Sad Naalehu Theater saga epitome of greed, indifference

Mahalo for your continuing coverage of the predicament of the iconic Naalehu Theater in Ka‘u District, currently in a sad state of disrepair due to purposeful neglect by its owners, an Oahu division of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation headquartered in Maryland.

I’d like to take this means to clarify state Rep. Richard Creagan’s comment therein that the theater “is frequently a shelter for users of illicit drugs.”


It’s actually been boarded up for years now, so no one is currently doing anything in there, illicit or otherwise. But hey, who has time for the facts when running for higher office?

He also stated that, “the State Historic Preservation Division has determined that the building is too dilapidated to include on the registry at all.”

I don’t know whether this is accurate, but it’s really neither here nor there, since it would be pointless to nominate the structure prior to it being rehabilitated. If the owners aren’t going to make repairs, then they’d certainly continue to cruelly block it’s registration.

The theater may or may not be restorable at this point, but that decision should be made by professionals with the requisite construction and historic preservation expertise, not a politician with more important business to fry. Even if an honest evaluation were to find that it can’t reasonably be saved, the $2 billion Weinberg Foundation certainly has more than enough resources to faithfully replicate the structure from measured drawings. That’s commonly done worldwide with too-far-gone historic buildings, including most of those at Hawaii’s Plantation Village in Waipahu on Oahu.

It’s regrettable that the both Rep. Creagan and Councilwoman Maile David seem far more interested in fielding excuses for their lack of substantive action in addressing this unfortunate situation, than in making any serious efforts to remedy it. (Sen. Josh Green wasn’t quoted in the article, but presumably is at least equally disinterested.)

It’s certainly not the community’s fault that Weinberg Foundation officials on Oahu apparently didn’t think their purported phone calls were worth answering. They could’ve easily written letters, sponsored resolutions, or taken any number of other proactive steps if they had so desired.

It’s pretty telling that the recent state legislative correspondence sent to Weinberg Foundation principals urging their cooperation in correcting this matter had to be kindly spearheaded by Rep. Nicole Lowen, whose North Kona district doesn’t even come close to incorporating perennial “orphan” Ka‘u!

It’s also worth remembering that Harry Weinberg milked the tenants of his two never-maintained plantation shopping centers in Naalehu and Pahala for many years prior to his death, and his successors continued that practice right up until the recent past. So, in effect, he accumulated a certain part of his huge fortune on the backs of such rural business people who did absolutely nothing to him to warrant such greedy mistreatment. And this and other forms of slum-lording apparently occurred in all the other places he stuck his tentacles.

In closing, Harry Weinberg and his successor foundation let the Naalehu Theater purposely rot, and irrespective of its good works elsewhere, the latter damn well ought to do whatever it takes to make amends for that uncalled-for travesty.


The Foundation’s Mission statement notes that “rural communities in the United States” are one of its priority funding areas, and returning this tiny town’s only surviving major historic landmark to some form of usefulness obviously wouldn’t even constitute a rounding area to such a behemoth.

Glen Winterbottom is a resident of Naalehu.