HCDA Considering Complete Restoration of 90 Year-Old Kaka'ako Building

Sep 5, 2018

The 90 year-old Dearborn Building, also known as the Universal Building, is being considered for a complete restoration to its original configuration
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Amid all the high-rise developments in Kaka’ako, one property owner has decided to turn the clock back 90 years. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.   




Jenna Wells, executive director of the Dearborn Company based in California
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The Dearborn Chemical Company Warehouse was built in 1928 on Ward Avenue, between Waimanu and Kawai’ahao Streets. 

Dearborn 535 LLC is requesting a building permit to spend $5 million to restore the property to its original 1928 configuration.  Jenna Wells is Dearborn’s executive director.


“When we were out there trying to figure out what we’re gonna paint it, we found the original paint color.  So, I’ve taken that to a couple of different places to get the exact paint tone to restore it back to that color.  And the goal is, that when we do lease out the building, we’d like it to be leased to someone that’s gonna use some of the recycled materials from the areas that are getting currently demolished so that it can be something that’s given back to the community and then perpetuity.”


Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of Historic Hawai'i Foundation
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The original single-story 11-thousand square foot masonry building cost 20-thousand dollars to construct in 1928.  The name was changed to the Universal Building in the 1960s.  But, once a comprehensive rehabilitation is completed, the property will be nominated for both the Hawai’i and National Registers of Historic Places.  Kiersten Faulkner is executive director of the Historic Hawai’i Foundation.


“The Dearborn Building, also known as the Universal Building. Is 90 years old.  It harkens back to a time in the history of Kaka’ako where light industrial and war manufacturing and related uses were the norm.  We are moving away from that time period but this building still tells that story in that period of time in the 20’s and 30’s.”


The restoration proposal up for HCDA approval November 7
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The Hawai’i Community Development Authority Board of Directors has scheduled a decision on the Dearborn permit application on November 7th.   But, board member, Jason Okuhara, expressed the sentiments of a number of his colleagues.

“Instead of trying to do more with the property and try to develop like everybody else is trying to do in Kaka’ako, that you guys are going backwards and actually trying t revert it back to the original footprint.  So, I thought that was great and I guess you can tell.  Nobody had any questions or concerns or anything like that because it’s really—I said – refreshing to see something like that happen in Kaka’ako.”


Project architect, Davidean Young
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

After the hearing, the project’s architect, Davidean Young, said the hard work is still ahead for those involved in the restoration.


“The building has been so built out over the years.  It’s gone through many changes and many uses.  It’s a lot of research into what was there before.  But, we are taking apart the building, forensically trying to find out what the original paint color was; the original windows; the original façade because it’s been covered up and rebuilt.  And that’s the plan.”


For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.