BUILDING THE DREAM OF HOME OWNERSHIP
Kaimuki is the quintessential early twentieth century neighborhood on the Koko Head side of downtown Honolulu. Its name means ‘tī oven’, a reference to the legend of the Menehune cooking tī roots in the area.
Kaimuki is a naturally dusty, dry area that was not heavily populated during precontact times because of its lack of water. The only spring known today is on Luakaha Street near the Salvation Army.
When King Kamehemeha stationed his troops on the beaches of Waikīkī in preparation for the battle of O‘ahu, he stationed lookouts at Kaimukī to spot enemies arriving by sea. Pu‘u o Kaimukī aka “Kaimuki Hill” is the predominant feature of the area and has been a reservoir, a telegraph station, an observatory, and now a park.
When Honolulu became a major point of commerce, “Kaimuki Hill” was used as a semaphore signal station, giving it the name “telegraph hill.”
Getting a water supply to Kaimukī was a requirement for building the neighborhood. To do this, the developers used Pu‘u o Kaimukī (“Telegraph Hill”) as a reservoir and on July 18, 1898, an article in The Independent (Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii), announced “A New Suburb”:
The gentle slope of the land prevents any resident from shutting off the scenery from their neighbors and the cool fresh breeze can always be felt and enjoyed in every nook and cranny. Kaimuki main frontage runs along Kapahulu road and on the Waialae road which is the continuance of Beretania Street. If you’re an advent bicyclist or just enjoy evening walks these roads are ideal for locals to enjoy.
During the development of Kaimuki, the land was subdivided into lots for homes and sold at three cents per square foot. Many of the homes around Kaimuki were built by Lewers and Cooke Company or ordered through a catalogue of “pre-fabricated” buildings shipped from the mainland for as little as $700.
Kaimuki was envisioned as a suburb, where the residents could commute to Honolulu each day for work, but to do this, transportation had to be the early focus for its founding-fathers. First, roads were built by developers to connect the homes with Waialae Avenue. The biggest boost to popularity occurred around the turn of the 20th century, when Waialae Avenue electric streetcars began service to Kapahulu and Koko Head Avenue. As automobiles gained popularity and suburbs towards Koko Head were constructed, Waialae Avenue was solidified as a major throughfare that boomed with business.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, the development of Ala Moana Shopping Center and Waialae Shopping center added competition and slowed business. The construction of H-1 Freeway diverted commuters from the Wai‘alae thoroughfare, which further hurt Kaimukī businesses, but the community fought to get the exit ramps added and once accomplished business once again began to come back to the area. Ironically, the construction of the freeway, which hurt business, is probably what has saved Kaimukī’s main street of businesses. With the diversion of traffic, there was not the development pressure to demolish and rebuild larger strip malls and lends the area its charm.
Houses in the 1950s and 1960s began to change to the boxier styles, and ‘ohana zoning & rules requiring attached ‘ohana dwellings altered the character of the older bungalows if they were spared the wrecking ball. The 1970s and 1980s saw an increase in bungalows replaced by residential boxes and by the end of the 1980s and 1990s, more of the classic Kaimuki homes were replaced by McMansions, while the tear-down and redevelopment continues.
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