Bahay Kubo Renovations Complete
Alfredo G. Evangelista | Assistant Editor
“If the Japanese can have one, why can’t we?” Linda Sevilla Kushi recalls her dad A.B. Sevilla saying at that time, referring to the Japanese Tea Garden built in 1961 at Kepaniwai.
News reports state in 1951 the County cleared four acres for picnic grounds and a year later the County dedicated Kepaniwai Park as its first park. Kepaniwai, translated to mean “damming of the waters” is the site of a 1790 bloody battle between Kamehameha and Kalanikūpule, the son of King Kahekili.
The County engaged Richard Tongg of Honolulu—Hawaii’s first landscape architect—to develop a master plan for further development of Kepaniwai Park. In 1962, Tongg designed the gardens at Honolulu International Airport which included Chinese, Japanese and Hawaiian gardens—but no Filipino garden. (Tongg was also the brother of Rudy Tongg, who established the now defunct Aloha Airlines.)
Sevilla, a radio announcer on KMVI, used his connections and relationships to get the ball moving.
Sevilla called on his neighbor Maui County Supervisor Manuel Molina who operated a Market Street bar just up the hill from the A.B. Sevilla store at 1592 Mill Street. Sevilla, also president of the Maui Filipino Community Council from 1963 to 1965, enlisted other members of Maui’s fledgling Filipino community: Richard Caldito, president of the Maui Filipino Catholic Council; Cirilo Sinfuego, president of the United Sons and Daughters of Ilocano Regions Organization; Bernard Barbero, president of the Puunene Filipino Community Association; Augustine Quinsaat, president of the Paia Filipino Community Association; and Tesero Mantilla, president of the Lahaina Filipino Community Association.
Banded together in the Bayanihan spirit of working collectively for a common cause, their efforts under Sevilla worked and the ball started rolling with Resolution 5 introduced by Molina adopted on January 17, 1964:
WHEREAS, at present, there is a Japanese garden at Kepaniwai Park and plans are being prepared for a Hawaiian garden at said park; and
WHEREAS, people of Filipino descent in the County of Maui are desirous of having a Filipino cultural area located in said park; and
WHEREAS, such a Filipino cultural area should make Kepaniwai Park more attractive and interesting to tourists, as well as to the local people; now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Supervisors of the County of Maui that it does hereby respectfully request the Economic Research and Development Commission and Mr. Richard C. Tongg to seriously consider the possibility of establishing a Filipino cultural area in the master plan for Kepaniwai Park;
The resolution passed by a 5-3-1 vote with Chairman Eddie Tam and Supervisors Joseph Bulgo, Manuel Molina, Lanny Morisaki and Tom Tagawa voting aye; Supervisors Wendell F. Crockett, Soon Oak Lee and Marco Meyer voting no; and Supervisor Goro Hokama excused. As per the normal procedure, Sevilla, Caldito, Sinfuego, Barbero, Quinsaat, Mantilla, Tongg, the Economic Research and Development Commission, and the Hon. Pacifico Evangelista, Philippine Consul in Hawaii received copies of the resolution.
Funding became an initial issue. Supervisor Bulgo introduced Resolution 64 in 1964 requesting $75,000 be set aside for the Filipino cultural center from the 1964 bond issue. In 1965, Supervisor Molina introduced Resolution 8 requesting the State Legislature set aside $25,000 to prepare architectural plans to develop Kepaniwai Park consistent with Tongg’s master plan.
By May 1967, the Maui News reported the first phase (Japanese, Filipino and Chinese gardens) was ready for construction while the second phase (Hawaiian, Portuguese and Haole gardens together with a large pavilion, a new toilet-shower building and about ten small pavilions) would follow. By then, the State had appropriated approximately $187,000 of the expected $325,000 cost.
Sevilla and other Filipino community leaders—Anselmo Adarna, Bernardo Aganos, Rev. Justo Andres, Richard Caldito, Silvestre Novida, Sinon Odocayen, and Dr. Jose Romero—traveled to Honolulu in the summer of 1967 to lobby the Philippine Consulate General to have Imelda Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines, pledge her support to “help create an authentic display of the culture of the Philippines,” as reported by the Advertiser.
By May 1968, Tongg reported the development would begin with funding from the Federal Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, the County of Maui and the State of Hawaii. Groundbreaking ceremonies occurred on August 22, 1968. Present at the groundbreaking ceremonies were County Chairman Elmer F. Cravalho, Supervisors Richard Caldito, Goro Hokama, Marco Meyer, Lanny H. Morisaki, Barney Tokunaga and Yoneto Yamaguchi as well as Danny Fong of Fong Construction and Trucking Company, who held the $210,000.00 contract to construct the Filipino, Chinese and Japanese gardens and the pavilions.
Patrick Constantino, who was serving as Cravalho’s Executive Assistant, recalls the construction of the Bahay Kubo. “The Maui Filipino Community Council and its unit organizations played a significant role in the construction. Native materials for the Bahay Kubo like the nipa leaves for the roof and sides were shipped from the Philippines through the assistance of Cravalho, Councilman Richard Caldito and others.” Constantino also remembers harvesting exceptionally large bamboo from the Bamboo Forest Reserve in Keanae for the walls, windows, steps and says H.C.&S. even loaned a truck each time they hauled the bamboo from Ke‘anae to ‘Īao.
Constantino says my Dad, Elias Acang Evangelista, was one of those who helped build the Bahay Kubo. Kushi recalls seeing a photo of my Dad along with Ramon Campos, his kailian from Paoay, a carpenter. My 97-year-old Mom’s memory is a little faded but she confirms my Dad would go along with Sevilla, Cirilo Sinfuego, Campos, Johnny Espirito, Tony Acang, Lucio Nefulda and Isaac Cacayorin, all from Paoay. “Adu da (there were a lot of them),” she recalls. It was a real community effort and Mom starts rattling off names like Emigio Daba and Alfredo Campos from Waikapu, Augustine Quinsaat from Paia, Federico Pagdilao and Napoleon Agasid from Kahului. She even starts naming those who were agkapatas (supervisors) who would say kastoy kastoy (like this, like this). She tells me, “Your Dad, he always went.” My Mom remembers how she and others cooked meals for the workers to bring to the Bahay Kubo.
“When the nipa came from the Philippines,” Constantino recounts, “Napoleon Agasid of the Moncado Foundation insisted he be the one to weave the nipa for the roof. I was in my late twenties at the time and as a local-born Filipino, I was amazed at their craftsmanship in creating an authentic Bahay Kubo, especially with how they fastened the bamboos together without using any nails. Mayor Cravalho was always interested in the progress and I would report on their progress.”
The Bahay Kubo was completed by 1970 and Maui’s Filipino community leaders would bring visiting dignitaries to show off the Bahay Kubo. The 1974 Miss Maui Filipina Grace Esclito posed in front of the Bahay Kubo in 1975. “I remember showing up for the photo shoot,” recalls Grace Esclito Motta. “By then the Bahay Kubo was already complete while the other ethnic gardens were still being worked on.” By January 1976, the Kepaniwai Park and Heritage Gardens officially opened with dedication ceremonies officiated by Mayor Elmer F. Cravalho, Councilmember Manuel Molina, and Monsignor Charles Kekumano.
But with the Bahay Kubo structure built and open, Sevilla still wanted one addition to the cultural garden. “It took my Dad some ten years or so to get the approval of the Council to install the bust of Jose Rizal,” says Lolita Sevilla Eugenio. Sevilla had started a Knights of Rizal chapter on Maui. “I remember going to the Philippines with my Dad on one of his Balikbayan trips in the late 1960’s. He had commissioned a company in Laoag to create the bust. On our return flight, we watched while the crew carefully loaded the bust in the Philippine Airlines special cargo hold. When it got to Maui, it stayed in its original crate in the back of our store at 1592 Mill Street until the Council approved the gift from my Dad and Mom.”
The Maui County Council unanimously adopted Resolution 79-158 (introduced by Councilmember Mariano M. Acoba) on December 10, 1979, accepting the gift of the Rizal bust from the Sevilla’s. The community officially unveiled it on December 30, 1979—the 83rd anniversary of Rizal’s death.
Over the years, the Bahay Kubo proved to be a major tourist attraction at the Kepaniwai Heritage Village. Sevilla, himself a travel agent, accompanied state and international dignitaries to the site, often posing with them. It would be a proud moment for the 1928 Sakada from Currimao, Ilocos Norte. “My Dad was so proud of his culture, his heritage, his humble beginnings,” says Kushi. “And he always wanted to leave something for future generations to enjoy.”
Zaldy Ugalino was mesmerized by the nipa hut replica and its history, having immigrated in May 1970 at nine years old. He recalls his first trip to the Bahay Kubo was with his family. “Two months after we arrived on Maui, my Dad who arrived earlier with my eldest brother, brought the whole family to Kepaniwai to visit the park and see the Bahay Kubo. It was like being home again.”
Shirley Evangelista, a teacher in the Students of Limited English Program (SLEP) took her SLEP students on field excursions to the Bahay Kubo at Kepaniwai. “Zaldy Ugalino was one of my SLEP students at Lihikai School I brought to the Bahay Kubo,” Evangelista recalls. “And he was very interested.”
In 1989, Sevilla and his friends including Alfredo Manuel, Jorge Felipe and others, undertook a rehabilitation of the Bahay Kubo. “I remember my Dad was so concerned because it was falling apart,” says Kushi. “The nipa roof was already gone. My 80-year-old Dad and his friends had to change the interior and exterior walls as well as the bridge.”
“I remember my Dad going with Tata Jorge Felipe, Tata Bert Olais, Tata Nas Tabangcura, Tata Costo Madella and other Sakadas,” said Marilyn Manuel Oura. “Even though my Dad wasn’t a Sakada, those were his friends. As a carpenter, my Dad had a passion for fixing the Bahay Kubo.”
Unfortunately, vandalism and high use led to more disrepair of the Bahay Kubo and the other gardens at Kepaniwai. “In 1994, I was sitting at the Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens and watched a busload of tourists drive by slowly,” recalls Virginia Dagdag Cantorna. “None of the tourists were taking photos as the Gardens were in such ruin and disrepair from neglect, vandalism and elements of weather. The Bahay Kubo, made of bamboo and nipa, was in tatters with large holes in the walls. The missing railings and weakened bamboo flooring made the building dangerous. I felt sad and embarrassed.”
This motivated Cantorna to undertake a complete renovation of the entire Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens. She recruited her PSI cohorts and the “Pride in Iao Heritage Gardens” raised approximately $200,000.00 in monetary donations, with another $400,000.00 of in-kind donations. The renovation project took months of planning and coordination with government, business and non-profit organizations.
“The Bahay Kubo and Hawaiian hale were the least expensive to repair because we used mostly natural materials like bamboo and grass that were gathered by volunteers,” says Cantorna. “The budget for the Bahay Kubo covered lumber and aluminum roofing. The response from the Filipino community was phenomenal! We did not have to pay for much labor. Flor Ibuos planned the design and offered his construction skills and experience. He was most integral to the project. We consulted with him because he had a streak of winning the nipa hut booth construction at the Barrio Fiesta.”
The renovation plans for the Bahay Kubo included:
• tear down and remove all walls, flooring, railing and the old aluminum roof;
• rebuild using lumber and bamboo;
• erect new aluminum roof;
• repair the bridge and overhead covering;
• clean out the streams; restock with small fish and koi;
• clean and repaint Jose Rizal statue;
• remove dead trees and weed; and
• plant new plants (banana, bamboo).
Over eight hundred volunteers would work over two weekends. “The first weekend was to tear down while the second weekend was to rebuild,” explains Cantorna. “The community response was incredible. People came to volunteer in drives including doctors, scout troops, the military, school clubs, visitors from the mainland, and ethnic organizations including our Filipino clubs. Volunteers from the building and landscaping industries participated—carpenters, masons, painters, roofers, tree trimmers, and gardeners.”
One of those volunteers was Zaldy Ugalino. “At that time, I was living in Lahaina and became involved with the West Maui Filipino Club with Elmer Tolentino and Rick Nava,” he says. “Our club helped Cantorna and her group with providing labor. We helped to clean up around the Bahay Kubo and the other ethnic gardens.”
But after the 1994 renovations, there was no continuation of the maintenance needed and there was a leadership void. Sometime around 2008, Ugalino contacted the County Parks Department and received permission to create a Partnership in Parks through Ugalino’s church, Crusaders of the Divine Church of Christ. Little by little, the Church began repairing the Bahay Kubo. But after the repairs, the Bahay Kubo was vandalized, demoralizing the volunteers.
A six-year void occurred before volunteers resumed repairing the Bahay Kubo. Ugalino contacted his friends Victor Campos, Rick Nava, Bart Santiago, Elmer Tolentino and Rhod Casio to assist. In 2014 and 2015, the group did semi-annual clean-ups and minor repairs. In 2015, Tante Urban approached Ugalino and offered to help. In 2016, Campos led the pouring of cement over the old pathway.
Simultaneously, the group discussed with Mayor Alan Arakawa their plans–the initial plan was to use native materials again to retain the authenticity. But due to the fire code, the County would not agree to the use of nipa on the roof. The group also learned they needed a permit and plans.
Urban suggested forming a non-profit corporation and getting a tax-exempt status from the IRS so donations would be tax deductible. The Bahay Kubo Heritage Foundation was incorporated on February 26, 2016 with Ugalino as President, Urban as Vice President, Tolentino as Secretary and Nava as Treasurer. The IRS granted a 501(c)(3) tax exempt status on October 28, 2016, retroactive to the date of incorporation.
But before the Foundation received approval of its tax-exempt status, Maui experienced a 100-year flood on September 13, 2016. “I was away in the Philippines at that time,” recalls Ugalino. “Our boots on the ground reported to me there was a huge hole in the roof and a lot of the tin roof was gone.”
The Foundation realized they needed to get serious about fund-raising because of the need for more renovations. Urban presented a concept of having multiple chefs host a fund raiser. After listening to several proposals, Urban brought in Jake Belmonte, a Chef Instructor at the UHMC Maui Culinary Academy. Belmonte decided the UHMC would be a great venue. The August 19, 2017 Field and Harvest Fund Raiser featured over ten of Maui’s finest chefs: Charles Andres, Larry Badua, Isaac Bancaco, Lyndon Honda, Kyle Kawakami, Joey Macadangdang, Madame Donut, Geno Sarmiento, Jeff Scheer, Chris Schogel, Jeffrey Valdez, James Simpliciano and Jojo Vasquez. The fund raiser raised over $40,000.00.
The Foundation proceeded with getting plans drawn and selected Chris Martinez of CKS Martinez Builders as its contractor. A major problem, however, was getting the permit for restoration approved because there were no records at the County. “So we followed their instructions and drew up a blueprint of the existing Bahay Kubo,” explains Ugalino. “We had to draw it to the exact inch before the permit was approved.”
By September 2019, the County granted the permit, allowing the Foundation to proceed. The County approved a $20,000.00 grant for the roof restoration. The Foundation removed the remaining roof and the roof structure and cleaned the debris, using their personal trucks and renting a bin from Maui Disposal. “Even though the nipa and most of the tin roof were gone, the bamboo roof structure was still intact and strong,” observed Ugalino. “It was neat to see how the original builders had used the authentic methods of tying the bamboos together without any nails but instead using bamboo dowels.”
The plans called for the installation of a galvanized steel roof which required stronger support posts. Once the support work was finished, it took about eight weekend days to install the new roof. “Everything was special cut,” says Ugalino. “They had to fit perfectly like a jigsaw puzzle. The Bahay Kubo was not a perfect square which made it more difficult, requiring more special cuts.”
With the roof installation completed, they turned their attention to replacing the old railings. Sadly, along the way, vandals would paint obscene figures on the walls and floor. But the Foundation was not deterred and instead met the challenges head on. “At first, we were disappointed humans defaced our hard work. But that’s been an ongoing problem since its construction,” says Ugalino. “To protect the original narra floor, we covered it with plywood and painted it.”
A private blessing is scheduled for mid-December to officially declare the restoration over. In the meantime, the landscaping will be improved and the Foundation is working with the County to clean the pond.
“I feel blessed I was given the opportunity to be part of this project,” says Ugalino. “I didn’t imagine when I was nine years old, newly arrived and first visited the Bahay Kubo I would be given a responsibility to help lead the restorations. Along the way, I’ve learned more about the history of the Bahay Kubo and the original builders. It is really amazing what was built here. We all need to do our part to keep it a safe place for future generations. With the Bahay Kubo Heritage Foundation, we now have an organization whose focus is to maintain and preserve the Bahay Kubo.”
Alfredo G. Evangelista is a graduate of Maui High School (1976), the University of Southern California (1980), and the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law (1983). He is a sole practitioner at Law Offices of Alfredo Evangelista, A Limited Liability Law Company, concentrating in estate planning, business start-up and consultation, nonprofit corporations, and litigation. He has been practicing law for 38 years (since 1983) and returned home in 2010 to be with his family and to marry his high school sweetheart, the former Basilia Tumacder Idica.
Disclosure: Evangelista is Legal Counsel of the Bahay Kubo Heritage Foundation.