Uncertain Future for the Neal Blaisdell Center


Image details

CHAPTER REPORT: Docomomo US/Hawaii
The Neal Blaisdell Center opened in 1964 as the Honolulu International Center, a world-class arts and entertainment campus. At its opening ceremonies, the Center was dedicated as a war memorial to Hawaii’s service members, with the expressed hope that the Center “will give every opportunity for growth of the minds and hearts of the people of Hawaii.”
The Neal Blaisdell Center. David Franzen, © Franzen Photography

Today, the 22-acre site, with its iconic mid-century “spaceship” arena design, an historically significant concert hall, and a newer exhibition hall, is located on prime real estate in Honolulu’s city center. The future of the Blaisdell’s historic buildings depends on public feedback and the outcome of a proposed master plan, which is expected to be unveiled by the City in early 2016.

Although much of public feedback to date reflects overall support to preserve the buildings and to “integrate the site’s rich history, including the natural spring, into its design and programming,” proponents of redevelopment, including Mayor Kirk Caldwell, cite increasing maintenance concerns and lack of ADA compliance, as well as the need to “right-size” the site’s venues and provide added commercial and residential growth.

The Docomomo US/ Hawaii Chapter supports the City’s interest in developing a vision that serves to enhance Honolulu’s vibrant culture and arts scene, but stresses the importance of preserving the modern design legacy and integrity of the campus. The Blaisdell Center site, as a cultural touchstone, has the potential to improve physical linkages within the neighborhood, by connecting well-established resources such as the Honolulu Museum of Art and the Art School, a block away, to the dynamic and burgeoning Kaka’ako neighborhood nearby. Improving the activation and variety of outdoor gathering spaces would also benefit the site.

Docomomo US/Hawaii recently hosted a weekend tour for photographic enthusiasts; many of these photos have been donated to the Hawaii Modernism Library digital project. We are hopeful that a new arts district brimming with great art, theater, music, history and architecture that draws residents and tourists for generations to come can be further established without affecting the significant mid-century modern qualities of the Blaisdell Arena and Concert Hall. They are, after all, two of the arts district’s biggest and most iconic works of art. With the spruced up Blaisdell Center Arena and Concert Hall serving as architectural anchors for this proposed cultural zone, Honolulu would join other well-planned cities that move forward to an enriched future by strategically preserving the past.

Docomomo US/HI Photo Tour. Credit: David Franzen, © Franzen Photography
Credit: David Franzen, © Franzen Photography