndl y lagoo n canoes of the South Pa- cars , the two envi sioned a new building, building is named after Hawaii ' s last cific-w ide ly considered to be the king, who worked hard to restore the native cu lture overwhelmed fin est ro ugh- water craft in the world. These seas have also shaped by traders, whalers and mi ss ionthe superb maritime sk ill s of Isaries. King Kalakaua brought landers, past and present, beginback man y traditions and focused ning with the earli est Polynesians. attention on the Hawaiians' strong The concept for the Ha wai' i link to the ocean. Like Hawaii Maritime Center was born in 1976, itse lf, the Center is multicultural , fa r out at sea aboard Hokule 'a , a reflecting both our rich maritime performance-accurate Polynesian hi story and the Islands' long herivoyagi ng canoe built to test theotage of ethnic diversity. ries of intentional settlement and When we moved into the finto recreate the naviga ti onal sk ill s ished building in April 1988, we of the ancient Polynesians. The had just seven months before our canoe was caught in the doldrums scheduled opening on Kin g on her way to Tahiti and , while Kalakaua 's birthday , 16Novemsome crew members strummed ber-so we had to plan , design, ukul eles and sang, two members build and fini sh the ex hibits in of the crew-hi stori an/waterman what were perhaps the seven Tommy Holmes and harbo r pilot longest month s of our lives. The idea for the Hawai 'i Maritime Center was conceived Captain Dave Lyman-talked ahoard H okule'a, a replica of a douhle-hulled Polynesian We had severa l things in mind about the desperate need for a mari- voyaging canoe. She first sailed to Tahiti and hack in 1976, as we entered the des ign phase. time museum back home in the using Wayfindin g navigational techniques. Hokule'a has in- Because the wo rd "mu seum " ofIslands. It was not just idle conver- spired a resurgence of traditional voyaging ; seven large ten conjures up adjectives like sation, for when they returned to ocean-going canoes ply the Pacific and more are under dusty , dark and boring in far too construction. Honolulu, they set up a nonprofit many people's minds, we deorganization called the Aloha Tower designed spec ificall y as a maritime mu- cided early on that "center" was a better Maritime Center. seum. Now all they needed was money! choice, hence Hawai ' i Maritime Center. Built in 1926 , the ten-story A loha By this time, the tall ship Falls of We also realized that peopl e wanted to Tower had been designed as a we lcom- Clyde had fallen on hard times (see p. be entertained while they were be ing ing beacon for the burgeoning to uri st 34). Built in 1878 in Port Glasgow , ed ucated . From our standpoint, too, we industry. For its first 30 years , the struc- Scotland, she had tramped the world for wanted visitors to take home an underture was just that, as passenger liners more than 80 years before be ing brought standing of Hawaii 's rich ocean hi story . docked there and disgorged their human to Hawaii in 1963 and res tored. In Reali zing both that we did not have a cargo into a sea of streamers and flower November 1982, she was almost lost in world-class collection of artifacts, and le is on Boat Days. By 1976 , however, HuITi cane lwa, and rust, te1mites, dry that many visitors seemed to want a the tower was an anac hroni sm- touri st rot and a shortage of funds had al I taken different ex perience, we came up with a arrivals and departures had long since their toll. Reali zing that the Fa lls was " story line-based" approach, so that each shifted to Hono lulu International A ir- not enough of an attraction to be se lf- ex hibit tells a complete story, with the port, and the landmark tower jutted up supporting, the Friends of the Falls of arti facts and images in a supporting role from a pier crowded with empty ware- C lyde and the fledgling Aloha Tower rather th ian a starring one. The response houses. Holmes and Lyman secu red two Maritime Center merged in 1984 to be- has beem excel lent. 32