I spoke to the Friends of Honolulu Botanical Gardens last week. They met at Kapiolani Community College, so I gave them a quiz on the KCC/Diamond Head area. There are many interesting stories about places in this part of Waikiki.
Kapiolani Community College began in 1946 as the Kapiolani Technical School. It got its name from its original location on the corner of Kapiolani Boulevard and Pensacola Street, on the lower part of McKinley High School.
Its first program was food service, which is still one of its specialties. Saimin king Shiro Matsuo was an instructor there.
KCC moved to its current site on Diamond Head Road in 1974. Before that the area was occupied by Fort Ruger and was part of Oahu’s coastal artillery defense. The fort was created in 1906 and named for Thomas Ruger, a Civil War general and superintendent of West Point.
One of its best-remembered dining establishments was the Cannon Club, which opened in 1945 and offered great views of sunsets over Waikiki. It closed in 1997.
The Fort Ruger Theatre (now called the Diamond Head Theatre) entertained troops from all over the Pacific during World War II.
You might think plays start on Broadway in New York and years later show up in Honolulu. But at least one play began at the Diamond Head Theatre and went from there to Broadway in 1945. The play was called “G.I. Hamlet” and was a “jeep version” of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, set in World War II.
Leahi Hospital is a block from KCC, but it began in 1900 on the corner of Queen and South streets in Kakaako. Its history can be traced to the Great Chinatown Fire of January 1900. Some people fled west and occupied what evolved into the Palama Settlement.
Others fled east to a warehouse in Kakaako. Within a few months, healthy citizens moved to other places, and only the most infirm remained.
I would think it would be wrong to name the hospital the Honolulu Home for the Incurables, but that was the name chosen. It moved to the Diamond Head area in 1902.
By 1906 the directors decided the name was a problem, not because of the stigma it placed on patients, but because advances in tuberculosis treatment cured many of them. “Leahi Home” was selected instead.
Leahi is the Hawaiian name for Diamond Head. One translation of the name means “brow of the tuna,” said Mary Kawena Pukui in “Place Names of Hawaii.”
Capt. Nathaniel Portlock named it Rose Point in 1776. British sailors later called it Diamond Head, thinking its calcite crystals that reflected sunlight were diamonds.
Mark Twain wrote about returning to Hawaii over 100 years ago and seeing Diamond Head rising out of the sea. “Not any other thing in the world could have stirred me as the site of that great rock,” he wrote.
Diamond Head crater is about 762 feet high on the southwestern side but only 400 feet on its northeastern side. Why the difference?
When it erupted 400,000 to 500,000 years ago, the tradewinds were blowing and more ash rained down on the southwestern side, said Denby Fawcett in her book “Secrets of Diamond Head.”
I remember going to Diamond Head Crater Festivals in the early 1970s. Artist Tom Sellers made some memorable posters that still hang on my walls. Highlights of the festivals were concerts by Santana, Janis Joplin, Cecilio & Kapono, the Grateful Dead, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, Seals & Crofts and Sly & the Family Stone.
Going inside the crater was a treat for most residents, as it had been closed to the public for 46 years until 1950.
At one time city planners wanted to move the Ala Wai Golf Course inside the crater. It was also considered as a site of the 1948 Olympics, and a Space Fair was proposed in 1965. Also never built was a cable car to the top.
Kamaaina businessman Atherton Richards suggested in 1957 that the city build an auditorium and convention center in the crater. Richards also envisioned an elevator to the highest part of the crater and a walkway around the rim.
Kapiolani Park was built in 1877 specifically for horse racing. King David Kalakaua was persuaded by his gambling friends to build a racetrack in a dry area of town. Polo was added soon after.
Soldiers on the way to the Philippines to fight in the Spanish-American War stopped temporarily at Camp McKinley, on the grounds of Kapiolani Park. That war illuminated the importance of Hawaii’s location to the United States and led to annexation, I believe.
The soldiers were tormented by centipedes at the campsite. Hawaiians offered them okolehao, distilled from the roots of ti plants, Fawcett wrote.
At the end of Kapiolani Park is a fountain named for Louise Dillingham, who lived nearby. It was built in 1966, but many don’t know that there was an earlier Phoenix Fountain on the site.
The Phoenix Fountain was built by local Japanese residents in March 1919, historian Robert Schmidt wrote for the Hawaiian Historical Society. He said it was the most impressive fountain in Hawaii at the time, a duplicate of the Hibaya Park fountain in Tokyo.
After Pearl Harbor was bombed, residents wanted it torn down and shipped back to Japan, but fearing it would be turned into bullets, it was junked instead.
Across from the park is the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, opened by Shigeo and Akino Shigenaga in 1954. “Kaimana” means “diamond” in Hawaiian. The McInerny family had built a residence on the property in 1903, and 10 years before that it was the Sans Souci hotel. Robert Louis Stevenson had stayed there.
The Kodak Hula Show was originally on the grass at Sans Souci Beach in 1937. Fritz Herman, then vice president and manager of Kodak Hawaii, saw that tourists’ photos of hula shows turned out dark and blurry because film was slow then and the shows were at night.
He and Louise Akeo Silva started a daytime hula show on the lawn behind the beach at Sans Souci. Fritz’s purpose was to sell film. In its 65 years it’s estimated 20 million attended the free shows and took over 100 million photos.
Next to the Sans Souci was the home of sugar magnate William Irwin. When he died his property was turned into the War Memorial Natatorium in 1927. Duke Kahanamoku was the first person to swim in its salt pool.
The Honolulu Aquarium, as it was known when it opened in 1904, was next door to that, located to give passengers a reason to ride to the end of the Waikiki trolley line.
And I think it’s only fitting to stop our tour of the area at the Queen’s Surf, once one of the top nightspots in Hawaii. The Spencecliff restaurant chain ran the place from 1946 until Mayor Frank Fasi evicted it in 1971.
Queen’s Surf could hold luaus for over 1,000 people. Downstairs was the famed Puka Puka Otea show, while upstairs Sterling Mossman could be found in the Barefoot Bar. Unfortunately, it’s a fading memory in my “rearview mirror.”
Bob Sigall, author of “The Companies We Keep” series of books, looks through his collection of old photos to tell stories of Hawaii people, places and companies. Contact him via email at email@example.com.