Many of you have heard of Clarence T.C. Ching because of the work his foundation has done recently.
I have a copy of the Lance Tominaga biography, “A Prophecy Fulfilled,” and the cover intrigued me. What was the prophecy? I opened the book after looking at it on the shelf for a while.
What I found is that Ching was the person who developed the Damon Tract, Moanalua, Salt Lake, the Chinatown Cultural Plaza and Kukui Gardens.
Ching was born on June 2, 1912, in Anahola, Kauai. It was the same year that the Republic of China was established by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen; the same year that New Mexico and Arizona were admitted as the 47th and 48th states; and the year that Duke Kahanamoku brought home Hawaii’s first Olympic gold medal from Stockholm.
His father looked into the future of his sickly son, and predicted that if he survived he would become an important, prosperous and outstanding man who would help the rest of the family. He had 10 brothers and sisters.
Because of this the family worked hard to send Ching to Saint Louis School in Honolulu, where he was twice elected president of his class.
Saint Louis school emphasized the values of faith, hope and charity, and Ching embraced them.
After high school, Ching managed a family store in Damon Tract, the area between Nimitz Highway and the old Honolulu International Airport terminal on Lagoon Drive. Ching sold canned goods, ice cream, soda, beer, wine and other liquors.
Samuel R. Damon often would drop in to purchase a few items, not the least of which were his favorite alcoholic beverages. The two became friends.
The Damon Tract
The Damon land originally had come into the possession of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who deeded the property in 1884 to Samuel Mills Damon, the grandfather of Samuel R. Damon.
After World War II, there was a housing boom on Oahu and many developers created subdivisions.
The younger Damon had problems developing the Damon Tract. Current residents didn’t want their rents to go up. The airport needed to expand. Ching said if it is such a problem, Damon should sell the 233-acre tract to him and K.J. Luke and see what they could do. Damon was looking for a way out so he agreed to the sale.
The Damon Tract was sold with $100,000 down and $4.4 million to be paid over 15 years, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported in 1956.
Originally Ching and Luke thought that the area would become residential, but with the advent of the noisy jets in the late 1950s, they felt an industrial/business area would be better.
The idea was a winner and the two made a lot of money on it. It was their start, both in terms of capital and for their reputation.
The Damon Tract established Ching and Luke as major players in Hawaii’s real estate development community and they were just getting started, Tominaga said.
In January 1957, Damon and Ching happened to be on the same flight from Honolulu to San Francisco. They sat next to each other and began making small talk. Then out of the blue Damon leaned over to Ching and asked, “Do you want to buy the entire ahupuaa of Moanalua?”
“Sure,” Ching said, “how much?” Damon looked right at him and said “$9 million.”
Ching said he didn’t have that kind of money. Damon however was in a mood to deal. “Clarence,” he said “I trust you. Just pay me as you develop.”
The deal transferred 1,074 acres to a partnership with Ching as the principal organizer. Land included Salt Lake, Mapunapuna and Moanalua’s two valleys.
The development of Salt Lake was termed the biggest fee-simple project in the history of the Territory of Hawaii.
Around 1960, Ching and Luke felt there was a need for a bank that would treat Asians well.
Originally the bank was called National Bank of Honolulu but the name was soon changed to Hawaii National Bank. In September 1960, they opened their first location on the corner of North King and Smith streets in downtown Honolulu, and took in $6.25 million on their first day — a record for Hawaii opening-day deposits.
By 1967 the bank had opened six other branches in the airport area, Hawaii Kai, Makiki, Waikiki, Kailua and Kaimuki.
Based on the values he learned at Saint Louis School, Ching began giving back to the community in a big way.
Chinatown Cultural Plaza
He organized and led the development of the two-block-long Chinatown Cultural Plaza. When they wanted to name the plaza after him, he humbly refused, telling his associates the plaza was not for his ego but for the entire Chinese community.
Ching also led the development in 1966 of 19.5 acres of land in downtown Honolulu to build low-income housing.
Kukui Gardens occupies the area from King Street mauka to Vineyard Boulevard and from Liliha Street to Aala Street. There is a total of 822 apartments.
Ching spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money to build the project, and then donated the entire 19.5 acres and 822 apartments to charity. The Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation was created in the late 1960s as a vehicle to purchase and develop the site.
He would not allow it to be named for him, although a small, obscure plaque bearing the name of the Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation was nailed to a tree for a short time.
A nephew, Raymond Tam, wrote that Ching had an insatiable desire to give back to the people of Hawaii, to his people, to those in need, and to show his gratitude to Hawaii for the wonderful support and encouragement he received that allowed him to achieve his lifetime of accomplishments.
Tam said he was flabbergasted when his mother told him that Ching had not only given her with portion of his estate, he also had given a percentage interest to his other nine brothers and sisters.
Then he heard with astonishment that Ching also had given part of his estate to each of his wife’s nine brothers and sisters.
Ching died in 1985 at the age of 72. The Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation is worth over $100 million today. It has given $76 million in grants and made donations to many nonprofits, including several educational institutions, such as the University of Hawaii, Saint Louis School, Chaminade University, Maryknoll School, Damien Memorial School, Punahou School, as well as Catholic Charities, St. Francis Healthcare System, Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, American Cancer Society and PBS Hawaii.
Bob Sigall’s latest “The Companies We Keep 5” book has arrived, with stories from the last three years of Rearview Mirror. “The Companies We Keep 1 and 2” are also back in print. Email Sigall at Sigall@yahoo.com.