HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Architectural Gems of Hilo – The Early 20th Century


By Kelly Moran

Architectural Gems of Hilo – The Early 20th Century

In the first half of the 20th century, Hilo enjoyed an economic boom – mainly from growing sugar cane. Much of that financial bonanza was channeled into new buildings; and as you might expect, most of the architecturally interesting examples were built Downtown.

Chief among these is the Federal Building, on Waianuenue Ave.


With its tall columns, indoor-outdoor galleries on the second floor, and a tiled fountain in the courtyard facing Kalakaua Park, it’s a great example of how a turn-of-the-century public building in the classical-revival style, was adapted for our tropical climate.

Since the 1950s, Koehnen’s furniture store has occupied the huge Bayfront corner at Kamehameha Avenue and Waianuenue Ave.

But it was built in the ‘teens, as the local branch of Honolulu-based H. Hackfeld & Co., one of the Islands’ “Big Five” corporations. (Anti-German sentiment in World War I forced the owners to change its name to American Factors.)

The majority of Downtown Hilo’s buildings went up between 1900 and 1940, including almost all of the two-story structures between the Wailuku River and Ponahawai Street.

Timber-framed, and clad in wood siding, most have – or had – first-floor overhangs sheltering their sidewalk frontage from the rain.

Nearly all had – and some still have – mom-and-pop retailers or restaurants on the ground floor, and small white-collar offices upstairs.

These modest little gems aren’t in any one style; and there’s not much that’s fancy about them. But it’s a treat to look up, above the second-floor windows, or on the corners, and see the names of the builders or original owners, like S. Hata, Holt, and Wah Yuke Chock.

Sugar may have been the dominant industry here, but those companys’ offices were out of town, at their mills. These downtown buildings, the backbone and ribs of Hilo’s day-to-day economy, were where everybody else worked.


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