Architecture of H.L. Kerr featured in DLNR 2013 calendar

(Image courtesy of DLNR)


The Department of Land and Natural Resources has announced the availability of its 2013 Historic Sites calendar, “The Architecture of H.L. Kerr.”

The calendar is a project of the DLNR and the Hawaii Heritage Center. This year, it features the work of celebrated architect H.L. Kerr, who designed more than 1,000 buildings in Hawaii and was the only architect to continuously reside and operate his own office in the Islands throughout the first three decades of the 20th century.

Much of his work endures today.

Featured in the calendar are the W.H. Shipman House in Hilo, Maui County Courthouse in Wailuku, and Cooke Hall (Punahou School), Kawaiahao Hall (Mid-Pacific Institute), Hawaiian Electric Building, Moana Hotel wings, Tai Sing Society Hall, Kaumakapili Church, Hustace Block and McCandless buildings, Mission Memorial building, and Linekona School in Honolulu.

Covers feature details of the Yokohama Specie Bank and entrance to the Aala Park comfort station built in 1916, the first public restroom in Honolulu.

The calendar also includes helpful boating safety tips, tide chart and phases of the moon, with astronomical information provided by Hokulani Imaginarium at Windward Community College and tide predictions provided by EKNA Services Inc., Larry E. Browner, P.E.

Creative contributions include photography by David Franzen, design and production by Viki Nasu Design Group, and printing by Edward Enterprises, Inc.

Additional funding support was provided by the Alexander and Baldwin Foundation, Build Pacific General Contractor LLC, The CJS Group Architects, Ltd., Cultural Surveys Hawaii, DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, Fung Associates, Group 70 International, Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., Housing Solutions, Incorporated, Kuiwalu, Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, and Wallace Theaters Management Corporation.

Calendars are $10 each for the first 10 purchased and $5 each for 11 or more. Shipping is additional. Proceeds from calendar sales support current or future calendar costs.

Calendars are available for purchase from the Hawaii Heritage Center gallery at 1040 Smith St. in Chinatown (between King and Hotel Streets) or by phone at (808) 521-2749.

Harry Livingston Kerr was born Sept. 11, 1863, at Port Ewen, Ulster County, N.Y., to Mary (Tronson) Kerr and William Henry Kerr, a marine architect. He attended Kingston Academy and a private architecture school, and then worked two years in a New York architect’s office (1883-1885) before following the time honored advice, “Go west, young man, go west and grow up with the country.”

He practiced architecture in San Diego, from 1887 to1890, then two years in the state of Washington, before moving to Portland, Ore., where he maintained an office from 1892 to 1897. He married Jennie R. Paris, in San Francisco on Sept. 15, 1891, and with her had three children.

On Dec.7, 1897, with Hawaii on the verge of being annexed as a territory of the United States of America, Kerr landed at Honolulu Harbor. At the time of his arrival, his architectural competition consisted of the firmly established partnership of Ripley and Dickey, and Minnesota architect Oliver G. Traphagan, who had opened his office in Honolulu less than a month before Kerr’s appearance on the scene.

Before the 19th century concluded, several other architects were also attracted to the prospects of work that annexation and its anticipated political and economic stability might provide.

These men included George A. Howard and his partner Robert F. Train, William Matlock Campbell, and the partnership of Frederick W. Beardslee and George W. Page.

The most talented of the group, Traphagan, garnered the choicest turn-of-the century commissions, and as a result a number of the aspiring architectural offices abandoned the field within several years.

Between 1900 and 1904, Kerr augmented his design work by forming the Honolulu Clay Company in partnership with M.L. Smith, C. G. Ellison and F. R. Litherland.

Established in the wake of the Chinatown fire, the enterprise used a high quality clay deposit discovered in Nuuanu valley to make local bricks to compete with imported brick, “which is so costly here at times and at times not obtainable for any consideration.”

By 1907, Hawaii’s slumping sugar industry and an accompanying decline in construction led Ripley, Dickey and Traphagan to seek more lucrative places to apply their expertise, leaving only Kerr in business.

For the next decade, he was the preeminent architect in Hawaii. He continued to practice throughout the 1920s, when he also became involved with Waikiki’s apartment business, owning the Kerr Apartments at Kalakaua and Liliuokalani, and another apartment building on Ala Wai Boulevard.

At the time of his death in 1937, he had designed more than 1,000 buildings in Hawaii and was the only architect to continuously reside and operate his own office in the Islands throughout the first three decades of the 20th century.

Kerr’s work in Hawaii reflected the design propensities of the period, drawing heavily upon classical elements in their ornamentation. However, he employed these elements in a less rigid manner than most of his contemporaries, seemingly drawing upon the ebullient and picturesque spirit of the period when he first established himself as an architect.

Much of the decorative work which Kerr incorporated in his work was made from terra cotta fabricated on the West Coast, a material which became popular in England in the 1860s and a decade later found its way to the United States. In addition, Kerr employed decorative elements made from cast concrete and cast plaster.

The concrete blocks emulating natural stone, which were used in both Linekona School and the Maui County Courthouse were cast on site by the contractor using molds provided by Kerr.

Considering the relative scarcity of buildings remaining in Hawaii from the opening decades of the 20th century, that so many examples of Kerr’s work remain is a testament to the esteem in which they are held.

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