This historic house could become a new home for Hawaiian filmmakers

The Hawai’i Film Foundation in Nu’umealani is raising money to try to buy the historic property.
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

Since its construction, the Spalding House, the residence that Anna Rice Cooke built for herself in Makiki Heights in 1925, has maintained an intimate connection with the arts. Cooke commissioned it after donating his Beretania Street property for the construction of what is now the Honolulu Museum of Art. The large but unimposing house later became the contemporary museum, then the satellite gallery of HoMA. When the latter announced in 2019 that he planned to sell the Spalding House, also known as Nuʻumealani, or Heavenly Terrace, it appeared that his connection to the arts would be lost.

Now, a new nonprofit called the Hawaiʻi Film Foundation in Nuʻumealani hopes to save the Spalding House by turning it into a center for independent filmmakers in Hawaii. Former gallery spaces and the detached Milton Cades Pavilion would be converted into screening rooms and intimate meeting rooms, while much of the rest of the 13,000-square-foot facility would serve as communal headquarters and permanent residence for up to 10 people based in Hawaiʻi. film organizations, including the Hawaii International Film Festival, Pacific Islanders in Communication, and ʻOhina.

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The idea grew out of a meeting between Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, best known as the founder of HIFF, and Sarah Bakewell, a real estate agent who wanted to preserve the Spalding House as a community asset. Hereniko, who was looking for a house for the festival, says she knew “at least 10 nonprofit film organizations that, like the film festival, were wanderers, going from building to building to find a place to stay.” She considered House Spalding as a possible solution, then called the executive director of each organization. “All 10 of them were like, ‘Oh my God, wouldn’t that just be fantastic. “”

Ciara Lacy, Native Hawaiian filmmaker whose short film, This is how we rise, has been accepted into the 2021 Sundance International Film Festival, says, “What a gift for someone to think ahead for others. But that’s part of what Jeannette’s gift has always been. She was a visionary.

Indeed, in the 41 years since Hereniko founded HIFF, the festival has grown from screening a handful of films to a few thousand people, to being one of the most prestigious film festivals in the United States. , alongside SXSW or Telluride, with attendance exceeding 50,000 people. “It’s very natural for me, I guess,” Hereniko says of her knack for creating programs from scratch. “I just see things that aren’t and visualize how they could be.”

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Spaulding House Mirror Pool

Video: Aaron K. Yoshino

Still, the Spalding house presents significant challenges. Besides the $15 million price tag, the 3.5-acre property is expected to cost up to half a million dollars a year to operate and maintain. Then there’s about $2 million for renovations, which depending on the condition of the home and the amount of audio-visual equipment installed, could cost double that, according to an architect familiar with the plans. To date, the group has raised nearly $1 million through word-of-mouth alone, and several companies and foundations have pledged funds to help maintain the space once it’s acquired, Hereniko says. .

Potentially more difficult is the property’s conditional use permit, which limits the number of nighttime events to just six per year, with no more than 200 people – restrictions HoMA cited in its decision to sell the property. Hereniko argues that the foundation’s programs would be compatible with the current permit, with events — including student film screenings and selection committee work for festivals like HIFF — taking place largely during the day. “For me, it’s not a restriction,” she says. “It is a reality and it must be followed.”

Lacy says the proposal outlined by the foundation would provide new and essential infrastructure for Hawaii’s visual storytellers, whose voices she believes are needed more than ever. “We’re at a tipping point in this country where the conversation about race and representation almost demands that we start operating differently,” she says. “And I think that’s why something like Spalding House is amazing.”

Hereniko says, “It’s a place that has collected stories for generations. The invisible elements of the house and the gardens are the generations of people who are related to the ʻāina and the house itself.

“He has deep roots. It has roots and wings, two important elements of this vision. Want to help? Contact Sarah Bakewell, [email protected].

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