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Historic Lahaina corridor named one of America’s ‘Great Streets’

By Staff | Oct 6, 2011

Front Street is being recognized for its historic heritage, revitalization, varied uses and scenic views.

LAHAINA — The American Planning Association (APA) this week announced the designation of Front Street as one of “10 Great Streets for 2011” under the organization’s Great Places in America program.

APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planners and planning play in creating communities of lasting value.

APA singled out Front Street for its history, amenities, revitalization efforts and continuous use by multiple generations for a variety of purposes.

“The planning success of Front Street is due to years of effective partnerships between nonprofit organizations, government leaders and countless community members,” said West Maui County Councilwoman Elle Cochran.

“With everyone striving to balance Front Street’s historical, cultural and commercial needs, we will ensure that this special seaside treasure lives on.”

Lahaina Restoration Foundation Executive Director Theo Morrison nominated Front Street for the program.

“Completing the application for Great Streets was like writing a term paper on Front Street. Lots of work. Lots of research, so winning the national ‘2011 Great Streets’ designation was fantastic,” she said.

“This is the first time a location in Hawaii has been selected for this honor. There is so much to love about the ever-changing, never boring Front Street. It is alive with history and culture, brimming with natural beauty and scenic views, full of life and vitality and always and continuously amazing.”

Through Great Places in America, APA recognizes unique and authentic characteristics found in three essential components of all communities: streets, neighborhoods and public spaces.

According to the organization, “APA Great Places offer better choices for where and how people work and live every day and are defined by many things, including planning efforts, architectural styles, accessibility and community involvement.”

“Natural beauty, history and community pride have coalesced to create a place that is special, in different ways, to each individual who traverses Front Street’s wide and unique sidewalks,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP.

“Nearly five decades of preservation and revitalization efforts have uncovered and saved more than 1,300 years of culture and heritage. From its start as the home of Native Hawaiian royalty to its days as a whaling outpost and missionary stronghold, and later a plantation town, to its current status as a tourist attraction, Front Street has embraced its history while accommodating more contemporary uses.”

From south to north, Front Street’s architecture and sidewalks reflect Lahaina’s chronological history, starting with the Moku’ula archaeological site near Shaw Street to buildings from the 1830s and later. Its sidewalks feature sections in brick, wood, asphalt and concrete.

To grasp this history, follow the Lahaina Historic Trail. This self-guided tour — with the majority of the trail’s plaques on Front Street — explores Lahaina’s rich heritage as the home of Hawaiian royalty, a busy whaling port, missionary stronghold and plantation settlement.

Lahaina, with Front Street as its major thoroughfare, served as the capital for the Hawaiian Kingdom from 1802-42, when it was moved to Honolulu.

Morrison also told the American Planning Association about Moku’ula, one of Hawaii’s most historic and sacred treasures. This royal residence buried beneath Malu-ulu-o-lele Park was home to high chiefs and their subjects from the 16th to 19th centuries. Carbon dating of organic materials dates them to 700 AD.

The Friends of Moku’ula is working to restore this site; learn about the project at www.mokuula.com/.

Today, Front Street is recognized for its history and tourism. To stem the exodus of residents from Lahaina due to a lack of jobs, community leaders in the 1950s pursued a farsighted idea: to redevelop Front Street as a complete visitor destination.

Through the creation of locally and federally recognized historic districts, as well as architectural style and design guidelines, “Front Street shares its historic character with a steady stream of tourists,” APA noted.

Historic districts — Hawaii’s first — were established on Maui in 1962 and 1967 and include parts of Front Street. These districts protect the facades of historic structures.

In 1965, Lahaina was listed on the National Register and, three years later, was the focus of an architectural style book designed to protect plantation-era vernacular architecture.

Front Street underwent a major $11 million facelift in 1997 that included widening sidewalks and burying most electric utility lines. Other planning efforts have addressed density and commercial development issues within Lahaina’s historic districts and established sign guidelines.

In designating Lahaina’s roadway as a 2011 “Great Street,” APA also factored Front Street’s spectacular views of the West Maui Mountains, the ocean and features like the largest banyan tree in the U.S., planted in 1873 outside the Old Lahaina Courthouse.

But Front Street is also home to residents, and activity isn’t limited to shopping and sightseeing.

APA noted, “There is a predictable flow to life along Front Street, where different hours of the day bring different groups of people and activities to a thoroughfare that has been integral to Lahaina for more than 13 centuries. As early as 4 a.m., elderly residents walk in pairs through the dim light while fishermen line up along the seawall. Children flood the street around 7 a.m. headed for Front Street’s King Kamehameha III Elementary School. Shortly after, shop employees arrive, grabbing a cup of coffee before heading to work. Throughout the day, the street is filled with visitors and residents who come to enjoy the amenities and scenery. By 2 a.m., the last partying couple leaves Front Street and the street sweeper moves in before the cycle begins again.

“With its wooden storefronts, second-story balconies, parks, art galleries, eateries, residential quarters and divine views of the majestic West Maui Mountains, Lahaina Harbor and the island of Lanai, Front Street packs in a bit of everything for which Lahaina is renowned. While much has changed since the mid-19th century, when Lahaina was a major port of call for whaling ships needing to resupply, Front Street retains much of its plantation vernacular architecture, though it has traded in its rowdy taverns and sailors for restaurants, shops, galleries and tourists.

Since APA began Great Places in America in 2007, 50 neighborhoods, 50 streets and 40 public spaces have been designated in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The nine other APA 2011 “Great Streets” are Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA; U Street N.W., Washington, D.C.; Main Street, Galena, IL; Main Street, Nantucket, MA; Washington Avenue, St. Louis, MO; Market Street and Market Square, Portsmouth, NH; Downtown Woodstock Streetscape, Woodstock, VT; King Street, Alexandria, VA; and Davis Street, Culpeper, VA.

For more information on this year’s Great Places in America, visit www.planning.org/greatplaces. For information on APA, go to www.planning.org.