Article Written By: Katrina Valcourt, HONOLULU Magazine
What is it?
The Kalapana painted church isn’t in Kalapana anymore. That’s because, when lava was about to take the town in 1990, the church parishioners decided to move the building to safety. (Good thing they did, since lava covered the highway just hours later.) In 1996, the church moved again to its current location along Highway 130; it was added to the National Register of Historic Places shortly thereafter. The building is one of only two remaining painted churches by Father Evarist Gielen, who built it in 1930 and painted the ceiling with religious scenes. Other artists have since added their work, covering the walls as well.
What threatens it?
The paintings are peeling, and someone threw a rock through a stained-glass window. Roseanna Kanoa, owner of Big Island Processing across the street, says people go there and abuse the building, so they’ve had to lock some of its windows. Previously, the Kalapana ‘Ohana Association helped maintain the church, but the group is no longer active, leaving Kanoa and two other volunteers to care for it. “We try to raise funds, but everything goes to overhead, electric, porta-potty, water, general liability and fire insurance, the lease and property tax,” she says.
What can be done?
The paintings need to be restored by a specialized craftsman, but donations from tourists who pick up religious trinkets are minimal and go toward basic costs and repairs. Right now, Kanoa’s goal is to finish painting the outside of the church. “People always say they’ll help, but they never come through…. I really don’t know what’s going to happen.” She says if someone were to find a painter and put up the money, it could be restored, but nobody has time to even fundraise. She says the state is too overwhelmed to take it on, even though it’s on DLNR property. Someone needs to step in as steward.