Art and architecture where Hotel and Richards intersect in Honolulu

1 09 2012

The charming gazebo at Hotel and Richards streets that caught my eye.

After lunch downtown last week with Becky at Café Julia, that got the vote for best downtown place for “breakfast and lunch only,” I strolled up the street, intending to visit the Hawai‘i State Art Museum (HiSAM). Becky suggested I take a look at what happened to the old Armed Services YMCA swimming pool.

Approaching the intersection of Hotel and Richards, the loveliness of dappled sunlight through the monkeypod trees stopped me.  Pause for photos.

I saw four familiar buildings differently than before, and I reflected on their noteworthiness, all in proximity in this small area. Later, it occurred to me that on my little walking tour, I had focused on the historical architecture and fine art of these buildings, making for a very pleasant afternoon by myself . . . while Becky went back to her office to work.

Hawai‘i State Capitol

Kitty corner to the gazebo is the Hawai‘i State Capitol designed by Belt, Lemmon & Lo and John Carl Warnecke & Associates. Its columns represent coconut palm trees, and the two cone-shaped legislative chambers represent volcanoes emerging from the reflecting pools that depict the Pacific Ocean.

In the courtyard floor is a round artwork “Aquarius,” an Italian glass tile mosaic by Tadashi Sato. There are two noteworthy statues at the Capitol: one of Father Damien of Moloka‘i on Beretania street, and one of Lili‘uokalani, Hawai‘i’s last reigning monarch, on the opposite side facing ‘Iolani Palace.  Inside the chambers there are large tapestry weavings by Ruthadell Anderson.

Looking makai (toward the sea), notice ‘Iolani Barracks (1871) that housed the Royal Guard on the royal palace grounds. Hawaiian kings and queens lived in the ‘Iolani Palace (behind the Barracks in my photo) until 1893 when Lili‘uokalani was overthrown and imprisoned in her room. Today both buildings are museums worth touring.

‘Iolani Barracks, moved to this site in 1965 to make room for the new State Capitol.

When I was in my twenties, I came to the Armed Services YMCA once a week to rehearse with the Honolulu Chorale. In 1927-28 that building was erected to replace the second building of the original Royal Hawaiian Hotel (Hotel Street was named in 1850; the original hotel was demolished in 1882 and rebuilt). I thought it was grand as a functioning Y and imagined what it must have been like in its heyday. Today the building is renovated, housing State offices and the Hawai‘i State Art Museum on the second floor, my destination.

No. 1 Capitol District Building is the former Armed Services YMCA built in 1927-28. The former swimming pool and deck  in the middle of the U-shaped building is now a sculpture garden with a pretend swimming pool.

“Visions and Portraits of Hawai‘i” in the Ewa Gallery (toward Chinatown) contains representative work of Hawai‘i’s well-known artists, as defined by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. This display is eclectic, in that there is generally one work per artist. But Hawai‘i, since settled by non-natives, is eclectic!

Two stand-out works for me on this visit were the main piece as you enter the area — a painting of Waimea Canyon on Kaua‘i by D. H. Hitchcock (1861-1943) whose impressionistic works I admire greatly — and the painting of women, thickly painted Madge Tennant.

The theme of the exhibit in the Diamond Head Gallery opposite is “Recent Acquisitions.” What I remember most is the nature photography of Wayne Levin. Three stunning images: an underwater shot of a diver chased by an ulua (I think), one aerial of Hawaiian monk seals at the tidal line (“Monk Seals and Surf, Derby’s Beach, Nihoa”), and one straight-on of birds and clouds (“Approaching Sooty Terns”). Classic clouds for my painting students to study!

Both galleries display impressively large wooden ‘umeke, or calabashes, turned by Robert W. Butts.

On the ground level, passing by the museum gift shop and through Downtown @ HiSAM restaurant, doors opened to the Sculpture Garden in the former swimming pool area. Artist Doug Young created a glass marvel in 2D with such visual depth that it seems as a 3D pool. I got dizzy staring down at it! Interesting. The restaurant staff began setting up for an outdoor garden party, and I moved on . . .

. . . Back to the Richards Street YWCA, half a block toward King street where Becky and I ate lunch. This attractive building was designed by architect Julia Morgan, who also designed Hearst Castle at San Simeon, California. Before I headed home, I revisited a Lau Chun painting hanging above the grand piano in the lobby. It was of the YWCA building as viewed from the palace grounds, and with the street and cars edited out.

His strokes of thick paint are of every color, you’ll see when you examine the painting closely. It’s as Miss Marvelous’s mother, when as a youngster she looked at my oil paintings, said: “I can’t figure out how, when you look at it close up, it’s just paint, but when you step back it’s a picture.” Lau Chun’s painting is an example that value (shades of light to dark) is more defining than hue (color) in a painting.

It can be useful and educational to look at other artists’ work. But more than that, I can pick out those things that are inspirational. Often, looking at other artists’ work usually frustrates me, and I’m only inspired to return to the studio to make my own creations. This time, I enjoyed the things I selected to see in a new light.

Looking north on Hotel street. Ali‘i i Place, primarily an office building, has a convenient municipal parking garage with cheap rates. The lobby and Alakea street pedestrian entry feature several fine, large paintings by John Wisnosky.

Copyright 2012 Rebekah Luke
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