Home slated for demolition to become living museum on plantation life
LAHAINA – “I never even thought about restoration of our home,” stated Sue Arakawa, Agawa family member. “The house was in bad shape and had been empty for seven years. It was just a liability to us. We wanted to demolish it.”
At the public hearing for the demolition, Maui County Cultural Resources Commission (CRC) members had other ideas.
They pointed out that the Agawa house, located at 255 Prison St. and built in 1920, was one of the first homes in Lahaina to have an attached garage. In addition, the house was built before standard building plans were approved by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association, making it a unique structure.
Importantly, the house is located in the Lahaina National Historic Landmark District, where the inventory of existing historic homes is threatened.
CRC members suggested that the Agawa family talk to Lahaina Restoration Foundation (LRF) before proceeding with the demolition.
Executive Director Theo Morrison and then-Operations Manager Terry Morgan went to the house to see if there was anything worth saving in the event of a demolition. Looking for door knobs, useable window frames and other items that could be used to repair LRF properties, they struck up a conversation with Arakawa.
She talked about growing up in a house (now demolished) that was on the back of the property underneath the seven mango trees. Her grandparents lived in the front house. Her grandfather, Tasuke Agawa, was one of the first Japanese lunas (supervisors) at Pioneer Mill.
As the conversation wound down, Arakawa paused and asked, “Well would you like the whole house?”
Having only come for door knobs and window frames, Morrison and Morgan were stunned.
After a quick, cursory inspection of the roof and the foundation, Morrison said, “Sure. We’ll take the house. Of course the LRF board needs to make the final decision, but we think they will agree that a plantation home in Lahaina is worth saving.”
Lahaina Restoration Foundation and the Agawa Family Trust recently signed a 20-year lease for the property. The foundation will restore the house at its own expense and rent it out as a single-family home to recoup the restoration costs.
Once those costs have been paid, LRF will seek a special use permit to use the house as a living museum focused on plantation life.
Students and other groups will be invited to the home for half-day visits, where they will be introduced to the daily home life of plantation workers during the early 1900s.
Students will learn how to scrub clothes on a wooden wash board, harvest vegetables from the garden, bake bread and make their own fishing lures.
Talk story sessions with former mill workers will be scheduled, and students will gather around the old radio to listen to favorite programs from the 1930s as well as the daily news broadcast from 80 years ago. Students will also have fun learning the many games plantation kids played.
The home will be furnished with the large collection of household artifacts that have been donated to LRF over the past several years, including a large “tombstone” wooden radio, metal bed frames, a treadle sewing machine, kerosene lanterns and beautiful steamer trunks that held all the worldly belongings of immigrants who came to work in the sugar plantation.
Handmade implements such as a mango slicer, fishing tackle back pack and a chopping mechanism for cutting grass for chicken feed will also be placed in the home.
With little money to spend, people who lived during the plantation era were extremely resourceful – an important lesson for people living today, Morrison noted.
Lincoln Construction, which has a long history of restoring plantation era homes, will do the restoration work. Hands-on, public workshops will be scheduled on topics such as restoring wooden window frames and repairing old door locks, with the hope that other homeowners will restore – rather than destroy – their plantation era homes.
The public is invited to participate in a site cleanup on Saturday, Sept. 8, from 8 a.m. to noon. A barbecue chicken lunch will be provided for all volunteers. A second community work day may be scheduled the following weekend if needed.
To register for the cleanup, call the Lahaina Restoration Foundation office at 661-3262.
Lahaina Restoration Foundation has been saving and restoring Lahaina’s historic sites for the past 50 years. Starting with the Baldwin Home in the early 1960s, LRF also restored the Old Lahaina Prison, Seaman’s Hospital and Plantation House, Wo Hing Society Building, Hale Aloha, Hale Pa’i and most recently the Pioneer Mill Company Smokestack.
Without the dedication and vision of the early founders of Lahaina Restoration Foundation to preserve, protect, restore and celebrate the past, Lahaina would be a very different place today.