News Column

Church listed as 'endangered' piece of the past

June 24, 2014

By Timothy Hurley, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

June 24--With its large stone building and iconic steeple, Mokuai-kaua Church has stood out as a Kailua-Kona landmark for nearly 200 years. But the future of Hawaii's first Christian church is hardly secure.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation on Tuesday put Mokuaikaua Church on its 2014 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

"As the first Christian church in Hawaii, Mokuaikaua has withstood the ravages of island life nearly 200 years," Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said in a statement. "Today, however, it needs critical improvements to carry its history forward into a new century."

The church is threatened by multiple cracks in its stone walls caused by earthquakes, the latest in 2006. The church also has faulty electrical wiring, termite damage and dry rot in the steeple and the window frames.

The 300-member United Church of Christ congregation will launch a fundraising campaign Tuesday to finance needed repairs. A 10 a.m. reception will be followed by a tour of the damaged sections.

The Rev. David de Carvalho, senior pastor, said the building needs at least $3 million in repairs and probably more before the project's end.

Without immediate attention, the church structure may be at the critical point of being beyond repair, de Carvalho said.

"We need help," he said. "We don't have the money to restore it for the next generation."

Planned renovations include shoring up the original exterior walls with an interior steel frame built on new footings, and restoring existing interior beams, walls and ceilings. Plans also call for preservation and repair of the roof and steeple and repairing three major cracks caused by earthquakes.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation's annual top-11 list is an annual compilation of architectural, cultural and natural heritage sites at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.

"This is a call to action for these properties," said Sheri Freemuth, senior field officer for the trust. "We hope this becomes an added boost to their (fundraising) campaign."

More than 250 sites have been on the list over its 27-year history, and in that time, only a few listed sites have been lost, she said.

This year's list includes Tallahassee, Fla.'sSpring House, a private home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that is now badly deteriorating; Shockoe Bottom in Richmond, Va., a major slave trading center in the 19th century that includes remnants of the jail in which Solo­mon Northup -- depicted in "12 Years a Slave" -- was held; and two key properties in Cincinnati: the iconic Art Deco Union Terminal and the Music Hall.

Completed in 1837 by Boston missionaries and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, the Mokuaikaua Church building represents the new, Western-influenced architecture of early 19th-century Hawaii.

The structure is believed to be built of stones taken from a nearby heiau (Hawaiian temple) with mortar made of burned coral. Construction beams were made of ohia wood joined with ohia pins, de Carvalho said.

In 1910 the Evangelical Association of the Territory of Hawaii met in Kailua to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the arrival of the first American Congregational missionaries to Hawaii in 1820. In honor of the occasion, Mokuaikaua Church was repaired, and a stone arch was built to commemorate the anniversary.

Two other structures were built prior to the pres­ent church, according to the church's website. The first was built as the king's home before 1820, and the second was built as a church in 1825. The current structure was started in 1835 and dedicated in early 1837.

"We have many things to be thankful for," de Carvalho said, "but no one wants to see this church in disrepair."

To donate to the church's restoration fund, go to

To see the full list of this year's endangered historic places, go to


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Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)

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