Thursday, June 12, 2014


A small article in the Honolulu Star (March 27, 1900) made the announcement … “Hibernia block will probably be the name of the new sky scraper to go on Hotel Street, between Union and the Elite building.”

“It is not stated that the building will be painted green though best authorities agree that it will be one of the handsomest In Honolulu. Several stores in the block have already been spoken for.”

The green paint reference was suggested since Hibernia is the Latin name for Ireland (with green its national color.)  It’s not clear what its original color was, but it dropped the Hibernia name and ended up being called the “Oregon.”  It had an odd notch where the “Portland” building was added.

Part of it eventually gave way to Bishop Street; but that is getting ahead of ourselves.  Let’s look back.

Almost every new building erected during the construction boom that followed the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the annexation of Hawaiʻi by the US was anticipated by the press to be the best, the finest or, as in this case, the handsomest structure yet to adorn the city.  (Papacostas)  The anticipated Hibernia was no exception.

Before they built, they needed to take down some of the existing structures on the property – among them, the old Bell Tower building on Union Street.

“When first erected, the buildings were used by the volunteer fire department and the hook and ladder and an engine were housed there. In the tall tower the fire bell was hung and a watchman gazed from its heights, during the night-time to detect the first signs of a fire.”  (Hawaiian Gazette, May 4, 1900)

Apparently, demolition was long overdue.  “The tumble-down structures, weatherbeaten and dilapidated, have been standing for the last thirty years, unoccupied of late except as a carpenter shop.”

“(W)hen the building began to show signs of age, the steeple became unsafe and was cut down to the proportions of a small-sized cupola and the bell was removed, fire signals being given by a deep-voiced siren along the waterfront.”

“As soon as the buildings are razed, excavation work will be commenced on the site. The residence cottage now standing on the Ewa side of the new Elite building, on Hotel Street, will be razed. The new Hibernia building, when erected, will thus have the advantage of two line frontages, one on Hotel Street and the other where the Bell Tower buildings now are.”

“The corner property will not be touched for the present. The Hibernia block will be a fitting companion to the artistic Elite block, just finished.”  (Hawaiian Gazette, May 4, 1900)

Before it was finished, the building name was changed to “Oregon Block.”  It was expected to be completed September 1, 1901; owners were AV Gear, J Lando, V Hoffman, JF Reiley and LA Rostin.  (The Independent, April 26, 1901)  Later, owners were identified as Sullivan and Buckley.

As built, it didn’t last long.  Just as the fire tower and other improvements stood in its way (that were later removed to allow construction,) the Oregon Block stood in the way of the extension of Bishop Street up to Beretania.

At the time, Bishop Street was not the road we see today.  It came into existence around the turn of the century (about 1900.)  Initially, it was only a couple of blocks long, between Queen and Hotel Streets.  Business and bankers wanted it extended, mauka and makai.  However, the mauka extension posed a problem for the Oregon Block.

“Bishop Street, extended mauka, will cut through the Oregon block just shaving the edge of Jim Quinn’s automobile stand, take in the shed in its rear, cut off the back building of Helen’s court and two or three old sheds adjoining on the Ewa side…”  (Hawaiian Gazette, June 21, 1910)

However, “(t)he proposition of Superintendent Campbell to extend Bishop street straight mauka going through a portion of the Oregon block property and closing up Union street is not meeting with approval generally by holders of real estate to be affected.”  (Hawaiian Gazette, November 25, 1910)

A year later, the Bishop Street Extension Commission completed its report to the Governor.  “The only feature not satisfactorily settled was in relation to the Oregon block property, owned by Sullivan & Buckley, for which the owners demand a price of $100,000”

“The commission tells the Governor that it believes this price to be too high, but that possibly it will be a saving in the long run, considering that several years may be required to secure the title by condemnation proceedings.”  (Hawaiian Star, September 26, 1911)

Negotiations went on and on, and they didn’t go well; the owners refused a land exchange and held out for more money.  Condemnation proceedings were started.

A couple years later (September 24, 1913,) the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported, “Bishop Street will be extended … This is, in part, a revival of the undertaking of the territory two years ago, when proceedings were started to condemn property necessary for the Bishop Street extension.”

By 1923, Bishop Street extended makai to the harbor (absorbing (and realigning) the former Edinburgh Street) – with no further extension mauka.

Negotiations opened, again; “property owners did not consider the city's offer sufficient, for in 1924 the City and County of Honolulu filed a condemnation petition for the entire area, naming fifteen owners in the suit."  (Ames; Papacostas)  The actual extension of Bishop Street mauka of Hotel to Beretania did not materialize until 1927 (Papacostas)

Oh, the “Skyscraper,” as noted by the newspaper, was (and still is) a two story brick building.  A series of eight arched windows were on the second floor facing Hotel Street; a remnant of the Oregon remains on the mauka side of Hotel Street, between Union Mall and Bishop Street.

It initially had an odd shape, with a notch left open at what would be the corner of Union and Hotel (look in the album for an image.)

This was filled in, as noted by Thrum in 1902, “A neat two-story cement-faced brick store, termed The Portland, is just finished at the corner of Hotel and Union streets, which fills out the jog of the Oregon block at that point.”  Both buildings carry their names in lettering near each top, seen from Hotel Street.

The image shows the Oregon Block (taken from the Alexander Young Hotel.)  In addition, I have added other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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