A state review board OKs the nomination, despite objections from a lessee of the site
By William Cole Nov 29, 2015
The Hawaii Historic Places Review Board has unanimously recommended the placement of about 180 acres of Ewa Field on the National Register of Historic Places — over the objection of the Hunt Development Group, which leases a lot of the land.
The National Park Service, which oversees the register, and the Navy, as the property owner, previously deemed remnants of the old Marine Corps Air Station Ewa eligible for the historic recognition.
The state review board's Nov. 13 recommendation puts Ewa Field one step closer to that listing — and conflicts with Hunt's development plans. The issue also calls into question what is and isn't officially declared to be historic in a state with a lot of unique history.
Historian Ross Stephenson wrote a letter of support for the Ewa Field nomination, pointing out that while some claim there is "nothing there," foundations, runways and artifacts do in fact exist. Buildings have been torn down.
"Note that recently the Honouliuli Internment Camp, just a few miles mauka of Ewa Field, was placed on the National Register," he said. "Honouliuli also consists mostly of foundations. I can see no difference between these two sites in eligibility."
In a letter, Hunt asked the review board to reject or defer the nomination and listing of 180 acres relating to Ewa Field, located in the northeast corner of what later became Barbers Point Naval Air Station.
Steve Colon, president of development for Hunt's Hawaii region, said in an email that "the Navy leased this property to us at full market value. Both the Navy and Hunt believed the area had significant potential for productive use."
The actual National Register designation may come back at about 150 acres by removing, for example, parts of a golf course. About 140 acres of the old airfield are leased by Hunt, Colon said.
As envisioned under the Hawaii Community Development Authority master plan, the area was intended for a variety of projects including renewable energy, light industrial, research and development, and mixed-use residential/retail, Colon said.
"Our understanding is that if the entire area is placed on the register, a significant amount of our property will not be put to a productive use like providing renewable energy," Colon said.
But those development guidelines were considered when few officials even knew the old Ewa Field still existed, obscured by thorny kiawe and other overgrowth at what many assumed was just part of the later Barbers Point air station, which closed in 1999.
Ewa Beach historian John Bond, who discovered what was left of the airfield around 2007, mounted a relentless campaign to bring attention to the Marine Corps history that lay hidden in the weeds.
William Chapman, chairman of the Hawaii Historic Places Review Board, called the site "extraordinary."
"To realize what's there is just breathtaking, really," said Chapman, who walked the site on Veterans Day. He noted strafing marks and an original runway that are "very clearly" visible.
"It's a powerful evocation of the site," he said.
The establishment of Ewa Mooring Mast Field brought a 160-foot mast in 1925 for dirigibles, but two crashes on the mainland led to the cancellation of the program.
The Ewa site later served as the forward Marine Corps airfield in the Hawaiian Islands during World War II. Prior to Dec. 7, it was fully functioning but still under construction, according to a report by GAI Consultants.
The Marines had 48 aircraft at Ewa at the time of the Japanese attacks. Most were SBD Dauntless dive bombers and F4F Wildcat fighters. In the aerial attack that preceded Pearl Harbor by two minutes, nine of 11 Wildcat fighters, 18 of 32 scout bombers, three utility planes, one trainer and two utility planes were eventually lost on the ground as Marines fired back with Springfield rifles and handguns, the report said.
Four Marines were killed, along with two civilians. Thirteen Marines were wounded.
Japanese planes were attacked over Ewa by celebrated U.S. Army pilots George Welch and Kenneth Taylor, who took off from Haleiwa Airfield in P-40 fighters. The GAI report said Ewa Field is the only major battle site from the Japanese attack on Oahu not listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A $54,000 American Battlefield Protection Program grant was secured by Ewa Beach resident Valerie Van der Veer for the GAI study of the Ewa Plain Battlefield. It is that report the state will submit back to the Navy and National Register of Historic Places for final approval, officials said.
Ewa Field "retains sufficient architectural, archaeological, and/or landscape integrity to convey its historical significance," the GAI report states. The National Register of Historic Places last year said it supported the GAI findings.
At the Nov. 13 meeting, attorney Sarah Love, representing Hunt, told the state historic review board the nomination "goes beyond what should be included under law," adding, "It includes areas that we believe don't retain sufficient amount of integrity."
Love also noted that Ewa Field is the first National Register "battlefield" nomination in Hawaii, with other bases — Hickam, Kaneohe and Pearl Harbor included — not included as battlefields.
"The entire island was a part of that day (Dec. 7), so I think that this is going to have implications," she said.
The National Park Service said the American Battlefield Protection Program "promotes the preservation of significant historic battlefields associated with wars on American soil."