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Edwin L. Bauer was last seen on the morning of March 26, 1984 when he stepped on to a bus on Kuhio Avenue.
Bauer never returned to his Waikiki apartment where he lived with his son.
A short article in the “Police Beat” in the Honolulu Advertiser a few days after Bauer disappeared said police were looking for a 78-year-old retired architect. “He cannot talk because he is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, a disease of the brain. He also doesn’t see well enough to distinguish faces.”
Family members told police Bauer liked to ride the bus on his senior bus pass. He kept the bus pass attached to his left arm with a black plastic band. They said he had only 5 percent of his vision left.
Initially, Bauer’s family offered $500 for information leading to his discovery. A year later, the offer had escalated to $5,000. Five years after his disappearance, his four adult children went to court to have him declared legally dead.
The Honolulu Police Department says the Bauer case remains open because he or his remains have not been located.
“Unfortunately a recent review of the Bauer file shows no new information or investigative leads,” says HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu.
Bauer may have disappeared without a trace but his buildings are everywhere in Waikiki and spread across Oahu.
Now, they’re enjoying a revival of public interest.
Young architects are helping spur the movement by buying and restoring apartments in the buildings he designed. “Bauers,” as they call them, are still affordable in some neighborhoods.
Bauer’s buildings were constructed at a time when structures were more welcoming and humane — not like the unfriendly glass and concrete towers that dominate Kakaako today or the monster houses overpowering some Honolulu neighborhoods.
Architect Brandon Large and his girlfriend, Rachel Koreyasu, bought a “Bauer” for $200,000 in a two-story walk up cooperative called the Oahuan. They moved in six months ago.
Large says when he first walked into the 1956 building’s garden courtyard, “It was a pleasant surprise, an oasis plopped down in crowded Makiki. I didn’t know anything like it still existed.”
Large only recently found out that Bauer disappeared while riding on a city bus.
“It is mind-boggling that someone who affected so many people with his architecture went blind and was never found.”
I spoke on Sunday with Joe Self, who was the lead investigator in HPD’s missing persons detail in 1984 when Bauer went missing.
Self said they searched everywhere, island-wide, and put notices on TV and in the newspapers but nobody came forward with any information.
Self says Bauer could have stepped off the bus anywhere. There was no telling where he was going. He says people with Alzheimer’s tend to get scared when they don’t know where they are and hide because they don’t trust strangers. “We couldn’t find where Edwin Bauer went.”
Architect Graham Hart owns a unit in the Kalia, a leasehold apartment building on Ena Road that Bauer designed in 1958.
“Hearing about how Bauer was never found still gives me the chills,” Hart says. “For an architect to lose his mind and lose his sight; it is a scary way to go for someone who had so much vision.”
Hart said he never thought much about Bauer as the architect of his building until he saw a post card of the Kalia and focused on how good the design was. He said that’s when started doing research to help others compile a list of all of Bauer’s buildings.
“I wondered why I had not heard more about him,” he said. “He was hugely productive. He looked at a tower of concrete as a composition. He was always looking for ways to wrap a detail around a building.”
His buildings were not air-conditioned and were relatively inexpensive to build. They took advantage of the trade winds and evoked a tropical feeling.
Bauer is a key figure in what many consider the most creative architectural period in Hawaii, the post-World War II years stretching from about 1946 to 1970. The period is known at Hawaii Mid-Century Modern.
He came here in 1940 from San Francisco at the urging of his friend and University of Southern California classmate, Roy Kelley. Kelley was an architect whose family built and originally owned the Outrigger Hotel chain.
Like many of the creative architects of the period, Bauer worked for the military during the war and then set off on his own to prosper in the post-war building boom.
Bauer’s output ranges from churches including St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church on North King Street and St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Kailua to office and retail buildings like Waikiki Business Plaza, Niu Valley Shopping Center, Continental Insurance Building to apartment buildings like 999 Wilder, the Colony Surf, the Tradewinds and the Kalia.
Architectural historian Don Hibbard says, “Bauer did very clean work. He is all around us. We are just not aware of it.”
Bauer also designed the smaller two story walk ups beloved today as boutique hotels by millennials including the Hawaiiana Hotel and Breakers Hotel on Beachwalk and White Sands on Nohonani Street.
The Breakers Hotel is where I first became aware of the allure of Bauer’s architecture 10 years ago. I was a TV news reporter sent to cover a break-in and theft of valuable textile art from the hotel room of two visitors from Tahiti.
I was supposed to be concentrating on getting information about the stolen art but the cameraman and I became more fascinated by the hotel’s garden courtyard and the peaceful symmetry of the rooms.
We were glad Bauer’s little walk-up with its lush landscaping and Hawaiian feeling was still standing — not torn down to join Waikiki’s brutal parade of concrete towers, the massive boxes that look like they could be anywhere.
I promptly forgot about Bauer after writing my art theft report. That is, until about a month ago when I went on an architectural tour during which architect John Williams showed us a Kapahulu walk-up apartment building Bauer designed in 1960.
Williams said Bauer had made the simple walk-up called Hale Hana a work of art by his attention to detail, that he had formed the open staircase into a visual sculpture and used the corridor railings to make a strong horizontal design statement.
“Bauer was always paying attention to the design features,” Williams said. “A lot of other architects wouldn’t have gone to the trouble for such a small project.”
Williams says when people talk about Hawaii’s greatest mid-century architects they usually mention Alfred Preis who designed the USS Arizona Memorial, George “Pete” Wimberly, famous for his dramatic rooflines and Polynesian-styled resorts, and always Valdimir Ossipoff, known for the Pacific Club, IBM building and his many stylish homes. But Williams says Bauer deserves to be up there at the top.
University of Hawaii architecture professor Martin Despang, another Bauer fan, says Bauer is the necessary fourth wheel on a cart that includes the three wheels of the architectural giants Ossipoff, Wimberly and Preis.
One of the reasons is the sheer amount of buildings Bauer turned out and their simple utilitarian beauty.
Bauer designed Henry J. Kaiser’s original Hawaiian Village Hotel in 1955 when it was first conceived as small clusters of hut-like buildings around three swimming pools surrounded by ample open space and deep plots of tropical planting.
And when the Hawaiian Village went high rise, Bauer’s firm Bauer, Mori and Lum was responsible for its most creative tall building: the Hilton Lagoon Tower.
“People today keep looking at the Lagoon Tower with its lily pad shaped balconies and saying ‘this is a lovely building.’ They are not sure why they admire the tower but they just do,” said Despang.
Bauer was also interested in affordable housing. In 1952, he designed the 20-building, low-rise Kuhio Homes Low Rent Housing Project in Kalihi and in 1956, another 20 buildings in the Palolo Valley Homes Housing Project.
Unfortunately Bauer’s low-rise Kuhio Homes project became dehumanized in 1965 when two 16-story towers called Kuhio Park Terrace by architects Belt, Lemmon and Ho were built adjacent to it with the towers quickly becoming high-rise slums.
Kuhio Park Terrace was renovated in 2013.
Bauer’s eldest daughter, Paula, is surprised and happy about the renewed interest in her father. She is an artist living in Confluence, Pennsylvania, near architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water.
Paula Bauer thinks the main reason Bauer is not as well known as his contemporaries is because he shunned publicity.
“He didn’t like talking. That was one reason he didn’t design many houses,” she said. “He didn’t like dealing with people. My mother did the talking for him.”
He was focused on his work, sometimes designing up to four major projects a year.
“I always knew my father was important and that’s not bragging,” Paula said. “Even though he didn’t promote himself, he was always busy with a long waiting list. He turned down people every week until he started losing his mind.”
Bauer lives on in his vast body of work but it is unfortunate he wasn’t able to keep at it longer.
“He might have had solutions to the housing problems we face today,” says architect Brandon Large. “It is tragic the way he went.”
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