The city’s ignorance of history is no excuse for destroying the heritage of Thomas Square. This is an instance where the mayor needs to step forward and take action to save this highly symbolic piece of island history.
Thanks to Doug Matsuoka for reminding us of the situation in a Facebook post last week.
The City & County of Honolulu is erasing the Hawaiian flag from Thomas Square… The pathways in Thomas Square are designed to look like the Union Jack in Honor of Admiral Thomas who restored Hawaiian sovereignty back in 1843. You can still see the design in the Google Earth image.
But this last Sunday… check the pano. No paths. They’re fertilizing the paths away, disappearing even the memory of Hawaiian Sovereignty. WTF?
The top photo from Google Earth shows the design of Thomas Square. The Union Jack design is still clearly visible.
But in the photo below, taken just over a week ago, the paths and the historic design are being obliterated. Click for a larger version of the photo.
This isn’t esoteric Hawaii history. Do a quick online search for Thomas Square and you’ll find numerous references to the importance and significance of the British flag design.
Read Denby Fawcett’s recent column in Civil Beat, which is an excellent review (“Denby Fawcett: Tap The Brakes On Thomas Square Proposal“).
Earlier, Thomas Square was identified as one of our most threatened history sites in a 2014 Honolulu Magazine review (“The 8 Most Endangered Historic Places in Hawai‘i“).
From the article:
Thomas Square is Hawai‘i’s first official public park, dedicated in 1850 by King Kamehameha III for British Rear Adm. Richard Thomas. During a ceremony in 1843 on the plot of land now bearing his name, the admiral restored the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom after British subjects unlawfully seized the Hawaiian government. It was during that ceremony that King Kamehameha III spoke the famous words that would become the state’s motto, “Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘?ina i ka pono.” Nearly 90 years later, additional features would be added to the park, including a central water fountain, radial coral pathways arranged in the pattern of the Union Jack and the Beretania Street Promenade, designed by landscape architects Catherine Jones Thompson and Bob Thompson. The park was placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1972 based on its political significance.
WHAT THREATENS IT?
In his 2014 State of the City address, Mayor Kirk Caldwell listed the restoration of Thomas Square as one of his top priorities, says Curtis Lum, spokesman for the city Department of Planning and Permitting. “His vision is to see Thomas Square emerge, once again, as a crown jewel and, with the Blaisdell, become a more active gathering place that anchors a vibrant arts and cultural community,” Lum says. While concrete plans have not been developed, one proposal discussed in April includes designing a bike path through the park, box planters and hard pathways. The concepts “were not based on restoring the features and characteristics from the historic period, but rather would erase most of the landscape architecture designed by Thompson and Thompson,” says Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of Historic Hawai‘i Foundation.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The public should make its opinions known. The city has made no decisions on Thomas Square’s future, says Lum, but the public will be asked for its feedback during the various phases of planning.
The city expects to complete an environmental assessment of the project soon, and public comment will be essential.
I find it sad that Mayor Caldwell, who benefited from a large property tax exemption due to the historic designation of his residence, is turning a blind eye to the far more significant history of Thomas Square.
Come on, Kirk. The city can certainly renovate the park without destroying its historic character. Show some leadership.