The 116-year-old Estate of James Campbell, once among Hawaii’s largest and most influential land companies, has quietly and officially dissolved — leaving behind a legacy of development that includes the city of Kapolei.
The estate once held more than 91,000 acres on the Ewa plain and in Kahuku on Oahu, on Hawaii island and Maui — massive holdings that made Campbell the state’s second wealthiest trust behind only Bishop Estate (now Kamehameha Schools), and among Hawaii’s 10 largest landowners.
Scottish carpenter turned pioneering businessman James Campbell died in 1900, creating Campbell Estate as a trust for his four daughters and their children.
At one time, the portfolio included the vast expanse of West Oahu from Ewa to West Beach (now known as Ko Olina), the area that has seen the island’s biggest growth over the past several decades.
A probate judge in November gave approval to the final closure actions of the trust, and the company will be physically shutting down its downtown office for good in coming weeks.
Valued at $3 million at its inception, Campbell Estate held more than $2 billion in assets on Jan. 20, 2007, when the assets were distributed to Campbell’s then 33-surviving heirs in the process of dissolving the trust in accordance with Campbell’s will.
In addition to cash and property, most of the heirs received their distribution in shares in a newly formed successor company, James Campbell Co. LLC, and the formal shutdown of Campbell Estate over the next decade began.
Abigail Kawananakoa owned the largest share of the estate (12.5 percent), and maintains the biggest share of the successor company.
“It was imperative that the estate not be liquidated regardless of the personal financial benefits,” Kawananakoa said in a statement. “A successor entity was needed to continue the business as it had always been done or it would mean breaking promises to the community, losing important investment capital in Hawaii, the development of Lanikuhonua and the end of the vital support for the West Oahu charities.”
Four trustees and all 33 beneficiaries had to agree to the plan for the James Campbell Co. to become reality, she said.
Clint Churchill, chairman of the Campbell board of trustees, described the process of shutting down the trust over the past decade as “a routine matter that allowed us to finalize and put closure to several outstanding issues to ensure that the trust met its remaining obligations.”
Those obligations included remedial cleanup of contamination left by tenants on two properties: one at a shopping center just outside Seattle, the second at Campbell Industrial Park, Churchill said.
“Those issues and other smaller issues were all resolved and any other outstanding concerns about the trust have been cleared up,” said Churchill, who has been with the estate 32 years, the past 24 as a trustee.
Like many, Churchill considers the estate’s biggest legacy the transformation of Kapolei and the West Oahu region — some 41,000 acres of which at one time was owned by the Campbell trust — into what many consider Oahu’s second major urban area. Through the first two-thirds of the 20th century, most of the Campbell lands on the Ewa plain was devoted to sugar, with a significantly smaller share of mauka lands given to pineapple cultivation.
Anticipating the demise of the plantations, estate trustees began mapping out the area’s development decades ago, Churchill said. First came Campbell Industrial Park and Barbers Point Deep Draft Harbor in the 1950s and 1960s. Development of Makakilo as a housing community by Finance Realty Co. began at about the same time.
“It just made eminent sense,” Churchill said. “The east side of Honolulu was pretty much built out, all the (Honolulu) hillside developments, the Windward side (was) largely built out.”
In the 1980s, with Oahu in the midst of a housing crunch, Gov. John Waihee and Mayor Frank Fasi scrambled to plant homes in the area, resulting in the development of West Loch by the city and the beginning of Villages of Kapolei by the state. Key to the housing growth was real estate powerhouse Herbert Horita’s development of Ko Olina, then known as West Beach, as a resort destination and job center, Churchill said.
“I think the trustees were a little reluctant to really take a major step forward with the city of Kapolei until that project (in West Beach) was a little more assured,” he said.
Land rich but cash poor, Campbell gradually divested itself of other peripheral properties to help development of Kapolei’s urban core.
In Ewa, Gentry Homes developed Ewa By Gentry and Haseko its Ocean Pointe and Hoakalei communities.
The University of Hawaii-West Oahu campus in East Kapolei delivered jobs, as did further commercial and housing development in Kapolei’s urban core.
But there continues to be an insufficient number and mix of jobs needed to support the burgeoning community, while major traffic congestion remains the top issue facing many West Oahu residents and the biggest worry about growth in the area. Campbell and city officials hope the upcoming 20-mile rail line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center will help solve the traffic problem.
Not all of the growth has been wholeheartedly embraced. In recent years, requests by D.R. Horton Schuler Homes for state and city approvals to develop the 11,750-home Hoopili project on active farmland met with stiff opposition from those worried about damage to the area’s natural environment, the loss of prime agricultural lands and a compounding of the area’s burgeoning traffic headaches.
Despite the opposition, which included several unsuccessful legal challenges, the state Land Use Commission and Honolulu City Council gave Hoopili the go-ahead. The first phase of development is expected to begin this year.
Kioni Dudley, head of the Friends of Makakilo, said Campbell’s own planning materials from the 1980s suggest that trustees envisioned the area’s growth to be tempered by leaving undeveloped the prime agricultural lands between Kapolei and Ewa that now make up Hoopili. “It was to be kept in agriculture, as a green area separating the two cities,” he said. Dudley has continued his fight against the rezoning.
The James Campbell Co., in an email to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s questions, estimates that the estate and the successor company have spent about $240 million putting in roads, sewers, water and other infrastructure in Kapolei.
It’s unclear how much in federal, state and city taxpayer dollars have been poured into the area’s infrastructure. A recent newsletter put out by a Campbell subsidiary company reported that $172 million for Kapolei improvements were earmarked by the 2016 Legislature alone. A January 2013 Campbell newsletter credited the late U.S. Sen Daniel K. Inouye for pushing through through some $240 million for Kapolei road projects.
Much of the government aid has been spurred by the estate’s powerful political influence, which has helped the trustees and beneficiaries in other ways as well.
In the early 2000s, Hawaii’s congressional delegation helped the estate push through a federal tax measure, giving deferrals on inheritance taxes owed. The change ostensibly bolstered Campbell’s financial footing as it worked to transfer its assets to a successor company by averting the need to sell off more assets to pay those taxes immediately.
The trust raised concerns as it began to diversity its holdings in recent decades and the percentage of its Hawaii investments diminished. A 2005 Honolulu Star-Bulletin story reported that 75 percent of Campbell’s holdings were out of state. Today, by the James Campbell Co.’s own estimates, that figure is now 80 percent.
Churchill called diversification the financially responsible thing to do for the beneficiaries.
“For all his achievements in business, (James Campbell) should perhaps best be remembered for standing at great personal risk in support of Queen Liliuokalani (at the time of the overthrow),” Kawananakoa said.
HISTORY OF CAMPBELL ESTATE
1850: James Campbell, a 24-year-old carpenter, arrives in Lahaina aboard a whaling ship.
1860: Campbell, Henry Turton and James Dunbar establish the Pioneer Mill Co., which became the basis of Campbell’s fortune.
1863: Pioneer Mill acquires Lahaina Sugar Co.
1876: Campbell buys approximately 15,000 acres in Kahuku, including Kahuku Ranch, for $63,500.
1877: Campbell marries Abigail Kuaihelani Maipinepine, and the couple subsequently moves to Oahu.
* Some 41,000 acres at Honouliuli are purchased for $95,000. During this period, he also buys property in downtown Honolulu, and land on Hawaii island and Maui.
* Campbell begins two-year term in the Legislature, representing Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
1889: He sells his half interest in Pioneer Mill for $250,000.
* The Honouliuli and Kahuku lands are leased to Benjamin F. Dillingham for a 50-year term at a combined annual rent of $50,000. Dillingham builds a railroad to serve Oahu sugar plantations.
1890: Dillingham subleases a portion of the Kahuku lands to James B. Castle, who establishes the Kahuku Plantation.
1892: The Ewa Plantation Co.’s first crop of 2,849 tons is harvested on Honouliuli land subleased by Dillingham to W.R. Castle.
* At public auction, Campbell buys his second-largest tract of land — more than 25,000 acres — at Kahaualea on Hawaii island.
1897: Oahu Sugar Co. is developed on the Honouliuli land, harvesting its first crop in 1899.
1900: Campbell dies after a lengthy illness, leaving an estate valued then at more than $3 million. His will sets up a trust for his widow, four surviving daughters and their heirs. The will stipulates that the trust is to terminate 20 years following the death of his last surviving daughter.
1970s-1980s: Ewa, Makakilo, West Beach and more are sold off; development of Campbell Industrial Park, Kalaeloa Deep Draft Harbor and the city of Kapolei begins.
1987: Beatrice Campbell Wrigley, the last surviving daughter, dies.
Jan. 20, 2007: The court gives final OK for the trust to terminate; allows 10 years to close its books.
Nov. 23, 2016: A probate judge OKs the final closeout of the trust, and trustees prepare to close trust offices by the end of the year.