When I was going to the University of Hawaii in the early 1970s, what today is called the lower campus was called the quarry. School registration and athletic classes and events took place in Klum Gym. We climbed a five-story staircase down from Dole Street to get there.
Many students thought the steep quarry cliff face would be a great place for a multilevel parking structure, as on-campus parking was scarce.
I didn’t think too much about the quarry for the next 40 years until I found a photo of it recently that showed what it was like in the 1930s.
I decided to investigate it further and found many things I think my readers would enjoy.
First, it was called the Moiliili Quarry, and it opened in 1889, when King Kalakaua was on the throne.
Kelcey Ebisu, author of “From Stone Quarry to Athletic Complex: The Makai Campus,” says the quarry was the major source for rock on Oahu for 60 years. Ten million tons of blue basalt was excavated during that time.
Some of it helped build the Navy’s facilities at Pearl Harbor 110 years ago, Central Union Church in the 1920s and numerous roads. Many of our curbs and tombstones also came from the Moiliili Quarry, which was a major employer in the area.
Yoshiaki Fujitani told a UH Center for Oral History interviewer that “while we were growing up, the quarry was constantly running, all day, all night. Gata, gata, gata, gata, gata — you know, that kind of sound. And there’d be this cloud of dust over Moiliili all the time.”
The red quarry dust was so pervasive, Fujitani said, it became the name of the Moiliili Community Center’s newsletter: The Quarry Dust.
One of the first projects of the Moiliili Community Center was dust abatement. The center’s actions led to the air above the rock crusher being sprayed to minimize the dust blowing around the community.
Pneumatic drills would create holes in the rock, and dynamite would be inserted. A whistle would warn those nearby twice a day — at 12:15 and 3:45 p.m. — followed by 10 to 15 minutes of explosions. Pieces of rock would sometime shower down on Krauss Hall, above Dole Street.
A crusher would grind the rock into smaller sizes, then it would be loaded onto trucks or rail cars and taken where it was needed.
By 1949 the quarry was tapped out. A new quarry opened in Kailua where the supply of blue lava basalt rock for concrete, asphalt, roadbeds and other uses was expected to exceed the output of Moiliili several times over.
The state bought the 75-acre quarry and immediately turned it into a huge parking lot for UH students. Unexpectedly, the state found that all the rain falling on the upper campus drained into the quarry.
Kat Koshi told me that she remembers how, with every heavy rain, it would flood. “Students who parked there would ride their surfboards to their cars and, if they were lucky and didn’t have their engines flooded, could drive them out of harm’s way.
“The athletic department was housed in portable buildings back then. The water rose almost to the height of a coach’s waistline. The coaches would take turns carrying the department secretaries and other female staff, wade through the water and set them down safely on the landing at the top of the stairs.”
UH has since addressed that problem and has built many facilities in the lower campus.
One of the first was Otto Klum Gym, which some called the “Madison Square Garden of the Pacific” when it opened in 1957. I’d call that a misnomer, since it could seat only about 200 and was not air-conditioned.
Cooke Field, the Duke Kahanamoku Pool, Les Murakami Stadium, the Stan Sheriff Arena, dormitories, a five-story parking garage, tennis courts, a soccer field and other facilities have followed since then.
An artesian spring near the dormitories below East-West Road formed a large pond. Students held fishing derbies there beginning in 1978.
Bruce Marnie remembers the pond. “As a kid growing up in Manoa, I remember a popular swimming hole we would frequent in the UH quarry. We called it Duck Pond, and it had the most crystal clear, clean water with beautiful swordtail fish, ducks, carp and even turtles!
“It must have been fed by an underground spring or river. A nice stone picnic bench under shady trees is there to rest and eat lunch.”
Jerry Miyashiro says he and his cousins swam in the quarry pond many times. “As I remember it, the source of the water was a spring at the side nearest the cliff, and it was very cold.”
He also remembers that a building at the corner of University Avenue and King Street fell into a sinkhole in 1952 because of an underground river. It housed the Moiliili Department Store, which was there from 1945-54. An area of floor 50 feet across sagged four feet. All three employees escaped injury.
A diver inspected the sinkhole and found an 8-foot-deep underwater stream flowing from the Moiliili Quarry and under King Street. The diver said the passage was as wide as 30 feet and that he had gone upstream as much as 75 feet.
Something similar happened at the UH law school, which had temporary quarters in the quarry in 1979. Nine professors, including former Congresswoman Patsy Mink, lost their offices when the ground opened up beneath them.
The floor sagged due to a freshwater stream running underground, causing a sinkhole 25 feet wide, 45 feet long and 15 feet deep. Fortunately, it happened on the weekend when no one was there. The state subsequently demolished the building.
“I suspect this was the same underground river that fed the quarry pond and was the source of the water that fed the pond at the Willows restaurant,” Miyashiro said.
In ancient times that area was known as Kapaakea Springs, once owned by Queen Kamamalu. Hawaiian royalty, including her brothers, Kamehameha IV and V, picnicked and feasted in the area in the mid-1800s.
The pond was about a mile in circumference and extended from about where Hausten Street is to Isenberg Street.
Henry and Emma McGuire Hausten built a house on the site in 1920. They found carved Hawaiian images and medicine bowls on the property. Carp, mullet, aholehole, awa and catfish came swimming into the pond from underground streams.
Daughter Kathleen and her husband, musical legend Al Kealoha Perry, converted the family home into a lush garden restaurant with strolling musicians in 1944. They named it after the willow trees that populated the area.
The entire Moiliili area has underground streams and caverns, Alvin Yee said. Some are occupied by blind fish that, after generations in the dark, have lost their eyesight.
“The parking lot behind the former Varsity Theatre used to be a lotus pond farmed by a Chinese guy prior to 1939,” Yee said.
“During World War II, Moiliili residents built bomb shelters by merely opening a cave into the underground tunnels.”
Many underground rivers are known to flow in the Moiliili area, and millions of gallons of water run through them daily. Hawaiian legends say the waters have curative powers.
Other legends spoke of fair princesses who bathed in them at night. Workers at the Willows in the 1950s said the princesses still occasionally bathed in the pond in the pale moonlight after all the guests had left and the clattering of dishes had faded.
All that could be heard then was the croaking of frogs and the quiet lapping of the waters.
The Rearview Mirror Insider is Bob Sigall’s weekly email that gives readers behind-the-scenes background, stories that wouldn’t fit in the column, and lots of interesting details. My Insider “posse” gives me ideas for stories and personal experiences that enrich the column. I invite you to join in and be an Insider at RearviewMirrorInsider.com. Mahalo!