Diamond Head neighborhood is the ‘old Hawaii’
The site of multiple murders and suspected arson Sunday on the slopes of Diamond Head rocked a unique and eclectic neighborhood flush with homes on the historic register.
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The site of multiple murders and suspected arson Sunday on the slopes of Diamond Head rocked a unique and eclectic neighborhood flush with homes on the historic register and many properties that have been passed down through generations of kamaaina families.
Though it’s connected to the “Gold Coast” portion of Waikiki and has high-rise condos fronting the ocean, the Diamond Head Terrace neighborhood is hardly a touristy place. And though there is the modern mansion here and there, Kahala Avenue it is not.
Most local residents and visitors probably see no more of the community, which spans five blocks between the ocean and the private school La Pietra adjacent to the Diamond Head edge of Kapiolani Park, than a strip of homes on either side of Diamond Head Road, which serves as a convenient thoroughfare between Waikiki and Kahala.
Yet it is a place rich with history that includes ties to Diamond Head being named a state monument and architecture dating back a century.
“Old Hawaii” is how community member and artist Cindy Williams describes much of the neighborhood, including the home she shares with her boyfriend, a house largely built in 1926 with wood shingle siding.
“Most of the homes are passed down generation to generation,” she said.
Stephany Sofos, who has lived in a condo in the neighborhood since 1968, estimates that around half the homes in Diamond Head Terrace are owned by descendents of early owners and agrees that an eclectic mix of homes and residents took root in what was originally envisioned as a beach and ocean-view community for the wealthy.
Diamond Head Terrace was developed as a single-family home subdivision with 73 lots by Waterhouse Trust Co. Ltd.
The company, founded by Henry Waterhouse in 1897, acquired the land from heirs of Hawaii business tycoon James Campbell around 1919, according to a Honolulu Star-Bulletin article that said Campbell acquired the property from King Kalakaua.
Before Diamond Head Terrace was developed, Campbell had built a home on the property, and fellow business tycoon Walter Dillingham was preparing to build a grand estate on adjacent land acquired from Campbell’s heirs. That estate, named La Pietra, would later pass to the girls school of the same name.
In 1921 during initial Diamond Head Terrace lot sales, Waterhouse Trust described the subdivision as the only tract in Waikiki with “all the modern improvements, such as concrete roads, water and gas pipes and provisions for sewer connections,” according to a Star-Bulletin article from that year. The tract was also at the end of the “Waikiki car line” and included a beach access path from the top of the subdivision to the shoreline.
Lot prices were expensive for the day: A 5,000-square-foot lot could be had for $3,000. Homes on these lots now can sell for several million dollars.
Waterhouse Trust prohibited apartment or hotel use in the neighborhood, but some owners of oceanfront lots repeatedly sought zoning changes for their property in the 1940s and 1950s. They succeeded, and that led to several oceanfront midrises and high-rises being built mainly in the 1960s, including the Kainalu, Oceanside Manor, Seabreeze and 3003 Kalakaua.
The zoning changes and tower development rallied preservation groups that helped protect views of Diamond Head as a state monument and also led to the establishment of a special design district in the area.
Today many of the homes in the neighborhood still date to the 1920s, and about 20 are on the State Register of Historic Places as examples of various architectural styles that include Spanish Colonial Revival, English Tudor Cottages, Cotswold Cottage Revival, French Norman Cottage and the Hawaiian-style bungalow by famed architect C.W. Dickey, who built his own home in the neighborhood.
One paved court on the oceanfront block of Diamond Head Terrace features a cluster of six “gingerbread” homes.