Lahaina historical landmarks before and after they were devastated by deadly Maui wildfires

Lahaina, once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, was devastated by deadly wildfires that swept across Maui, forcing people to flee and destroying many of the town's historic buildings and landmarks. Here is a look at some of them before and after the devastation.

Former capital of Hawaiian Kingdom holds cultural significance for native Hawaiians

The roof of a building is seen engulfed in flames.
The Waiola Church's roof is seen engulfed in flames in Lahaina, Hawaii, on Tuesday. The 200-year-old church is among the many historic Lahaina landmarks damaged or destroyed by the blazes. (Matthew Thayer/The Maui News/The Associated Press)

Lahaina, once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, was devastated by deadly wildfires that swept across Maui, flattening homes, forcing people to flee and destroying many of the town's historic buildings and landmarks.

The town was once the royal residence of King Kamehameha, who unified Hawaii under a single kingdom by defeating the other islands' chiefs. His successors made it the capital from 1820 to 1845, according to the U.S. National Park Service (NPS).

Lahaina holds deep cultural significance for Hawaiians, who see the town as a connection to their ancestors. It remained a place where royalty would visit after the capital was moved to Honolulu in 1845.

It was for a long time known for its sugar plantations — whose workforce included a large contingent of contracted Chinese labourers — and its whaling industry, but tourism has now become its main economic driver.

Dozens of people were killed and hundreds of structures were damaged or destroyed, including well-known landmarks, in the blaze that ignited Tuesday and quickly spread throughout the western Maui community of fewer than 13,000 residents. Here's a look at some of them.

Pioneer Inn

Stills of the Pioneer Inn in March 2017 and Aug. 10, 2023, in the aftermath of a wildfire.

(Showwei Chu, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources/Reuters)

Best Western Hotels confirmed that the Pioneer Inn, which went into operation in 1901, was destroyed.

Its 122 years of continuous operation made it the oldest-running hotel in the state of Hawaii. It was also part of the Lahaina Historic District, which was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1962.

"The hotel served the plantation communities and occasionally hosted notable guests such as novelist Jack London and the founding father of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen," the NPS, which administers and oversees National Historic Landmarks, said on its website.

Banyan tree

Before and after images of a banyan tree at Lahaina Banyan Court park, one depicting a lush green tree and the other, the same tree charred by wildfire.

(Showwei Chu, Office of Hawaii Governor/Reuters)

The 150-year-old banyan tree along the town's historic Front Street, which for generations served as a gathering place for locals, was charred by the blaze.

By most accounts, the sprawling tree was the heart of the oceanside community. Towering more than 18 metres and anchored by multiple trunks that span nearly 0.4 hectares, its leafy branches unfurled majestically to give shade from the sun.

The tree was just a two-metre sapling when it was planted in 1873, a gift shipped from India to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina.

Lahaina Public Library

Before and after stills of the Lahaina Public Library destroyed by the Maui wildfires.

(Showwei Chu, Moses Slovatizki/AFP/Getty Images)

The 19,031-square-foot library opened in 1956 on the site of a former taro patch that belonged to King Kamehameha III, according to the Hawaii State Public Library System website.

Footage from Wednesday showed the structure's roof in flames.

Waiola Congregational Church 

Before and after images of a church destroyed by a wildfire.

(Showwei Chu, Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)

The church originally called Waine'e, meaning "moving water," was established in 1823, according to its website. It soon became a focal point of Christianity on Maui and is also the burial site of early members of the royal family.

The structure itself was destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout its history — the last time being in 1953 when its name was changed to Waiola, meaning "living water." Like the Pioneer Inn, it was part of the Lahaina Historic District.

"It was really the political centre for Hawaii," Davianna McGregor, a retired professor of ethnic studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, told The Associated Press.

Lahaina Harbour

Before and after stills of the Lahaina Harbor wharf area in March 2017, and another one of the same area damaged by the wildfire.

(Showwei Chu, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources/Reuters)

The wildfires left skeletal remains of burned buildings, torched palm trees and sunken boats in Lahaina Harbour.

Before the modern harbour was dredged in 1955, it was known as Lahaina Landing and served as a hub for the town's whaling industry, seeing more than 400 ships a year visiting for weeks at a time in the 1850s.


  • This story has been updated to reflect the fact that, although they made up a significant chunk of Lahaina's sugar plantation workforce, contracted Chinese labourers did not make up the majority.
    Aug 18, 2023 4:07 PM ET

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters