The historic Aloha Theater in Hanapepe, Kauai is undergoing a full renovation that is turning the once-condemned building into a boutique hotel with shops and dining. Once completed, the theater will be an important cultural and economic driver for the local community, bringing new jobs, visitors, revenues and leisure options to the area.
Opened in 1936, the art deco theater was at the center of the hustle and bustle of Hanapepe Town. In its heyday, the theater provided a social gathering spot for the area’s local plantation workers as well as sailors during World War 2. Closed in 1981 (and damaged by Hurricane Iniki in 1992), the building was abandoned for almost four decades until it was bought in 2019 by Aloha Theatre Hui led by Lynn Danaher. Lynn, who has prior experience restoring historic properties in Friday Harbor, Washington, is overseeing the project.
Kauai Magazine recently spoke with Lynn about the current status of the renovation.
Lynn notes the building had been condemned for three years prior to the purchase in February 2019. Since the purchase, there has been a demo of all rotten portions of the structure, the remaining structure has been stabilized, the facade has been rebuilt and reframed, new stucco has been added, the original sign has been rebuilt and a new roof has been installed over the entire building. So far, more than $1 million has been invested in the theater, reports Lynn.
Historic Hanapepe Town is the inspiration for the town in the movie Lilo & Stitch!
Fortunately, the “bones” of the condemned structure were still in good shape. The original slab and stem wall had no cracks and were found to be sound. The original steel structural framing, beams and trusses were inspected and also found to be very strong and sound. Almost all the original full dimensional 2 x 6 old growth clear fir framing was in extraordinary condition as well as 90% of the original old growth clear fir lap siding. Lynn explains this was due to the old practice of soaking the lumber in salt water for an extended period before construction so it became “salt cured.” However, most of the lighting fixtures and seating were completely unsalvageable.
Remarkably, the theater’s old grand piano bronze frame was found when the completely-rotted stage was cleared away. The frame will be displayed once the project is completed.
USDA loan approval to complete the project is expected soon with the projected completion date approximately 18-24 months from funding. Phase 2 will include the following:
- The slanted floor (for theater viewing) will be leveled with footings to create the ground floor.
- The facade will be completed first with 3 spaces available for tenants.
- A tenant is needed for the development’s 2000+ square foot restaurant. (Please contact Lynn directly.)
- Dining will be both inside overlooking the courtyard or outside overlooking Hanapepe Town.
- Completion of a 600 square foot cafe with additional outdoor dining space on the ground floor.
- Completion of two other retail spaces (one is already spoken for).
- The name Pineapples Bistro has already been secured, and a liquor license has been applied for.
Upon completion, the unique boutique hotel will have 16 rooms. Most of the rooms will be 320 square feet with lanais and six will have lofts that overlook a central courtyard filled with plants and a “gentle” water feature. The hallway to the rooms will be open to the courtyard, and each each room will be given an appropriate Hawaiian name and individually decorated.
The open air courtyard will feature endemic and canoe plants with informational placards. Historical photos of Kauai will be featured throughout the hotel. And there will be displays of unique Polynesian artifacts that Lynn has collected during her many expeditions throughout Oceania (see www.islandexplorer.org).
“I think it is important to note that this building, once complete, will be a destination on its own,” says Lynn. Lynn adds, “this project will be an economic driver for Hanapepe. We have wonderful community support!”