Oahu’s Ward Warehouse History Gets Tiki Rebirth

Visitors to the island of Oahu who haven’t been to the landmark merchant center, Ward Warehouse, for the last couple of years are in for a bit of a surprise. It ain’t what it used to be. In place, is Ward Village, a “live work play” post-modern contemporary whatchamacallit that has replaced the iconic Kakaako shopping district. 

In the summer of 2017 the last remaining tenants were given notice to move out the 42-year-old (at the time) Honolulu retail and dining complex. Soon after it was shut down and demolished to make way for a luxury mixed residential and commercial project that stands there today, courtesy of Texas developer, the Howard Hughes Corporation. A few retailers survived, most importantly Nā Mea Hawaiʻi, which is not just a shop but a gathering place that exudes pride and respect for the Hawaiian culture, providing patrons with access to books, products, and artisan wares that speak to the culture, language, and traditions of the Hawaiian people. Granted, the space Nā Mea exists in today is a fraction of the size of the one that once stood in the Ward Warehouse. Most local businesses, however, didn’t make the cut. 

As you know, change is inevitable in the most populated of the Hawaiian Island chain, especially on the south shore. But does that mean we should sit on the sidelines as decades old establishments (and memories) fall to the wayside to make way for supposed progress? Certainly not. Protest? That’s for some. But for others it’s more about rescuing pieces of history, preserving and in some cases repurposing them to give them new life in a manner that honors what they once stood for. And that’s where this story comes in.

Gecko, of South Sea Arts, was able to rescue a total of 50 cedar and redwood beams from the old Ward Warehouse as it was being taken down. As it was to many Oahu residents, Ward Center held a special place in Gecko’s heart, a place where he and his family shared countless days and evenings of leisure, and where his son Kainoa performed hula with his halau. Over the last year, Gecko has worked tirelessly from his Makakilo studio, transforming each post into a work of art, inspired by the style of master carver Milan Guanko in addition to Witco and vintage Waikiki fifties hapa haole type work. Today, Gecko has almost completed the entire run of the repurposed Ward Warehouse post carvings, and one day they will collectively stand for thousands of people to admire. While their new home is currently under wraps, the new story for these pieces of Ward history will unfold. Until then, here’s a look at Gecko’s incredible work:

A Legacy Worth Preserving

Victoria Ward (as in Ward Center), daughter of Kaikilani, a woman of Hawaiian ancestry whose chiefly lineage had roots in Ka’u, Hilo and Honokowai, Maui.

Beams behind the scenes at the old Ward