East Hawaii Cultural Center begins upgrades thanks to new grants

  • Courtesy photo A peek inside the vault of the Old Police Station on Kalakaua Street, which now houses the East Hawaii Cultural Center, gives hints of the building’s past purpose.

The East Hawaii Cultural Center is taking the first steps of an initiative to preserve and improve its home, the Old Police Station and District Courthouse.

EHCC was awarded a grant from the Historic Hawaii Foundation under the auspices of HHF’s Hilo Preservation and Beautification Program, which is being matched by additional resources from the Serendipity II Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation and members of the community. The support will enable EHCC to deal with an aggressive bee problem, tent for termites, construct interim roof repairs and install appealing new signage.

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“This grant is part of our ongoing commitment to the preservation, restoration and beautification of historically significant structures in the core downtown area of Hilo,” said Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of HHF. “We are excited to work with EHCC because the goal of our program is to support historic preservation as a mechanism for building community. EHCC’s varied visual and performing arts and education programs demonstrate the same commitment to improved societal relations that underpins HHF’s programming.”

“Our facilities need extensive maintenance and repairs to confront issues such as broken bathrooms in the annex where we operate children’s programs, crumbling asphalt in our parking lot and a leaky roof that endangers our black box theatre and cafe,” added EHCC Executive Director Kellie Miyazu. “But we need to address our problems in an orderly fashion — starting with the bee and termite infestations that make other repairs difficult.”

HHF’s funding of $23,000 focuses on the Old Police Station, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Serendipity II Fund provided matching funds in memory of Joseph and Luella Spadaro, formerly of Waikoloa Village. An additional match was given by community members who participate in Gamelan of the Molten Blossom, EHCC’s Javanese bronze gong orchestra.

Thanks to these two matches, EHCC’s annex (formerly the jail) and the Bob Brown Gamelan Studio (formerly the garage for the chief of police) will also be treated for termites.

In addition to laying the groundwork for future repairs, the HHF grant will produce an immediate and striking visual result.

Local artist Mike Shewmaker, who specializes in mirror-polished sculptures of high-grade stainless steel, is designing and installing a unique, two-sided cut aluminum sign with an acrylic underlay panel that will be illuminated at night from within. The sign’s clean, strong lines are intended to symbolize the character and resilience of EHCC.

Built in 1938 and owned by the county Department of Parks and Recreation, EHCC’s facilities are steeped in lore and still retain echoes of their past use.

“If you know where to look, you can still see labels where the police kept applications for purchasing explosives,” Miyazu said.

Like most organizations in East Hawaii, EHCC has faced financial setbacks and is working hard to reinvent its programming to serve the community safely during the coronavirus pandemic. The much-beloved annual Trash Art Show is currently on exhibit at EHCC’s gallery, but without the usual festive opening and with limits on the number of visitors who can be inside the gallery at one time.

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“We’ve created a series of programs online, such as our ‘Pumpkin Patch’ activity that guides children and teens of all ages in making unique Halloween decorations,” Miyazu said. “Other activities we’ve conducted during the pandemic include a well-received, socially distanced artists’ talk and an online community photography exhibition.”

For more information, visit EHCC online at ehcc.org, call 961-5711 or visit the gallery at 141 Kalakaua St. Current hours are from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.

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