Article Written By: Kathryn Drury Wagner, HONOLULU Magazine
What is it?
The five-story Varsity Building was designed by local firm Wimberly and Cook in 1963 to house the First National Bank. It’s one of a posse of circular buildings that went up around Oahu in the 1950s and 60s, including the Waikiki Circle Hotel and Waipahu’s branch of American Security Bank. Curved buildings are examples of the mid-century Modernism movement, which showcased bold experimentation in shapes and materials, such as concrete, which had not been widely used previously.
What threatens it?
For the past four years, Kamehameha Schools has been collecting pieces of property in the Mo’ili’ili area, forming a contiguous area slated for redevelopment. The assemblage is complete, says Paul Quintiliani, director of Kamehameha Schools’ commercial real estate division. “We have begun to shift our focus towards what makes the most sense.” The overall goal, he says, is to “enhance this part of urban Honolulu by creating a heart for the community that simultaneously improves the gateway into UH Manoa.” He says this will include greater pedestrian connectivity, public spaces, and new dining and entertainment options. KS is still in the planning phases; some of the possible permutations include the varsity building, some do not.
What can be done?
If you’re a fan of Modernism, speak up, as community input will be important. Quintiliani says that architectural historians have been consulted to better understand the context of the Varsity Building, and that KS “does not approach redevelopment with the view that demolition is the approach of first choice.”