From Print Shop to Museum
By the 1840s, the American Board was curtailing financial support of its Hawai‘i missions. In 1846, Hale Pa‘i ceased printing operations altogether. For a while, the building served various other purposes: as offices for Lahainaluna’s bookkeepers and the school nurse; the basement for a chicken coop. Later abandoned, the building fell prey to termites and rot; poor drainage allowed storm runoff to wick up through the walls and so badly weaken the structure that in 1974 it was declared unsafe for human occupancy.
The next year, a group of Lahaina residents formed the Friends of Hale Pa‘i, and successfully lobbied the state for funds to restore the old building. In his book Luckey Come Lahaina, Jim Luckey, former executive director of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, recorded some of the more colorful aspects of the building’s reclamation.
“We needed a new retaining wall opposite the Mauka wall of the building. I called on the talent of Taniela “Danny” Hafoka, the head man of a large Tongan family that lived up near Napili Bay. He had a crew of about twelve burly men. . . .
“They were a wondrous gang to work with. When I was negotiating with Danny on the cost of the wall, he began by quoting me a price of $6,000. Actually, that wasn’t a ridiculous bid, but I just laid it on the line by telling him we only had $1,500 for the job, and I was sorry we could not hire him.
“Danny was silent and turned and walked over to his crew. I have no idea what transpired in that Tongan discussion, but he soon returned, shook my hand and said, ‘We will do it for $1,500.’ And they never skimped on the quality.”
During the building’s restoration, the old Ramage press had to be stored off site—a task Hafoka’s crew handled with aplomb.
“When we moved the printing press down to the Baldwin Home, I told him I had located a fellow in town with a forklift truck to raise it to the second floor for storage. He looked at me and smiled and said, ‘No need.’ Sure enough, four of his biggest brutes gathered around the 600 pound press, hoisted it to their shoulders, marched up the front steps, and then raised it up at arm’s length, so another foursome could grab it over the railing of the upstairs porch. That press was flat on the second floor of the Baldwin Home in less than thirty seconds! No charge, thank you.”
A century of rats had tunneled into Hale Pa‘i’s walls. They were cleared out and the cavities refilled with new stone and concrete. New timbers replaced old, termite-eaten beams; cedar shingles repaired the roof, exactly matching the original number.
After two years of painstaking restoration, the building was rededicated in December 1982. Today a museum, Hale Pa‘i is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Around its walls are printed works, metal type and other accoutrements of that early form of printing. In the middle of the main room sits the replica of that old Ramage press, built in the carpentry shop at Maui Community College. Visit, and the docent will happily show you how it works.