Eclectic Honolulu architecture to be showcased in walking tour


HONOLULU -- The American Institute of Architects is starting a 90-minute walking tour of 20 of this city's most significant architectural buildings.

"We feel the downtown area, from the Mission Houses Museum to Chinatown, has some of the most interesting architecture in the country," said AIA executive vice president David Cheever. "There's a tremendous amount of history here."

The tour, led by an architect familiar with the buildings, will be up and running in October and will cost $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 15.

At first glance, the city's architecture doesn't look remarkable. The planning of many of the residential neighborhoods seems to have been uninspired, and storefronts and buildings in most places are little more than big boxes of concrete and glass.

But downtown Honolulu is different.

The U.S. Post Office and Customs House is featured in the 90-minute-tour. There's the royal palace, which really looks like a royal palace; a church made of coral; a section of street paved with ballast stones from ships that came here in the 1800s; the ornate neoclassical Hawaii Theater; the stately Ali'iolani Hale where the Hawaii Supreme Court sits, and a few others.

"How often in other cities," Cheever asked, "will you find buildings built in Boston and shipped over here, as is the case with the Mission Houses?"

Cheever said there are many little-known facts to be discovered, "like [images of] Kamehameha V and Queen Emma in the stained glass in St. Andrew's Cathedral," and many questions to pique the visitor's interest, such as "why does Ali'iolani Hale have a series of pillars across the top?"

Cheever said the AIA in Honolulu got 300 calls from local residents wanting to go on the tour after it was announced.

Other gems in the tour are the State Capitol, which was built so that legislators cannot walk from their offices to the chambers without passing public demonstration areas; Iolani Barracks, made in 1870 with 4,000 cement blocks, and a royal mausoleum.

Each tour will be limited to 10 people. They will start at the AIA offices at 1128 Nu'uanu Ave. downtown at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

For reservations, call the American Institute of Architects weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Hawaii time. (2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time).

Tour participants also can buy a glossy, 24-page handbook offering information on the buildings from the AIA for $9.

Phone: (808) 545-4242

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