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Whatever Happened to the Wo Fat Building?

Photo used courtesy of Nadia Arndt

When we last heard, the Wo Fat Building was infested with termites and in danger of being demolished. Such was a sad ending to the oldest restaurant in Hawaii that gave its name to McGarrett’s arch enemy.

The original Wo Fat Building was built in 1882. It was rebuilt in 1886 and 1900 following two fires. In 1938, the 1900 building was renovated by architect Y. T. Char and given an art deco style with Asian influences. Such was how the restaurant appeared until it closed in 2009. At that point, the ground floor became a grocery store, while the second floor became a gallery and nightclub. The nightclub occupants painted the upstairs, including the stained-glass windows, entirely black. Certainly, all signs were that Wo Fat was about to sing his last hurrah, just as the television character did on April 5, 1980.

Ah! But wait! As we know, Wo Fat always manages to make a comeback.

Enter the Mighty Wo Fat LLC, an investment group (or hui), which is funding a complete renovation of the building. The ground floor will house a cafeteria and retail shops, while the two upper floors will house a boutique hotel.

Dean Sakamoto of Dean Sakamoto Architects said, “The scope of the project is a combination of historic preservation and adaptive re-use.”

By restoring the distinctive architectural details and giving the building modern uses, the investors hope to have the project placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Such would serve to save the building from destruction and make it eligible for federal tax credits.

So, it appears that old Wo Fat just might rise again.

Read more about it:

Pang, Gordon Y. K. Restored Wo Fat Building expected to breathe new life into Chinatown in Honolulu Star-Advertiser. December 26, 2019.

Cheng, Martha. Wo Fat Building in Chinatown Is Becoming a Chic Boutique Hotel, Honolulu Magazine. November 22, 2022.

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