Maunakea Street Buildings
Mendonca Building 1901
Corners of Smith, Maunakea and Hotel Streets
The Mendonca Building is a two-story, Italianate-style block with dramatic window surrounds and a striking projecting cornice, topped with a barrel-tiled parapet. Constructed of brick with a stucco facing, the block shows obvious stylistic affinities with the Renaissance Revival, which might be considered a “sub-set” of the Italianate Style. A prominent sign over the chamfered Mauka-Diamond Head corner gives the name of the original owner and builder, Jos. P. Mendonca, for Joseph Paul Mendonca (1847-1927), a prominent local entrepreneur and landowner of Portuguese descent. T
The Mendonca Building was one of the first new buildings built after the disastrous Chinatown Fire of 1899-1900. This fire destroyed a significant portion of the old Chinese and Japanese section of the city of Honolulu. It also drove many former owners and tenants away from the city and allowed for the acquisition of large lots by mostly Caucasian (haole) speculators. The Mendonca Building represents this trend and demonstrates how successful some developers could be.
The Mendonca Building was home to a large number of different tenants over the years, many of them Chinese shopkeepers. As of 1914, the building included a large printing facility on its Smith Street side, a paint company, a plumber and a “macaroni” factory — possibly a Chinese noodle shop. There were also about seven small shops, presumably local greengrocers or other food sellers. Some of the tenants lived above the shops; other second floor spaces were rental apartments, offices or storage space. In 1927, the mix of businesses had shifted to include even more small shops, three offices and a bank, on the North King Street and Smith Street corner. By the mid 20th century, offices and the large banking floor still predominated.
The property remained in Mendonca’s hands until his death in 1927, at which point it passed to his widow and children. After World War II, the building fell on hard times and became a venue for peep show rooms, bars and massage parlors. Developer Robert Gerell purchased the block in 1977 and began a lengthy rehabilitation of the property as part of a general renewal effort for Chinatown. Architects Bob Fox and Spencer Leineweber both worked on the design for the project.
Joseph Paul Mendonca was born in on May 19, 1847 in the Azores Islands, 1500 miles off the coast of Portugal. At the age of 16, he signed onto a whaling ship as a galley hand, leaving his berth when he arrived in Honolulu in 1864. He had the good fortune to have an uncle already established in the port city, Jason Perry (1826-1883), by then well on the way to becoming a prominent Honolulu merchant. Jason Perry was born Jacintho Pereira in Horta, and like Mendonca was from the Azores (the island of Faial or Fayal, probably Mendonca’s home as well). Perry was the father of prominent Honolulu jurist Antonio Perry, who later played a prominent role in the Territorial Court system. Young Joseph Mendonca started as a construction worker, learning masonry and carpentry. He soon began to invest in small properties in the Chinatown area, also buying plots in more remote parts of the island of Oahu to raise cattle. He eventually assembled large parcels of ranching land in Koolaupoko and Mokulei, most of it leasehold. Most of his money came from rents on small properties and from his construction business.
Mendonca had a brief encounter with fame in the early 1890s when he became active the Annexation Party. On January 14, 1893, he became a member of the party’s Committee on Public safety, which soon afterward moved to overthrow the Hawaiian throne. Along with Samuel Dole, William Wilder, Francis Hatch and others, Mendonca helped seize the government offices at Ali‘iolani Hale, an act that lead later to the Queen Liliuokalani’s forced abdication. In March 1895, Mendonca was one of fourteen signers of an Act by the Provisional Government to convene a constitutional convention for the then Republic of Hawaii. After this time, Mendonca retired from politics and concentrated on making his fortune in the newly Americanized islands.
Wo Fat Building -1938
103 N Hotel
Westernized Chinese Commercial. Wo Fat’s windowed octagonal tower, brash paint schemes and references to Chinese temple motifs do not belong to a distinct architectural movement, but instead is part of an overall attempt to emphasize the “Chinese” character of the building. The current building was constructed in 1938 specifically to be a restaurant. The main floor had a bar and dining room, the second floor had the main dining room and the third floor had a dance and party pavilion. The kitchen was located on the ground floor and dumb waiters carried the food to second and third floor dining areas. The entrance to the upper floors is situated off of the Hotel Street in center retail space.
Fire insurance maps indicate that restaurants occupied part of the property since 1891. The Wo Fat restaurant (meaning Peace and Prosperity) was founded in 1882 and moved to this location in 1906 and promoted itself as Hawaii’s oldest restaurant until it closed in 2005. In 2008, a produce / grocery store took over the ground floor and a club “The Loft” leased the second floor.
The Wo Fat Building’s scale, architecture and location at the center of Chinatown give the building a larger than life, iconic status. Many celebrities made it a point to visit the restaurant, including Frank Sinatra, Jackie Kennedy. In the 1980’s many of pro football’s stars patronized it when they arrived for the Pro Bowl.
One of Chinatown’s local icons for 30 years was Henry Awa Wong. Mr. Wong was known as the unofficial “mayor” of Chinatown for over 40 years and the major share holder of Wo Fat from 1938 to his retirement and general manager of Wo Fat from 1957 to 1967. Mr. Wong was the first Chinese director of a haole bank in Hawaii, helped start the Narcissus Festival, held the positions of director at Pacific Insurance Co. and vice-president of Liberty Bank. Mr. Wong exemplified that rags to riches story of many immigrants – he started so many businesses that his wife lost count