Hilo Federal Building

project type

Renovation, Rehabilitation

year completed


Built in 1917 and designed by acclaimed New York architect Henry Davis Whitfield, the historic Hilo Federal Building was built to house a U.S. Post Office, Custom House and Courthouse. From August 2009 to September 2011, MASON served as Project Manager, Architect and Historical Architect on a restoration project, overseeing building repairs and conducting extensive work on the former courtroom space to tell the story of its unique history.

Our work on this project included increasing seismic resistance; making mechanical and electrical upgrades (including plumbing, fire protection, air-conditioning and communication systems); and overseeing concrete spall repairs, hazardous abatement, and accessibility alterations. We also restored both the courtyard fountain fronting the building as well as the third-floor courtroom, which involved removing the false ceiling and refurbishing the original skylight and clerestory windows.

One of the major challenges was adding significant shear walls at the ends of the 1938 wings nearest to the original section without negatively affecting the functional space in this relatively small building.

Photo credit: David Franzen

Existing courtyard and restored fountain.

Refurbished the original skylight and clerestory windows.

Project Details

While the courtroom space restoration and seismic improvements were vital, the following small changes were just as important:

  • Designing accessible toilet rooms on the first floor that referenced, without copying, the historic toilet rooms on the upper floors
  • Removing the 2-inch riser at all doors at wings and installing a large sloped stone threshold to allow for accessibility
  • Discreetly lowering ceilings or soffits to hide fire sprinklers
  • Hiding new air conditioning equipment in “found” spaces


Historic Hawaii Foundation

Historic Preservation Honor Award, 2012


  • Documentation of Existing Conditions
  • Project Programming and Space Planning
  • Building Design
  • Construction Documents and Administration

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