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Wo Hing Museum temporarily closed for renovation project

By Staff | Jun 2, 2016

The historic Wo Hing Society temple at 858 Front St. is currently undergoing major repairs due to ground termites. The adjoining Wo Hing Museum & Cookhouse are also temporarily closed. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAHAINA RESTORATION FOUNDATION. 

LAHAINA – Lahaina Restoration Foundation (LRF) last week announced that the 104-year-old Wo Hing Society temple at 858 Front St. is currently undergoing major repairs due to ground termites. The Wo Hing Museum & Cookhouse are also temporarily closed during this work.

When ground termites were found in one of the posts supporting the upper lanai last year, that post and the surrounding area were treated, but the termites’ point of entry was not specifically located.

Lahaina Restoration Foundation’s chief engineer realized that the termites could return. The foundation submitted a proposal and subsequently received a grant to fund the restoration project. The County of Maui then issued Historic District and Special Management Area Exemption permits for the work.

Bracing, demolition and repair work began this month, and the contractor found that the termite damage was more extensive than originally thought. A.H. Builders will be replacing all eight supporting posts on the front of the building – four on the upper lanai and four on the lower level.

In addition to replacing the damaged wood posts and reinforcing the structure, the contractor is working to establish the point of entry of termites into the building, so this type of infestation can be prevented in the future.

Next to the walkway in the front yard of the Wo Hing Temple is a bronze bust and marble pedestal monument to Dr. Sun Yat-sen, courtesy of The Sun Yat-sen Foundation for Peace and Education. From 1879 to 1910, he made six trips to Maui and spent more than seven years in the islands preparing for the 1911 Chinese revolution. His older brother, Sun Mei, a silent hero behind the revolution, operated a large cattle ranch in Upcountry Maui.

Lahaina Restoration Foundation highly recommends that owners of buildings in the 800 block of Front Street have their structures checked and treated.

According to LRF, the earliest Chinese to arrive on Maui came on trading or whaling ships. It was these men who helped to build tunnels and irrigation systems through the mountains. Along the road to Hana, there are outstanding examples of their labor in the East Maui Irrigation System of bridges. From 1852-98, many thousands of Chinese came to Maui to work on sugar plantations and in sugar mills.

Chinatown in Lahaina began as one-story shops and housing on Front Street. As more Chinese were attracted to the area, two-story wooden buildings were built to accommodate them.

The Chinese immigrants maintained social and political ties with their ancestral home, and in the early 1900s, they formed the Wo Hing Society. At one time, it was a branch of the Chee Kung Tong, a fraternal society with chapters worldwide, but it is no longer affiliated.

The society was formed to nurture the ex-pat community, providing social contacts, support in times of crisis and housing for retired workers. It also supported the revolutionary activities of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, renowned as the “Father of Modern China” and first provisional president of the Republic of China.

The society recognized the need for a social meeting hall. In 1912, using private donations, Wo Hing Society built the attractive two-story building. Upstairs is a temple with an altar for religious ceremonies. Downstairs was the social hall, which serves as museum space and a gift shop today.

Engraved on the calligraphy boards around the temple are characters for Wo, meaning “peace and harmony,” and Hing, which means “prosperity.”

In 1983, Lahaina Restoration Foundation took steps to restore this valuable site for Lahaina. Under a long-term agreement with the Wo Hing Society, the foundation provided funds to bring the buildings back to life and maintain them as a museum.

For more information on the restoration work, call the LRF office at 661-3262. For updates on the museum re-opening date, visit LahainaRestoration.org.