Lahaina showcased centuries of Hawaiian history. Now many of its gems are gone. - The World News

Lahaina showcased centuries of Hawaiian history. Now many of its gems are gone.

Situated in the heart of Lahaina, the 34-room Pioneer Inn was a piece of history built in 1901 by George Alan Freeland, a British adventurer who followed his star to Maui and started a family with a Native Hawaiian woman. The hotel became the linchpin of a modest business empire that eventually included a saloon, a liquor wholesale operation and movie houses in plantation camps.

Now the Pioneer Inn, owned today by Mr. Freeland’s grandson, figures among the architectural gems obliterated by the wildfire that swept through Lahaina, wiping out not just buildings but sites imbued with historical and cultural significance to many people in Hawaii.

“The Pioneer Inn was the place where crusty old sailor types used to hang out,” said Theo Morrison, the executive director of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, which manages more than a dozen historic sites in the town. “But it was also where we would hold our Rotary meetings before the fire. It was part of Lahaina’s daily life for well over a century,” she said. “And now it’s gone.”

Indeed, while Lahaina is known as a vacation destination for many visitors, for many locals it is simply their home — a place where the presence of some families, especially those of Native Hawaiians, harken back centuries to an era long before the tourists arrived, and well before the United States annexed Hawaii in the 1890s.

The losses in Lahaina from the fire now include the historic Baldwin Home, which houses the restoration foundation’s main office and was considered the oldest house still standing on the island of Maui. It was built between 183-35 by the Rev. Ephraim Spaulding, a missionary from Massachusetts who prized its proximity to the waters where whaling ships once anchored.

The home contained the wooden rocking chairs that the family of the Rev. Dwight Baldwin had shipped all the way from their East Coast home in the 1830s when he took over the compound, their son’s antique shell collection and the medical instruments that Dr. Baldwin, a missionary and physician, had used to vaccinate much of Maui against smallpox.

Unlike others in Lahaina whose families in the area stretch back generations, Ms. Morrison, 75, from Berkeley, Calif., happened upon the town while sailing around the Hawaiian islands in 1975. She said her mind was made up when she walked down Front Street, once known as a vacation spot for Mark Twain and as a gathering point for whalers, now a thoroughfare of art galleries and restaurants. “I walked down Front Street,” she said, “and decided this was my place.”

Originally called Lā-hainā — which roughly translates as “cruel sun” in the Hawaiian language, a nod to the area’s dry, sunny climate — Lahaina was known before the fire as a place where one could reflect on more than 1,000 years of Hawaiian history simply by walking through town.

The Front Street area includes, near Shaw Street, the Moku’ula archaeological site that once served as the kingdom’s capital; Prison Street, which served as the monarchy’s prison; buildings dating back to the whaling, missionary and plantation eras of Hawaiian history; and the trinket shops and retail outlets now symbolizing tourism’s importance in Hawaii.

“To locals, it’s a very touristy spot, but we embraced it,” said Jared Hedani, 37, a grant specialist who is Japanese-Filipino and who has lived on Maui nearly his whole life.

Yes, many of Lahaina’s old wooden storefronts had gone from housing fish markets to high-end tourist spots like Tommy Bahama and Cheeseburger in Paradise, but the town maintained its charms. Mr. Hedani said the fabled beach areas on Oahu that Hawaii is best known for held nothing on Lahaina. “To me, Front Street is better than Waikiki,” he said.

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