Hipped Roofs: Notes on the Maui architecture of Charles W. Dickey

Charles W. Dickey, who was born on Maui, was from a kamaʻāina family and many of his buildings — plantation owners’ houses, for example — were built for the local elites.

The building style that he developed, on Maui and elsewhere, did not harken back to New England or some other imaginary place, but was instead distinctively Hawaiian. I believe that Dickey (1871-1942) did more than any one other person to shape what we think of as a distinctively Hawaiian architecture.

He worked in Hawaii in two phases; first for ten years after graduating from MIT in 1895 and then — after fifteen years in the San Francisco Bay area — for another twenty years until his death. Probably his most famous buildings are in Oakland and Honolulu (including the town hall, the beautiful Halekulani Hotel and Punahou School buildings), but he built a surprising number of buildings on his home island, too, including a fair number upcountry. An incomplete list includes Wailuku Elementary, on High Street in the middle of Wailuku, the Bank of Hawaii building in Kahului, the Wailuku Library (and the building across the street, along with several private houses nearby) in Wailuku, the Baldwin Memorial Church in Paia, a wonderful building, and the old Maui High School, now demolished, which was on Holomua Road in Hamakuapoko between Haiku and Paia.

Dickey’s Kula San is located upcountry in Keokea, between Kula and Ulapalakua. It’s an extended care hospital, formerly a “sanitarium”, that now employs a couple of hundred people, making it a significant part of the upcountry economy. To get there you go out on the lower Kula highway towards Tedeschi Vinyards and Ulapalakua Ranch and make a left just after Keokea Park and the “town center” of Keokea.  You make another left almost immediately, up the hillside towards Kula San.  There are great views both mauka (up, towards the mountain) and makai (down, towards the sea).

Kula San is set in a beautiful location with spectacular views and has a very down-home atmosphere; it doesn’t feel so much like a hospital as a big home. It opened in 1909 as a hospital for tuberculosis patients and now is underutilized as an extended-care facility for elderly and disabled patients. There are usually old people wandering around, and the staff bring their kids after school. There is also a small emergency clinic, I guess for people from Ulapalakua Ranch and Kaupo Ranch. It’s worth visiting, I think, to see the imposing building in the incredible location; the setting just cannot be beat.

One of my favorite private homes on the island is the Kula San director’s house, which is hidden away on the righthand side of the road up to the clinic. It’s a gorgeous little gem of a house and I’ve always suspected Dickey designed it, too.

For certain, he was the architect of the Hui No’eau (aka Kaluanui or the Harry Baldwin estate).  A “hui” is a group or organization, often an extended family, that gets together for some purpose. For example, you might get a hui together to purchase a plot of land or to build a memorial monument. The Hui, as its known, is one of the leading arts foundation on the island, with a focus on arts education. They have a small gallery with good, rotating exhibits but the Maui Arts and Cultural Center down in Kahului has larger exhibition space. I like it primarily for the main building, called Kaluanui, which is a stucco Italianate villa set in beautiful peaceful grounds. Built in 1917 for Harry Baldwin (one of Dickey’s kamaʻāina relatives), one of his descendants donated the house to the Hui in 1976. It’s one of a series of gorgeous mansions built upcountry for the plantation owners, and one of the few that are open to the public.

The Hui is located on Baldwin Avenue, which runs from the skenky windsurfing hippy town of Paia on the coast up to the skenky hippy town of Makawao upcountry, through pipeapple plantations. Baldwin Avenue, in my estimation, is one of the most beautiful roads in the world.

Seabury Hall is another large upcountry estate, now a private high school. Dickey designed the main building; some of the later buildings on the school grounds look like they were designed by Mike Brady.


One thought on “Hipped Roofs: Notes on the Maui architecture of Charles W. Dickey

  1. I am from Maui, and graduated from Maui High School. We always loved the architecture of our school, and were so sad to see horrible disintegration of that beautiful building. The plan to restore the building as the Patsy Mink Community Center was a wonderful plan.

    It was only after reading your article and seeing the pictures on your site that I realized that the buildings that I love most on the island (the Wailuku Library, Bank of Hawaii Building in Kahului, Wailuku Elementary School, Hui No’eau) are all designed the same person, Charles W. Dickey.

    Thank you! Thank you!

    Pat Cabral

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