Photography: Courtesy of David Croxford
Article Written By: Loren Moreno, HONOLULU Magazine
What is it?
The Neal S. Blaisdell Center opened in 1964 as Honolulu’s first convention center, known at the time as the Honolulu International Center. Encompassing nearly a whole city block along Ward Avenue, between Kapi‘olani Boulevard and King Street, two of the three original structures remain on the site—the Blaisdell Concert Hall and the Blaisdell Arena. At the time, the center was celebrated as the city’s first step toward becoming a major U.S. city. Over the years, the concert hall and arena have hosted the Honolulu Symphony, Broadway musicals, college sporting events and major artists, including Elvis Presley’s 1973 “Aloha from Hawai‘i” concert, credited as the first program to be beamed around the world by satellite.
Like many of Honolulu’s buildings, Blaisdell Center comes out of the 1950s and 1960s modern architectural movement, says Gushard, of DoCoMoMo. “On O‘ahu, the built environment is defined by that era,” he says.
What threatens it?
The property is threatened by development. Now 50 years old, the buildings suffer from deferred maintenance, and the city is creating a master plan based on recommendations from several community and private organizations, including the Honolulu Community Development Authority, overseeing the development of Kaka‘ako. Most recently, the Urban Land Institute said the city has an “iconic opportunity” to redevelop the property. With a rail station planned near the center, the city is also under pressure to redevelop for transit. Curtis Lum, spokesman for the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting, says no decisions have been made about the site.
What can be done?
Members of the public should make their opinions known, says Gushard. “The government on O‘ahu tends to not realize the things they have in its attempts to create new, nice things. You have this place where there has been decades of important cultural events—and it’s an important piece of architecture—that is inherently more valuable than anything that will be built on that site,” he says.