KAANAPALI - When Uwe Schulz, chief onsite architect of a boutique shopping center that came to be called Whalers Village, landed in California on vacation in 1970, he spoke barely a word of English.
Architect David Carlson Beale, a developer of strip malls, wanted to turn a large swatch of land at the new Kaanapali Beach Resort into a European-style shopping center. He looked for a European-trained architect to help.
Uwe (pronounced Uva) filled the bill perfectly. Within two weeks of being hired, he was onsite. And he has stayed for the last half century, watching over its design as Whalers Village changed over the years and beginning decades-long service to Lahaina.
He has helped with restoration of the Baldwin Home, orchestrated the restoration of Hale Pa'i (the "House of Printing" at Lahainaluna High School that produced Maui's first Bibles and grammars in Hawaiian) and been involved in almost every historic building restoration since.
Retelling a funny story on how he happened to land the job in Palos Verdes, California, Schulz told how Beale had gone home to his wife, who was cooking at the time.
"I had the strangest thing happen today. I interviewed this guy who was born in Germany. I couldn't understand what he was saying," Uwe quoted Beale as saying.
"Barbara Beale was a total nut for Mercedes," Uwe explained. "If she drove, it had to be a Mercedes."
She turned around and said, "The Germans built the Mercedes, didn't they?" David apparently bought the argument.
"And that," Uwe said, "is how I got hired."
In the 1960s, Uwe observed, the entire stretch of land from what he calls the Hilton (now Maui Kaanapali Villas) along today's' beach walk all the way to the Hyatt Regency Maui was empty - useless land unsuitable for growing cane or anything else.
Owner Amfac (now Amfac/JMB Hawaii LLC), operator of Pioneer Mill, offered sugar workers in the 1940s parcels for $2,000 each to build homes. There were no takers. Today the plots are worth millions.
Though a strip mall builder, Beale wanted to build a center that would create shopping in a museum-like setting to celebrate whalers and whaling. And that's what it became - a showplace of low-rise shops, a signature 30-foot skeleton of a whale at the entrance, a whaling boat near the center and a first floor museum complete with whaling artifacts.
The Beales are gone now. The museum is tucked in an upstairs corner, recently stripped of a place to view whaling videos. New owners have also filled the center with freestanding merchant kiosks, some obstructing views of the ocean.
Despite these sad changes, Uwe's overall site design and ambiance remains.
Uwe's biggest contribution, however, may be the preservation of historic Lahaina.
"I came here 40 years ago and saw all these (historic buildings) falling apart," he commented.
Lahaina Restoration Foundation retained Uwe to help save them. One of his most amazing contributions was the challenge of the old Seaman's Hospital up Front Street past the historic district.
One day, sitting in the office of Lahaina Restoration Executive Director Jim Luckey, he told of overhearing a phone conversation Jim was having with a contractor to haul away the remains of the Seaman's Hospital for $2,000.
"It was just rubble. It was a safety hazard for kids, and there was no money to save it." Uwe came to the rescue.
The increasingly prosperous architect decided to take out a $300,000 personal loan from Bank of Hawaii and restore it himself, after the site was acquired from Bishop Museum.
"I put my fortune on the line. The interest back then was 16 percent, but I paid the loan back," Uwe explained.
Noted Harold Hyman, a fellow Rotarian who sat in on an afternoon interview, "You're kidding!"
Uwe went on to explain that he took out a 20-year lease from LRF, which had acquired the site. He moved in his architectural office with six staff members.
It took ten years before he found another tenant, Jim Kartes of the Paradise TV network (another column, another time). Rent from Kartes helped pay back a portion, but not all, of the loan. Uwe repaid the rest and turned the Seaman's Hospital over to the foundation.
The hospital had been built by King Kamehameha III, one of Hawaii's greatest and longest lasting monarchs, as a personal retreat. The structure was constructed from unbelievably strong cut coral as keystones on four corners affixed with field stone forming the walls. Old stone, and some new from nearby fields, completed the restoration.
Uwe over the years has also helped restore the Wo Hing Museum, which also had been falling to decay. And when not busy with restoration, he was doing his day job, designing numerous homes ("starkly modern; not appropriate in Hawaii"). This month, he signed on as an advisor for the renovation of Lahaina Public Library.
Uwe today is battling the big "C." Seeing him at Rotary for a few years, few know his contributions to Lahaina, because he doesn't talk much about himself.
Few know of his two trips to Egypt, one of the cradles of good architecture, and journeys to Peru, Japan and China, where he sought to learn Asian concepts of buildings that he could bring to Maui. Indeed, he is an unsung hero here... maybe until now. God speed, Uwe.