Article Written By: Katrina Valcourt
The Board of Water Supply withdrew its request for proposal to develop the land after all interested developers backed out. “We’re regrouping,” says Ernest Lau, manager and chief engineer of BWS. “We intend to rethink the process and go out with another RFP in the next couple of years, but probably not to touch any of the existing buildings. I think people have a lot of emotional connection to the architect who designed some of these buildings (Hart Wood).” BWS will instead focus on infrastructure upgrades and becoming accessible. Lau says they are also considering resubdividing the land into more developable parcels, or rezoning the site to give developers more flexibility.
Listed as Endangered in: 2013
Article Written By: Victoria Wiseman, HONOLULU Magazine
What is it?
Fronting Beretania Street, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply was designed by architect Hart Wood, founder of the Hawaii Regional Movement. Created at the end of his career and life, the Pumping Station was built in 1917, the Engineering Building built in 1938, and the Administration Building in 1957. The Engineering and Administration Buildings are connected by a distinctive bridge.
The three buildings reflect a modernist style, with Beaux-Arts accents including a bas-relief, an Asian-influenced sunscreen and a front-entry canopy with upturned corners and ornate columns. “It’s a landmark structure that represented, symbolically and functionally, the Board of Water Supply,” says Glenn Mason, an architect and architectural historian who co-authored a book about Wood.
What threatens it?
Development. The Board of Water Supply is on prime downtown real estate: six acres with five buildings and a large parking lot. The Board wants to develop the parcel of land to raise money, but its request for proposal (RFP) doesn’t set any limits, except to exclude the pumping station on the corner.
Says Ernest Lau, manager and chief engineer of the Board of Water Supply: “We wanted to give the developers the flexibility to look at the whole site. We don’t want to limit their creativity, to maximize the benefits.” He says that he is aware of the cultural significance of the site and that a detailed history was included in the RFP.
But that’s not sufficient, says Mason. “What they’re saying with this RFP is that our legacy of creating good urban spaces is over. With density increasing all around us, here you have a modest-size building, with a wonderfully landscaped and composed front yard, being put on the auction block. It just makes no sense.”
What can be done?
Any proposal is subject to the approval of the Board of Water Supply and the City Council. Lau says it was the Council that originally put forth the idea, and plans will eventually be open to public comment. Additionally, the Board of Water Supply itself could weigh the proposals based on historic preservation and give higher priority to those developers that consider architectural conservation in their plans. “[It’s about] choosing the right developer who is sensitive to, and embraces, the qualities of these historic properties,” says Faulkner.