Denby Fawcett: ‘Missed opportunity’? UH brings Charlot back to the artist’s family

    opinion article badgeThe University of Hawaii has given up its ownership of one of the most historically important homes in Hawaii: the residence of world-renowned muralist Jean Charlotte.

    UH’s Board of Trustees voted Friday to return the mid-century modern house on Kahala Street, officially known as the Jan and Charlotte House, to the late artist’s family.

    The executive director of the Historical Hawaiian Foundation, Kirsten Faulkner, said she was disappointed that the university was giving up the home, which she described as “awesome.”

    “The university wasted an invaluable opportunity to use the intrinsic value of Charlot House to further its educational goals,” Faulkner says.

    Agreeing to return the property to the family, Charlotte’s grandson, David Charlotte, said, “The university does right and honors. We all know that owning this home has been difficult.”

    He said the Charlotte family lacks the financial resources to maintain the house themselves, but is committed to finding new partners who are keen on maintaining it and finding creative ways to make the Kahala estate more accessible to the public.

    “We will do our best,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but in the end the goal is to keep the house.”

    Jean Charlotte's house.
    Artist Jean Charlotte’s children handed the house over to UH in 2001. Corey Lom / Civil Beat / 2022

    Charlotte’s 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 stipulating that their home be preserved in perpetuity for residential and scientific purposes related to Jean Charlotte’s legacy.

    After UH acquired the house, it took responsibility for its care onto the School of Architecture, which over the past two decades has tried dozens of ways to make it an important part of its educational program, including using it as a residence for visiting faculty, a place for seminars and retreats for students and faculty, and an educational space for studios Designing for alumni and opening the house for public tours and group events—everything but selling it.

    Testifying before the Board of Governors’ Planning and Facilities Committee on Thursday, UH Chief Financial Officer Calbert Young said it was an “uphill struggle” to accomplish the scientific mission Charlotte set out for the home while making enough money to make it pay for ongoing and often prohibitive maintenance costs. The price.

    UH estimates that it will 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.

    View of the master bedroom in Jean Charlot's home with a view of the fresco.
    The master bedroom in Jean Charlot’s home features a view of a mural. Corey Lom / Civil Beat / 2022

    “It was hard to put it back in a state that fulfilled its history,” Young said.

    The main stumbling block, Young says, was the easement Charlotte placed with the Historic Hawaiian Foundation at the time the home was donated that forever restricts how it can be used.

    It is prohibited to ease into the university or any future owner the demolition or alteration of any part of the residence that may affect its architectural, historical and cultural value.

    It states that the house may only be used as a single-family home or as a faculty club in a college or university and for artistic, architectural and educational purposes only. All commercial uses are prohibited.

    Additionally, the university says other crippling features are limited parking on the property and its distance from the Manoa campus.

    Faulkner, the historical executive director of Hawaii, says Charlotte House has “global significance” with a unique blend of design features from France, Mexico, and Hawaii — cultures that have powerfully influenced the artistic sensibilities of a man she calls “one of the greatest muralists of the 20th century.”

    Walking in the house is Charlotte’s experience as he expresses his art in his daily life.

    Artist Jean Charlotte painting in Hawaii
    Jean Charlotte painted in his home studio in Kahale in 1970. Jane Charlotte Collection, University of Hawaii Library

    The Paris-born artist lived in Hawaii from 1949 until his death at the age of 81 in 1979.

    A behemoth in the world of mega-graffiti – a genius who soon rose to fame as a young man when he lived in Mexico in the early 1920s, he threw his card in painting mega government-funded projects as one of the founders of Mexican mural revival working with the likes of Fernando Leal, José Clemente Orozco and Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

    After an extensive career that took him from Mexico to New York, and later to Georgia and Colorado, Charlotte arrived in Hawaii in 1949 to work on the UH Committee to create a mural for Bachman Hall.

    He became fascinated by the history and culture of Hawaii and decided to make Hawaii his permanent home after receiving an offer to teach full-time in the university’s art department. Immerse yourself in the cultural life of the islands, and learn to speak the Hawaiian language fluently.

    Charlotte’s work in Hawaii – the largest artistic flow of his life – includes 600 easel paintings, hundreds of prints and 36 public murals that can be seen across Honolulu in buildings such as the Honolulu Convention Center, the United Public Workers headquarters in Kalihi, Yoh Manoa and the theater lobby at Leeward Community College .

    In 1958, Jean Charlotte collaborated with architect George “Pete” Wimberley to design his family’s home at 4956 Kahala Street now listed in both the Hawaii and the National Records of Historic Places.

    The two-story structure with its asymmetric roofline is located on a quarter-acre plot on the mocha side of Kahala Street; The golf course is at Waialae Country Club on one side and Kapakahi Canal on the other. Architects and art historians consider it a work of art in its own right.

    One of the walls is formed entirely from the aerial roots of the giant Habau tree fern. The cantilever table in the dining room designed by Charlot extends halfway inside the house and half outside on the garden porch. One wall of the living room is covered in a museum-quality mural of “Tropical Leaves” that Charlotte painted with his Hawaiian-born girlfriend Juliette May Fraser.

    A Jean Charlotte mural was installed near the second floor of First Bank of Hawaii, Waikiki Branch.
    A Jean Charlo mural installed near the second floor of the First Bank of Hawaii, Waikiki Branch. Cory Lom / Civil Beat / 2021

    In the kitchen and bathroom, Charlotte decked out the porcelain tiles with Hawaiian rock art. His hand is everywhere. Walking through the welcome rooms designed in old redwood, you can still feel his presence through his attention to even the smallest design details.

    David Charlotte says that his grandfather did not stop creating art; Working in the Kahala house until the day he died of cancer, he refused all painkillers for fear that the medication would affect his thinking.

    UH isn’t the first institution in Hawaii to get rid of the home it inherited.

    The Honolulu Museum of Art sold in 2020 for $2.65 million a Vladimir Osipov-designed home near Diamond Head, donated to the museum by attorney Marshall Goodsell and his wife Ruth.

    HOMA currently has on the market for $13.89 million the Hart Wood-designed Spalding House on Makiki Heights Drive. The museum inherited the house when it merged with the Contemporary Museum.

    One of the most memorable actions of the talented property was in 1968 when Punahou School sold its Walter Dillingham mansion La Pietra on Diamond Head to the founders of Hawaii School for Girls for $1 million instead of continuing to deal with a developer who wanted to demolish the Italian home to build 76 housing units. luxury.

    Bill Chapman, interim dean of the UH School of Architecture, said the university’s decision to dispose of Charlotte’s home, while sad, is in the interest of preserving the house in the future.

    Chapman cited other institutions around the country that have also ended their oversight of inherited properties, such as the University of Southern California’s pull of investments in Gamble House, a Pasadena-style arts and crafts masterpiece that the USC has run for 50 years.

    Charlotte’s home is not sold to a stranger, but returned with a $1 bill of claim to family members who know and cherish each room, such as David Charlotte, who lived there for many years with his grandparents while attending Kahala Elementary School.

    Walking into the house on Friday, David said, “It was a beautiful home. Every detail has been carefully thought out. We’ll take it back. We don’t have to make it exactly the way it was. We can embrace its age.”