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Lihue Shell Station should be saved

Plans have been submitted to demolish the Lihue Shell Station on Kuhio Highway. That’s the one with the combed concrete roof designed to look like the thatched roof of a traditional Hawaiian hale.

The only station of its kind in the world.

The building’s owners are listed on county tax records as Harry/Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Aloha Petroleum and Shell Oil Company. They should reconsider their desire to destroy this proud legacy of our heritage.

The Shell Station isn’t simply another obsolete relic of an irrelevant past. It remains a historically significant structure that helps us remember where we’ve come from as a community, what we value, and how we should preserve that identity for the future.

The iconic station we see today could have looked quite different — and it almost did.

After architects Guy Rothwell and Marcus Lester submitted their design ideas to business owner Sen. Charlie Rice, considerable discussion took place.

According to The Garden Island, the suggestion was made to substitute a plantation-style, double-pitched roof over an attached lanai, something like Rothwell had designed for All Saints Episcopal Church in Kapaa.

Such construction was then all the rage and had “become more or less regarded as the Hawaiian type roof,” but Rothwell and Lester remained insistent that their proposal reflected “a truer Hawaiian roof.”

Ultimately the architects’ ideas won the day. The station was opened to great fanfare in June 1930.

In recent years the appearance of the station has degraded. The Koloa moss rock pillars are painted a flat gray, and the representational roof, once stained to resemble the color of straw, is now dull green.

The unique form and shape of the roof has been further disguised by a bright yellow Shell logo and identity “belt” running around its perimeter.

The building does not sit in isolation. It’s located in a historic commercial district once known as “the Business Block” of Lihue. On one side are the 1920s- era, false-fronted Garden Island Motors and The Garden Island newspaper buildings. Next door is the 1931 Lihue Theater, with its stucco façade, Spanish-baroque window and projecting marquee.

The Shell Station can and should retain its pride of place and be restored to its former glory.

Resources such as federal tax credits exist to defray costs of rehabilitating historic commercial buildings.

If the contemporary needs of a gas station can truly no longer be met by this building, perhaps there is another location on Weinberg land that can be used to create a new, made-to-order facility.

Many opportunities for adaptive reuse of the current station are then possible: a drive-through coffee shop like many springing up around the country, a hot dog stand, or a Kauai products mini-mall, with shops in the back buildings complementing the offerings up front. Or it could be put to any other use a creative entrepreneur can devise, because that person will know what towns around the country have proven: well-kept historic districts not only preserve the past, they can house profitable enterprises in vibrant destinations.


Pat Griffin is president of the Lihue Business Association. She can be reached at The Lihue Business Association is dedicated to assuring an economically, environmentally, socially and culturally prosperous future for Kauai.


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