Photos: Courtesy of Macario
Article Written By: A. Kam Napier, HONOLULU Magazine
What is it?
Once the heart of Hilo’s rail system, where engines were serviced, this roundhouse was actually a casualty of the April 1, 1946 tsunami that devastated Hilo. The wave didn’t physically touch the 1921, eight-bay concrete roundhouse, but it destroyed nearby railroad tracks and bridges. A group of Big Island sugar plantations had run the trains as the Hawaii Consolidated Railroad. They decided to close the crippled railroad rather than repair it. Tsunami or no, closure was likely inevitable as plantations throughout the Islands moved to trucking, closing their rail lines around the late 1940s. Little else of Hilo’s railroad history remains in the town.
What threatens it?
The roundhouse has been used for storage for decades by various construction Inc., which has used it since 1972 and owned it for the past 15 years. It has fallen into disrepair.
What can be done?
The roundhouse has its fans, but as yet, none with a specific plan for adopting and preserving the structure. Wayne Subica, owner of the Hilo museum Memories of Hawaii, would like to buy the roundhouse and use it for a museum of plantation history. “it’s not in perfect condition, but its restorable, ” he says. “It would be neat, I’ve got some railroad memorabilia and other people have a lot more. If that history isn’t preserved, it will be lost.
Bryson Saiki, President of Constructors Hawaii says, “We’re open to suggestions. If an offer came in, we’d seriously consider it. To be honest, it’s deteriorating and at some point it may become necessary to tear it down.