It's Halloween in Lahaina again, a celebration the county made possible last year by bypassing review from the Cultural Resources Commission. This year it's unapologetically done the same thing, simply by making the stage smaller, siting it on the Wharf Street side of the Banyan Tree, and prohibiting sales.
It's a curious issue. The Banyan Tree falls into one of Lahaina's two historic districts over which the CRC has purview. In years previous, the commission prohibited the popular parade and sided with kupuna who complained the annual, often raunchy festivities violated the "sacred character" of the historic town.
I never could see that. I've studied the history of the town, and the commercial square where the Banyan Tree was planted was not part of the truly sacred portion of old Lahaina.
This lies to the south, around the former ballpark, where lay Mokuhinia pond, sacred to the mo'o goddess Kihawahine of the Pi'ilani lineage. In the pond sat Moku'ula island, where Kamehameha III chose to live in an idyll of thatched houses, linked by a causeway to the much-derided Western-style "palace" across the street, which he used only for formal occasions.
The earliest map of the "Point of Lahaina," drawn in 1819 by the artist on the French vessel L'Uranie, shows the brick storehouse of Kamehameha I, a "morai," or heiau, and five taro ponds. Three of them were along the ocean where the courthouse is now, but the famous two "king's taro patches" were where the Lahaina library stands.
I know Hawaiians considered taro sacred and the three ponds could have fed the community around Kamehameha's sacred queen Keopuolani, who moved to the point in the 1820s after she converted to Christianity. But still.
All this makes me think of Chris Hart, who knows Lahaina better than anybody, and who has long lobbied for the implementation of an improvement plan he created 30 years ago for the area around the ballpark.
A county planner from 1970-1984 and planning director from 1986-1991, his vision and vigilance are largely responsible for the gem of a historic district we have in Lahaina town today.
"He was the guy who convinced people not to tear their buildings down," said Rod Antone, the mayor's public information officer. With his excellent sense of design and immense personal charm, he encouraged owners to update and preserve the historic character of their buildings. In fact, Chris Hart is the reason we have the "country town" planning designation and the design review guidelines that have saved the historic character of Wailuku, Paia and Makawao as well as Lahaina.
He worked on the Kihei Civic Improvement Plan, which guided the development of Kihei and saved the southern oceanfront for parks. He was part of the team that created the Maui Research and Development Park and the expedited permit process that accompanied the special zoning for it.
Chris was a leader in the magnificent decision by Colin Cameron of Maui Land & Pineapple Co. to move the proposed Ritz-Carlton hotel away from the oceanfront where hundreds of Hawaiian burials were found.
According to former Planning Director John Min, who worked with Chris during those years, "One weekend, Chris used a topography survey map to do a little sketch suggesting where the hotel could be relocated, which is just about where it is today. Monday morning he went to talk to the mayor (Hannibal Tavares) and got the ball rolling."
We have Chris to thank for the ordinance that requires the planting of shade trees in county streets and parking lots. We have him to thank for the site plan for the redevelopment of Old Maui High School, and years of effort to beautify Maui's landscape.
He's known for countless other acts of private and public generosity, and seems to have been on the board of everything. He even ran for mayor. "He's helped a lot of people," said Min. "He's the kind of guy if you need help, give him a call and he'll do what he can. He's very community minded, very unselfish."
"He's fair, he's real. You can count on him," said Jan Dapitan, head of Keep the Hawaiian Islands Beautiful.
Chris Hart is one of Maui's great friends, a man who came along in the right place at the right time and made a crucial difference. "I don't know if Maui people know how much he shaped this island," said Antone.
It's time to send him our prayers and our thanks.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.