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Jim Luckey: Preserving our history

By Staff | Sep 1, 2011

Jim Luckey holds a beautiful rainbow trout caught in the McKenzie River before releasing it.

LAHAINA — Like thousands of other visitors before and since, Oregon sawmill salesman Jim Luckey and his wife, Annie, fell in love with Maui on their very first visit and thought they might like to live here.

The Luckeys wasted no time, moving to Napili a couple of years later to start a new career.

Picked over 23 other candidates, Luckey succeeded Larry Windley to become the second director of the pioneering Lahaina Restoration Foundation in 1973.

The next 26 years, he shepherded through the preservation and restoration of irreplaceable sites, including Hale Pa’i, the seamen’s cemetery alongside Maria Lanakila Church, the steep-walled Old Lahaina Prison, Seamen’s Hospital and the Wo Hing Temple, a meeting hall built by Chinese immigrants.

His pride and joy was Hale Pa’i (House of Printing) built in 1837 at Lahainaluna High School.

The fieldstone for the structure was carried high up the hill to the then-Lahainaluna Seminary by students.

“They certainly didn’t go up there with a Caterpillar truck. The stone got up there on someone’s back,” Luckey observed.

When the restoration began, birds were roosting in the 125-year-old rafters. There was a hole in the roof, and the place was falling apart.

The restoration team replaced 23 sets of decaying window frames, fixed the interior and added a new shingle roof with the same number or rows of wood as when it was new.

Maui Community College’s Industrial Arts Department built a 600-pound working replica of the original press used to print grammars and Bibles in Hawaiian, and Luckey had it carried by brute strength into the refurnished white structure. Artifacts and displays were added before the opening in 1981.

Luckey early on put Lahaina in the forefront of a national restoration movement, roving Eastern U.S. historical sites for ideas and pioneering the concept of adaptive use. He knew that not every building could be turned into a museum.

The Seamen’s Hospital became the office of architect Uwe Schulz, who played a key role in its restoration. Later Jim Kartes’ Paradise Television Network, the Visitor Channel, moved in, paying an annual rent and filling TV screens with Lahaina history.

The old hospital was an example of adaptive use. The term became a buzz word in the preservation movement in Washington, D.C., Luckey pointed out.

“You can’t restore everything and make it a museum,” he commented.

Luckey likes to think that Lahaina was at the forefront of the adaptive movement.

Under the leadership his successors, Keoki Freeland and Theo Morrison, Lahaina Restoration Foundation has since restored the iconic Pioneer Mill Smokestack, a symbol of the town.

Luckey, executive director emeritus, is now in a well-deserved retirement.

What he does now, he said, is “go fish as much as I can.

“No, I didn’t do much fishing while in Lahaina.” He had no time.

Today it’s a retirement well-deserved.