S. Hata Building - Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii - Landmark Masonry Building in Hilo


Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1991, the two-story S. Hata Building in downtown Hilo is one of the Big Island's most enduring architectural landmarks. It was originally erected in 1912 by Japanese immigrant Sadanosuke Hata and his family as a general store, but it has survived tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and urban renewal to become a testament to Hawaii's pioneering past.

Hata himself started out as an agent for a Honolulu store called Odo Shoten. He was responsible for taking orders along the Hamakua coast, which inspired him to start his own business in Hilo around 1896. His store sold products imported from Asia, notably silks, kimonos, and oriental souvenirs along with Japanese provisions. As business grew, he required a larger venue. Thus, the S. Hata Building was conceived and built for $25,000 on wetlands facing what was then called Front Street.

Although quite a number of masonry commercial buildings similar to this were built in Honolulu in the early 20th century, Hilo's S. Hata Building was unique as a symbol of progress in the outlying island city. When it was constructed in the Oriental section of town, the only other masonry buildings in Hilo were the sugar-funded Hackfeld Building and the Masonic Hall. It therefore stood as a symbol of the upward mobility of this segment of the population.

Today, the S. Hata Building measures 109' x 60' and anchors one end of Hilo's primary downtown street, Kamehameha Avenue. It houses shops, restaurants (including the noted Cafy Pesto), offices, and a museum called Mokupapapa: Discovery Center for Hawaii's Remote Coral Reefs. The Center's role is to interpret the natural science, culture, and history of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and surrounding marine environment.

The S. Hata Building's fazade, which consists of five bays, curves slightly at both ends, defining the original contour of the road. The first floor has always been used for retail activity. Its store fronts feature large plates of glass and inset, double door entries. Although the aluminum windows and doorways were added during World War II, the transoms above them are the original materials, as are the masonry bottom panels.

On the second floor are fourteen round arched windows. Each of the end bays has three windows with concrete sills and the three middle bays have eight. Connecting the windows is a drip stone motif created in relief. Inscribed discs have been situated between the arches.

Separating the first and second stories is a metal awning. Although its metal roof has been replaced in recent years, the curvilinear wrought iron brackets have survived intact. They are clearly visible from the sidewalk below, giving the building "a strong rhythmic element'' at the pedestrian level.

In reviewing the S. Hata Building for inclusion on the National Register, examiners noted that it is "architecturally significant as a good example of an early twentieth century commercial structure in Hilo.... The building's design is typical of its period and function with regards to its scale, its layout, use of second story round arched windows, and restrained embellishment.'' The building is also significant for "its associations with the development of downtown Hilo and the Hata Store.''

The S. Hata Building is located at the intersection of Mamo Street and Kamehameha Avenue in downtown Hilo. The address is 308 Kamehameha Avenue, Hilo, Hawaii 96720-2960.

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