Historic Big Island theater falls into severe disrepair

HILO, Hawaii — A Big Island community’s historic theater has fallen into severe disrepair.

The Naalehu Theater, which was built in 1925, hasn’t been used since 2006, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Monday.

“There’s a big hole in the roof and it’s getting bigger,” said Naalehu resident Glen Winterbottom, who has been attempting to spur action to preserve the historic building. “The metal siding is rusting away slowly.”

Winterbottom has drafted a letter to lawmakers, including Gov. David Ige, asking them to take action.

“While well-maintained historic structures and attractions in the various small towns along the circle-island highway system would obviously tend to foster admiration by visitors and pride in community members, highly conspicuous disrepair can’t help but engender negative and counterproductive reactions,” Winterbottom wrote.

The theater is owned by an Oahu division of the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation, a nonprofit that owns several properties in Hawaii.

The Weinberg Foundation did not return a message from the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

While state lawmakers share Winterbottom’s concerns, many are questioning what actions are even possible.

Because the property is privately owned, very little can be done to compel the owners to maintain their building, said Democratic state Rep. Richard Creagan.

“Lacking any will from the owners, it’s hard to do anything at all,” Creagan said.

Creagan said he attempted to reach out to the Weinberg Foundation and the 300 Corporation the last time the issue was brought to his attention — more than two years ago — but to no avail.

Democrat state Rep. Nicole Lowen circulated an amended version of Winterbottom’s letter among lawmakers before sending it to the Weinberg Foundation. The letter, signed by eight Hawaii Island senators and representatives, requests the Weinberg Foundation to work with the community to address the issue.

“As one of the few cultural and historic landmarks commemorating the sugar industry, we believe it is worth preserving,” the letter read. “The theater fosters appreciation by visitors, is a source of pride among community members, and is eligible to be listed as a historic place.”


Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/


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