The University of Hawaii has given up its ownership of one of the most historically important houses in Hawaii: the residence of world famous muralist Jean Charlot.
On Friday, the UH Board of Regents voted to return the midcentury modern home on Kahala Avenue officially known as the Jean and Zohmah Charlot House to the family of the late artist.
Historic Hawaii Foundation Executive Director Kiersten Faulkner said she’s disappointed the university is relinquishing the home, which she describes as “exquisite.”
“The university has squandered a priceless opportunity to use the intrinsic value of the Charlot House to further its educational goals,” says Faulkner.
Charlot’s grandson, David Charlot, accepting the return of the property for the family, said, “The university is doing what is right and honorable. We all recognize that owning this house has been challenging.”
He said the Charlot family lacks the financial resources to maintain the house by itself but is committed to finding new partners eager to preserve it and generate creative ways to make the Kahala property accessible to the public.
“We will do the best we can,” he said. “It is a challenge, but at the end, the objective is to preserve the house.”
The Charlots’ adult children — Ann, John (David’s father) and Martin — gave the home to UH in 2001 after their mother Zohmah died in 2000 with the family stipulation that their home be maintained in perpetuity for residential and scholarly purposes related to the legacy of Jean Charlot.
After UH received the house, it placed responsibility for its care on the School of Architecture, which for the last two decades has tried dozens of ways to make it a valuable part of its education program, including using it as a residence for visiting faculty, a setting for seminars and student-faculty retreats, an instructional space for graduate design studios and opening the home for public tours and group events — everything short of selling it.
UH Chief Financial Officer Kalbert Young, in testimony to the Board of Regents’ Planning and Facilities Committee Thursday, said it has been “an uphill struggle” to fulfill the scholarly mission the Charlots saw for the house while at the same time generating enough money to pay for continuing and often expensive maintenance costs.
UH estimates it would take up to $2 million to restore the unique property and also to pay for improvements needed to make it commercially viable in the future.