On the cover: The Occidental Life Insurance Company Building's dramatically cantilevered "island in the sky" immediately imprints a sense of technological wonder upon the viewer. The building, as designed by Lemmon & Freeth in 1951, embodied a sleek two story horizontality accentuated by its Arizona sandstone veneer. The cantilevered office and third story were added in 1967, following the design of Paul Jones of Lemmon, Haines, Freeth & Jones.
The decade of the 1950s was a period of exhilarating prosperity and consensus building in an America filled with technological advances. The integrated circuit was invented, jet passenger planes debuted, and the television set established itself as a permanent fixture in American living rooms. Such families as the Nelsons of "Ozzie and Harriet," "Leave It to Beaver's Cleavers, and the Andersons of "Father Knows Best" set forth images of social stability bound to traditional values. Yet, the time was one of transition, of impending change. These "I Like Ike" years laid the foundations of modern times. The golden arches of McDonalds as well as Disneyland now entered the American psyche, and Playboy magazine, Brigit Bardot, Elvis Presley, and rock 'n' roll music began redefining social mores. Fifties architecture aptly reflected the flux of the period, especially in Hawai`i, a Territory rounding the final turn and heading for Statehood.
The Modern movement, with its rejection of historic precedents and emphasis on form following function, asserted itself not only as the embodiment of corporate America, but also was associated with being stylish, up-to-date, and new. Its presence had to be acknowledged, yet at the same time, the magnificence of the Islands was too compelling to ignore. In addition to carrying a heightened awareness of place, most of the major architects working in fifties Hawai`i had been trained in a beaux arts tradition with its emphasis on history and applied ornament. Deprived of their basic tools, yet highly cognizant of architecture's symbolic role and community dialogue, they strove to develop distinctive forms, which incorporated modern precepts within a Hawaiian atmosphere.
Space, which had always been somewhat open in response to the tropics, became more outward oriented and flowing. Unlike the glass and concrete austerity associated with the Bauhaus, highly textured buildings characterized the period. Lava rock, sandstone, and coral veneers grounded buildings to the `aina, and a strong sense of regionalism appeared, especially in religious architecture. The precepts laid down by Hart Wood in his 1922 Christian Science Church on Punahou Street now came to the fore as innumerable churches and temples ventilated their naves with sidewalls of sliding glass doors, and lava rock became a popular exterior wall treatment. Glued laminated timber (Glulam), a technological innovation of the fifties, allowed arches to span great widths without the need for supporting columns, making for even more open worship spaces.
A regional context also expressed itself in a variety of buildings associated with various ethnic groups composing Hawai`i's multi-cultural society. St. Luke's Episcopal Church, the United Chinese Society Building, and Liberty Bank, as well as a number of Chinese society halls drew, in a modern manner, upon architectural references from peoples' former homelands, and Buddhist temples continued, in updated garb, the Indian forms introduced in 1918 by the Honpa Hongwanji in Nu`uanu. The visitor industry's "Tiki Culture," offered another venue for regional design, responding to a romantic image of Hawai`i promoted by the Hawai`i Visitors Bureau and fostered by the numerous military personnel passing through the Islands during World War II.
The fifties also saw the advent of high-rise buildings, by 1955 the ten story Aloha Tower no longer was the tallest building in Hawai`i. Tall buildings began to redefine Honolulu's skyline, initially in Waikiki, with the Biltmore and Princess Ka`iulani hotels and Rosalei Apartments, then in the business district with First National Bank of Hawai`i. A 1940s innovation, sun screens, appeared in the Islands during the fifties, adding another modern visage to buildings.
The buildings of the fifties are now coming of age, in terms of National Register criteria, which state an eligible property needs to be over fifty years old, unless it is deemed of exceptional significance. A number of remarkable buildings of the period have already been lost including the Canlis Restaurant, Waikikian Hotel and its Tahitian Lanai restaurant, McInerny Store in Waikiki, Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome at the Hawaiian Village Hotel, and the Waiohai Hotel on Kaua'i, to name but a few. The future of the Coco Palms on Kaua'i still remains a wavering question mark. Of the buildings included in this calendar, only the Laupahoehoe Elementary and High School has been placed in the Hawai`i Register of Historic Places. It is time to recognize the distinctive design and quality of the buildings of the late Territorial period, and acknowledge the contribution this post-war era made in shaping Hawai`i's heritage and the modern society we are today. Even more importantly, it is time to start consciously taking steps to preserve the tangible reminders of the fifties which still grace our Island scene.
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