The Early Years

Makiki District Park was originally home to the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association (HSPA) research laboratory.  HSPA’s administration building (fronting Ke`eaumoku Street) was surrounded by greenhouses and test plots.  The library, the Arts & Crafts building, and Agee Hall had not yet been built.  Around 1946, the three-story HSPA library (with basement) was constructed.  During the 1960s drivers passing the facility could see tall tassels of sugar cane waving in the breeze at the corner of Ke`eaumoku Street and Wilder Avenue.

A New Purpose

In the 1970s HSPA moved its facility elsewhere and the City obtained the complex.

In 1974, based on a community survey, the Makiki Community Association requested the HSPA library building become a branch of the State library system.  The State was reluctant, so the Friends of the Makiki Library was formed to advocate for the facility.

Mayor Frank F. Fasi agreed with the community and committed City resources to open the Makiki Library on September 17, 1976 as an independent, City-sponsored library.  The City repainted the building’s interior and provided essential furniture and donated books.  Using federal employment funds, the City initially hired Deborah Knowlton as a full-time librarian and within a few years added two paid assistants.

The City’s Municipal Reference and Records Center eventually transferred oversight of the library to the Department of Parks and Recreation.  However, City funding gradually diminished, ending in 1996.  Around this time the Friends of the Makiki Library formally became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to solicit donations for the library’s continued operation.  A generous local resident, Walter Langway, also created an endowment that has helped fund library operations.

The library became a vital and well-used asset to the community.  The popular children’s section was the only such facility open on Sundays.  Besides loaning books, the library became a focal point for various activities answering community needs.  Cooking and drama classes were offered.  In the late 1970s a computer terminal was obtained for residents to access online government resources, and in more recent years the library acquired two computers with Internet access for public use.  A Makiki Day festival was held annually for years to garner community support for the library.  Up until its closing for renovations in November 2005, the library, ably overseen by part-time librarian Nancy Nott, boasted a collection of 30,000 books and attracted over 6,000 patrons annually.

Renovation and Rejuvenation

Over the years, however, the library’s aging building deteriorated and suffered damage from vandalism.  At one time the City contemplated demolishing the building.  However, given the building’s solid concrete construction (it was once designated as a civil defense fallout shelter), that would have been a formidable task.

The Hawaii State Legislature appropriated funds periodically over the years for renovations and operations, but few of those funds were released.

In 2001, Representative Brian Schatz obtained a $25,000 grant from the State Legislature to support library activities and purchase two computers with Internet access.  In 2005, Congressman Neil Abercombie secured a $100,000 congressional appropriation for library renovations, which will be used soon to upgrade the electrical system and provide new electric outlets within the library.

In November 2005, the City closed the library and embarked on extensive renovations including new windows, a fire escape, an elevator, a special-needs lift to the mezzanine, and extensive work on the deteriorating upper floors.  As the work progressed it became apparent that costs would exceed funding.  Work stopped in 2007 until additional City funds were appropriated, and finally on March 26, 2008, Mayor Mufi Hanneman formally returned the renovated library to the Friends of the Makiki Library (since renamed Friends of Makiki Community Library), which worked hard, with a great deal of help from community volunteers, to ready the library for public use once again.