Over the years, many kamaaina estates in the Nuuanu neighborhood have been given a new “lease on life” through adaptation for uses other than private residential. Churches, schools, consulates, and foundations now occupy mansions built for prominent individuals and old families who often hired the top designers and architects of the time. Some of these homes, and gardens as well, are listed on State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Unfortunately this validation does not equate to preservation of the home in perpetuity, but it does serve to establish it as preservation-worthy and can result in attracting buyers interested in such properties. Qualifying as a historic property can also represent certain tax advantages.
Six years ago, Los Angeles-based art collector and botanist Douglas Himmelfarb purchased the historic Old Pali Road home of Clarence Hyde Cooke and continues to restore the 4.74-acre estate that had fallen into disrepair. Listed on both State and National Registers, the home was built in 1928 by celebrated architect Hardie Phillip, a principal of the New York-based architectural firm headed by Bertram Goodhue. Phillip completed a number of important Hawaii projects on the death of Goodhue, who had been chosen to design the Honolulu Academy of Arts by its founders and benefactors, the Cooke family.
“I knew the history of the house,” Himmelfarb said, “and I see it as a work of art…a magnificent mansion set in one of Hawaii’s most beautiful private gardens. I would like to reside there full time…however, I’m willing to entertain reasonable offers for the property. If sold, I would want some assurance that the buyer will continue my restoration efforts. Estates of this quality are rare and deserve the same loving care that might be lavished on a rare painting.” The home was recently listed with Century 21 All Islands.
The Nuuanu home of Richard A. Cooke, brother of Clarence Hyde Cooke, is also included on the Historic Registers and is an example of a private residence preserved through conversion to a new use. Cooke was the grandson of missionary teacher Amos Starr Cooke who, together with Samuel Northrup Castle, founded Castle & Cooke. Richard Cooke served as president of another “Big Five” company, C. Brewer. Built in 1910, the house was sold by the Cookes after World War II and for a period served as a Kamehameha Schools dormitory. In 1962 it was purchased by the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu. The house is now used for Sunday services and includes an art gallery where monthly exhibitions are presented.
Sam Cooke, grand nephew of Richard A. Cooke and Clarence Hyde Cooke, and his wife Mary Cooke are long-time supporters of historic preservation, primarily in Manoa Valley where their own historic home is located. The English Tudor mansion built in 1911 was designed by prominent early 20th century architects Emory and Webb and listed on State and National Registers. The Cookes have ensured its survival with their long-range plan for a “house museum.” Cooke noted that the future museum will include the contents of the house, as well as the surrounding gardens which can now be visited by appointment with the Manoa Heritage Center.
The inventory of homes available for purchase in Upper Nuuanu, whether historic or simply vintage, is generally sparse. Recently an 82-year-old remodeled home on Waokanaka was placed on the market by Help-U-Sell Honolulu Properties. The owners have completed extensive remodeling of the three story, four bedroom, four bath home located a 36,046 square foot lot on a wooded hillside. The house projects the ambiance of a Spanish castle with such features as a masonry exterior, tile roof, wrought iron gates and railings, balconies, a working brick fireplace, a tower wrapping around the circular interior staircase, arched windows, and cedar open beam vaulted ceilings that reach a height of 15 feet. High lava rock walls surround the terraced garden.