In 1843, Samuel Thomas Alexander and Henry Perrine Baldwin, sons of early missionaries to Hawaiʻi, met in Lāhainā, Maui. They grew up together, became close friends and went on to develop a sugar-growing partnership.
In 1869, they purchased 12-acres of land in Makawao and the following year an additional 559-acres. That same year, the partners planted sugar cane on their land marking the birth of what would become Alexander & Baldwin (A&B.)
Fast forward to 1924 … sons Wallace M Alexander and Harry A Baldwin served on the A&B board. On February 24, 1924, the board decided to purchase land and build a new home headquarters in Honolulu.
The Alexander & Baldwin Building was planned as a memorial to ST Alexander and HP Baldwin and designed as a prestige home office, with sufficient budget to insure both. A primary concern of the owners was that the building be “uniquely Hawaiian” in appearance. (NPS)
“My foremost thought architecturally was to produce a building suitable to the climate, environment, history and geographical position of Hawaii…the location of Honolulu at the crossroads of the Pacific, in close touch with the Orient, gave sufficient reason for allowing Chinese architecture to clearly influence the design.”
“…the exotic Chinese influence is so subtle that it would not be noted by a casual observer. However, it is there in every detail of the design. On the exterior it is most pronounced in the window ornamentation, in the circular “Good Luck” signs at the main entrance portico on Bishop Street and the long life signs in the column capitals.” (CW Dickey, its architect)
Founded in 1870, A&B was nearly 60 years old when the building was built in 1929. During its construction, people were fascinated with its construction. (One day, four artesian wells were tapped, spewing a flood of water.)
The cornerstone laying ceremony took place November 21, 1928. Reverend Norman C Schenck, in giving tribute to the company’s founders, stated “Out of the past come precious memories of those whose noble purposes, indomitable wills and might endeavors have laid the foundations for our beloved Hawaiʻi.” (A&B)
Originally designed with a 39-foot ceiling in the ‘public floor’ (the central first floor,) it started as a 3-story structure with basement. Two tiled murals on the mauka and makai sides, the sailing ship ‘John Ena’ at Port Allen, Kauai (mauka) and Kahului Harbor and ʻIao Valley (makai) sat 29-feet above the workers on the first floor.
In making each mural, the artist (Jessie Stanton) first painted a picture and made a full-sized rendering of it. It was gridded out at the size of the tiles; individual tiles were manufactured matching each square in the grid – then applied to the wall.
Modifications in 1959 added a mezzanine level, lowering the lower-floor ceiling to 14-feet and creating a new second level that now houses the boardroom (mauka,) offices and lunchroom (makai.)
Other renovations/remodels took place over the years. The 100,000 or so clay tiles in the roof replicated the original roof. The last renovation to the building was in 2006.
The steel-framed, reinforced concrete building has Hawaiian, Chinese and other features; most notable is the Dickey Hawaiian roof (high peak, double pitch.)
The building had its grand opening on September 30, 1929. The Star-bulletin editorial called the building “the architectural expression of triumph of human courage, ingenuity, seen and unseen, which beset the pioneers of industrial Hawaiʻi.” (A&B)
A&B was one of Hawaiʻi’s five major companies (that emerged to providing operations, marketing, supplies and other services for the plantations and eventually came to own and manage most of them.) They became known as the Big Five.
Hawaiʻi’s Big Five were: C Brewer (1826;) A Theo H Davies (1845;) Amfac – starting as Hackfeld & Company (1849;) Castle & Cooke (1851) and Alexander & Baldwin (1870.)
The historic Alexander & Baldwin building (on the State and National Register of Historic Places) remains in the heart of the core of Honolulu’s financial and business district.