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A Luckey Lahaina tale

By Staff | Aug 18, 2011

The renovated Baldwin Home put little Lahaina on the map as a leader in historic preservation. Residents celebrated this missionary legacy at Lahaina Restoration Foundation’s Progressive Dinner in 2009.

LAHAINA — Today, Maui would not be Maui without the preserved historic Lahaina.

“They were farmers growing sugar on the hillside, but they wanted to preserve the history of the town,” said Jim Luckey, the early mastermind of preservation efforts 52 years ago.

At the beginning, in 1959, there was Keith Tester, general manager of Pioneer Mill Co. Later joining in was Carolina-born Larry Windley, a charismatic diver and victim of the bends who ended up flat on his back with nothing to do but read.

He would spend three years at the Children’s Missionary Society in Honolulu researching early history and become the first executive director of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation.

And for 26 years, there was Luckey, now retired in Eugene, Oregon, at 84, who ran a very progressive Lahaina Restoration Foundation from 1962 to ’87.

Asked in a phone interview to name five leaders who most influenced early efforts in Lahaina historic preservation, Luckey noted that there were dozens.

Some were employees of the former “Big Five” company Amfac (later acquired by JMB Realty, Chicago) that owned vast stretches of West Maui acreage.

Another was Fred Baldwin, donator of the Baldwin Home compound. Others were insightful county officials and master craftsmen.

Some 60 years ago, they took the steps to put little Lahaina on the map as one of the first towns outside New England and Virginia to embrace historic preservation, even before the National Trust for Historic Preservation was formed in 1966.

As Jim tells it in a very fine book, “Luckey Come Lahaina,” people like Tester and his wife, Frances, were driven by love of Lahaina.

“The sugar people feared that the vast development in store for Kaanapali in the ’60s and beyond would overwhelm Lahaina and destroy the beloved town as they knew it.

“The community recognized that the new Kaanapali Resort would be a mixed blessing,” Luckey wrote. “It provided jobs and opportunities for the local generations, but it also could heavily impact the lifestyle. There began a growing awareness that the history and culture of Lahaina could easily be trampled by the forces of commerce.

After two extensive studies, county government officials created two historic districts in town and the Lahaina Restoration Committee, which morphed into the Lahaina Restoration Foundation.

Fred Baldwin, descendent of missionary Dwight and Charlotte Baldwin, weighed in early by donating a quarter-block site containing the Baldwin Home and the Masters’ Reading Room, where whaling captains once hung out.

An adjoining portion was turned into a parking lot after a disastrous 1977 fire. Parking revenues from the lot continue to help finance LRF even today.

Blaine Cliver, an architect appropriately from New England, where Lahaina’s missionaries sailed from, drew up restoration plans for the home. He hired George Wylie, a master carpenter, to put his skills to work restoring not only the home but also Hale Pa’i (house of printing) at Lahainaluna High School, where one of Hawaii’s first printing presses produced the Bible and grammars in the native language.

Another big contributor over the years has been Terry Morgan, a jack-of-all-trades “who could do plastering, beautify woodwork and had a great ‘get it done’ attitude,” Luckey observed.

The Baldwin Home was stripped to its bare stone two feet deep with center fill. The interior of the home was duplicated right down to replicated wallpaper.

The historic landmark on Front Street opened in 1966. The preservation of historic Lahaina was clearly on its way.

Next: The Jim Luckey years.