merchant street district

Yokohama Specie Bank Building

908 Bethel Street
Architect: Harry Livingston Kerr
Style: Classical

Japan's premiere bank Yokohama Shokin Ginko established a branch in Honolulu called Yokohama Specie Bank in 1892. The branch first operated out of the Japanese consulate offices. In 1908, the bank bought the property at the corner of Merchant and Bethel Streets.

Previously at this site was the Sailor's Home, a three-story building that served as lodging for sailors. Eventually, the Sailor's Home moved, and the lot became vacant.

The Yokohama Specie Bank Building was designed by Harry Livingston Kerr, a popular architect in Hawaii who contributed over 900 building designs. The two-story classical building is made of brick and steel covered with terra cotta.

The branch opened in 1910 and was very successful compared to some other Japanese banks that were open for less than ten years. At the start of World War II, the Yokohama Specie Bank and two other Japanese banks were closed by the Alien Custodian Agency. The bank's customers filed claims to receive their money, but some customers did not receive funds until 1949 when the Department of Justice authorized payment. The government refused to pay interest to the customers until they were forced to do so by lawsuit in 1967.

During the war, the Yokohama Specie Bank Building was used to store confiscated goods, and the basement was renovated into a cellblock with toilets and showers for intoxicated soldiers. The building was sold multiple times and some of the renovations between 1961 and 1979 included removing and adding walls on the second floor. In 1981, Spencer, Ltd. renovated to serve as offices for the Honolulu Magazine. The changes include converting part of the second floor into a mezzanine.

Currently, the Yokohama Specie Bank Building is home to the Cole Academy, an education center for children.

Wing Wo Tai & Co. Building

923 Nuuanu Avenue
Architect: unknown
Style: Early 20th Century Commercial


Wing Wo Tai & Co., a leading Chinese import company, was founded in Hong Kong in 1845 and expanded their exports to Hawaii in 1877. Upon their arrival, the company opened their first store on the corner of King Street and Nuuanu Avenue. The store sold a variety of items including teakwood furniture, silk, ivory goods, liquor, and groceries. The building's location allowed the company to serve both the Merchant Street business community and the Asian residents of Chinatown.

On December 11, 1899, Wing Wo Tai & Co.'s bookkeeper was the first to be diagnosed with the bubonic plague. The city organized controlled fires in January of 1900 to stop the spread of the disease. The Board of Health was reluctant to let Wing Wo Tai & Co. resume operation until all partitions were removed, floors were treated with sulfuric acid, lean-tos were torn down, food was destroyed, and other goods were thoroughly fumigated.

The current Wing Wo Tai & Co. Building was built in 1916 from volcanic stone with plaster and stucco. Two years are embossed on either side of the company name; the year the company arrived is on the left, and the year the new building was built is on the right.

Wing Wo Tai & Co. sold the building in 1935 and continued to operate from the property until Office Appliance Company purchased the building in 1956. The Wing Wo Tai Association purchased the building in 1976. The interior of the building saw a lot of change through the next year. Renovation designs for restaurant use were created by the architect firm Anderson/Reinhardt. The building was sold in 1986 and a three-story expansion was added to the rear of the building in 1988.

Walter Murray Gibson Building

842 Bethel Street
Architect: Louis E. Davis
Style: Spanish Revival

During the reign of King Kalakaua, the Minister of the Interior purchased the property at Bethel Street and Merchant Street in 1885. Construction of a new police station began in 1886, and the building was named after Walter Murray Gibson. The fire of 1886 destroyed another police station located on King Street, and all the services were transferred to the newly completed three-story Walter Murray Gibson Building.

In 1930, Louis E. Davis was commissioned for the design of a new building in the same spot by the same name. The architecture is similar to the popular Territorial/Spanish Revival style seen in Honolulu Hale, the Academy of Arts, the C. Brewer & Co. Building, and more. Like other buildings of this style, the walls are concrete covered with a rough stucco finish. The Walter Murray Gibson Building also features sandstone from Waianae, eleven tons of Roja Alicante marble from France, and doors made of mahogany from the Philippines.

When it was used as a police station, police occupied the basement. The first floor was used for general offices and the receiving area. The jail was on the second floor, and the third floor housed district courtrooms and offices. During World War II, the first floor was occupied by the Alien Property Custodian.

In 1986, Fred N. Sutter & Associates, Inc. was commissioned for a three-story addition along Nuuanu Avenue. The new portion mimics the existing design.

The property has been continuously owned by the City & County of Honolulu. Currently, the building is home to the Department of Budget and Fiscal Services, Real Property Assessment Division.

T.R. Foster Building

902 Nuuanu Avenue
Architect: unknown
Style: Italianate

The T. R. Foster Building was commissioned by the Inter-Island Steamship Navigation Company in 1891. The two-story brick building stands as a memorial to Thomas R. Foster, the founder of the steamship company. The Inter-Island Steamship Navigation Company eventually expanded to airship travel and became known as Inter-Island Airways in 1928. The name changed to Hawaiian Airlines in 1941.

The exterior of the building features the original parapet, cornice, pilasters, and second floor facade. At the top of the building is a tower and tympanum embossed with T. R. Foster and the year the building was erected.

The building was originally used as a warehouse, as well as commercial and office space. In 1950, a mezzanine was created over the first floor. The first floor was renovated for restaurant use in 1970, with office space remaining on the second floor. A small brick building located at the back on Marin Street connects to the main building.

Currently, the T. R. Foster Building houses O'Toole's Irish Pub.

Stangenwald Building

119 Merchant Street
Architect: Charles William Dickey
Style: Beaux Arts


In 1869, Dr. Hugo Stangenwald, an Austrian physician, purchased the property where the Stangenwald Building sits. Early in 1899, he leased the property to a group that would construct a building as a monument to himself. Unfortunately, he died later that year and didn't oversee the construction of the building as planned.

The Stangenwald Building, built in 1901, was Hawaii's first skyscraper. Charles William Dickey designed the six-story building. The building was constructed with a steel frame, bricks with terra cotta embellishments, an intricate cornice, and a slightly recessed balcony on the sixth floor. The building was designed with an elevator and stairwell in the center.

Sometime after 1912, the cornice and overhanging balcony were removed, and the sides of the building were covered with plaster.

The Stangenwald Building was the tallest on the island until the construction of the seven-story Edgewater Hotel in Waikiki in 1950.

Royal Saloon Building

2 Merchant Street
Architect: unknown
Style: Florentine Gothic and Renaissance Revival

The Royal Saloon Building, located at the corner of Merchant Street and Nuuanu Avenue, replaced an 1873 hotel that had an attached saloon. The business was called the Royal Hotel owned by W. L. Green, who obtained the original retail spirit license for the property.

The business changed hands a few times until finally, Walter C. Peacock purchased the property in 1886. The Royal Saloon Building was built at the widening of Merchant Street in 1890. The new building was made of red brick and featured white stucco adornments on the exterior. Like other brick buildings, the saloon survived the controlled fires in 1900.

Between 1914 and 1925, the building expanded onto an empty lot next door along Nuuanu Avenue.

In 1916, the Saloon was closed, and the building was used as offices for other businesses during Prohibition. Walter C. Peacock sold the building in 1925 to Mercantile Printing Company. Once again, ownership of the property changed hands several times, until eventually, the building was returned to restaurant usage. The renovation was done by Anderson/Reinhardt in 1977.

The building has been occupied by Murphy's Bar and Grill since 1987.

Kamehameha V Post Office Building

44 Merchant Street
Architect: J. G. Osborne (architect and builder)
Style: Renaissance Revival

The two-story Kamehameha V Post Office Building was designed by J. G. Osborne, who was noted for his brickmaking. Construction began in 1870 and took a year to complete. Osborne used an experimental method of concrete blocks and iron rods seen in his hometown of Yorkshire, England. During construction, the concrete blocks were constantly wetted to so they could dry slowly and create stronger walls. The old Kamehameha V Post Office is the first building in Hawaii, and the oldest in America, to have been built of reinforced concrete. Towards the end of construction, Osborne was asked to create an additional floor, but he refused.

The building was shared by the post office, the Hawaiian Gazette, and other small companies that needed office space. In 1894, the post office took over the building and was the only tenant.

In 1900, a two-story extension was added to the back of the building. The new portion was made of lava stone and brick with a cement plaster on the exterior to match the existing design.

The Kamehameha V Post Office Building served as Honolulu's main post office until it moved to the Federal Building in 1922. Shortly after, the building was renovated and used as a postal sub-station, as well as space for the Territorial Tax Office. In 1946, the district courts took up residence in the building, and a portion of the portico on Merchant Street was enclosed for more office space.

The building stood in disrepair for many years throughout its usage, and the second floor was deemed unsafe multiple times. It wasn't until 1993 that the Kamehameha V Post Office Building was fully restored and renovated for theater usage. During the renovation, the attic had been converted into a third floor, and the 1946 additional walls had been removed. Since then, the Kamehameha V Post Office Building has been home to the Kumu Kahua Theatre.