As bars and museums reopened their doors Friday, a World War II museum and brewpub in Kakaako has already closed permanently.
Home of the Brave Hawaii President Glen Tomlinson, 59, had big plans to move the museum’s collection of World War II artifacts and memorabilia from Kakaako to a new location in Waikiki. But the coronavirus pandemic in March halted plans for building a new museum, bar and restaurant in the heart of Oahu’s world-famous tourist hot spot.
“Oh my god, now what do we do?” said Tomlinson, who runs the museum with his wife, Janet, 61. It is supported by the nonprofit Remember Honor Salute Foundation.
Like many businesses, the couple had to shut down the museum at 909 Waimanu St., and the affiliated Brewseum, just around the corner, on March 17 to comply with the statewide lockdown orders to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus. Already struggling financially before the pandemic hit, the prolonged closure became permanent.
“Could we have survived?” Tomlinson responded about the recent reopening of bars and museums. “Absolutely not. We were paying rent all the way up until the end of May with no income.”
Since opening the museum in 1991, the couple has amassed over 100,000 artifacts and items of memorabilia donated by service veterans and their ohana. Hundreds of World War II veterans, including Pearl Harbor survivors, have walked through the 2,700-square-foot museum over the past decades.
Now about 240 World War II items from the museum’s collection and custom furniture from the brewpub and museum’s 1940s-themed speakeasy Wiki Waki Woo Tropical Bar & Lounge are up for auction online. Collectors can bid on vintage Pan Am airline bags, fighter pilot helmets, vintage military uniforms, a collection of military patches, bar equipment and more. The auction through Oahu Auctions and Liquidations ends Friday.
Tomlinson said he hopes the surplus items will find good homes with World War II history buffs.
“They’ll hopefully be able to carry on those stories,” he said. “And they’ll appreciate it instead of it either going into the garbage or into the Salvation Army, where who knows where it is going to end up.”
Tomlinson said funds from the auction would help to pay off the debt incurred with the bank from attempts to keep their businesses open. They made a final effort in late May to seek financial support with hopes to save what they called “the largest World War II private collection in the Pacific,” while keeping veterans’ stories alive for future generations.
State Sen. Glenn Wakai (D, Kalihi-Salt Lake-Foster Village) emailed a letter of support to Tomlinson over the Memorial Day weekend: “At present, Home of the Brave has been shut down due to the pandemic. But its stories could be lost forever if we don’t act now.”
The financial support did not materialize, and by the time the loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program kicked in, it was too late to save the museum.
“What he was telling in his museum was a story about Hawaii during some very tumultuous times and how we were able to, as a community, deal with the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and eventually thrive,” Wakai told the Honolulu Star- Advertiser after learning about the museum’s closure. “And that’s an important story to tell, and that story is no longer going to be told.”
Over the past two weeks, the Tomlinsons have been sifting through the collection and returning some items to their original owners both locally and on the mainland.
The Tomlinsons plan to sell and move out of their Hawaii Kai home by September, shipping their belongings and three-quarters of the museum collection to Durango, Colo., where their son Bear Tomlinson lives. Together, they want to build a roadside attraction where visitors can learn about World War II history and Durango’s past as a railroad and mining town.
“The World War II collection won’t be as expansive as what we had in Hawaii,” said Tomlinson, adding that it was a tough decision to move. “At least we can keep the stories alive in Colorado.”
Go to 808ne.ws/brewseumauction to bid on over 200 items. Auction ends at 6 p.m. Friday. Credit card payment only. All sales final.