In 1829, Hiram Bingham was given the lands of Kapunahou – he subsequently gave it to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) – to establish Punahou School.
Founded in 1841, Punahou School (originally called Oʻahu College) was built at Kapunahou to provide a quality education for the children of Congregational missionaries, allowing them to stay in Hawaiʻi with their families, instead of being sent away to school. The first class had 15 students.
The land area of the Kapunahou gift was significantly larger than the present school campus size. Near the turn of the last century, the Punahou Board of Trustees decided to subdivide some of the land – they called their subdivision “College Hills.”
Inspired by the garden suburb ideals then becoming popular both in North America and Europe, and especially England, College Hills was initiated as a way of raising revenue for the school.
College Hills was one of several enclaves for Honolulu’s wealthier residents and marked the true beginning of park-like suburban developments in Hawaiʻi.
Following upon earlier subdivisions, such as the 1886 Seaview Tract in the area now known as “lower Manoa,” the College Hills Tract was an important real estate development in the history of Honolulu.
Using nearly 100 acres of land previously leased out as a dairy farm, Punahou subdivided the rolling landscape into separate parcels of from 10,000- to 20,000-square feet.
The “Atherton House” was built on one of the most attractive of these parcels (actually six lots purchased together.) Situated on a slight rise, and protected by the hillside of Tantalus rising to the west (Ewa) side, the Atherton House, part of the new wave of Mānoa residences. It represented the move of one of Hawaiʻi’s elite families into an area thought before to be countryside.
College Hills soon became a desirable residential area served by a streetcar, which traveled up O‘ahu Avenue and made a wide U-turn around the Atherton home on Kamehameha Avenue.
The Atherton House was the residence of Frank C Atherton and his wife Eleanore from 1902 until his death in 1945. (Mrs. Atherton continued living in the house until the early-1960s.)
Designed by architect Walter E Pinkham, the shingled two-story wood-framed house reflects the influence of the late Queen Anne, Prairie and Craftsman styles, but its lava rock piers, ʻōhia floors and large lanai denote it as Hawaiian.
The house was a gift to Atherton from his father, Joseph Ballard Atherton, the family patriarch in Hawaiʻi, who was one of a small group of North Americans and Europeans that became prominent in Hawaiʻi’s business and political life toward the end of the 19th century.
Arriving in Honolulu from Boston in 1858, JB Atherton worked first for the firm of DC Waterman, before taking a position with the larger company of Castle and Cooke.
In 1865, JB Atherton married Juliette Montague Cooke, a daughter of the Reverend Amos Starr Cooke, one of the islands’ early missionaries. Together they had six children (including Frank.)
JB Atherton became a junior partner of Castle and Cooke; by 1894, as the sole survivor of the firm’s early leadership, he became president.
He worked closely with the Pāʻia Plantation and the Haiku Sugar Company on Maui, and in 1890 was one of the incorporators of the ʻEwa Plantation Company. Together with BF Dillingham, he organized the Waialua Agricultural Company, Ltd and became the first president
Atherton served for many years the president of Castle and Cooke, one of the “Big Five” companies in Hawaiʻi. At Castle and Cooke, he distinguished himself as an energetic and progressive leader, who helped transform Hawaii’s economy away from the single agricultural crop of sugar toward greater diversity.
Eventually, Frank C Atherton would become vice-president and then president of Castle and Cooke.
For 60 years the “Atherton House” was the home of the Atherton family; the Atherton’s children donated it to the University of Hawaiʻi in 1964 to serve as a home for the University of Hawaiʻi president – the University named the home “College Hill.”
While it is the designated home for the University of Hawaiʻi president, and now bears the name “College Hill,” it didn’t get its name because the UH president lives there. (The Mānoa residence was built five years before the University was founded.)
Oʻahu College – as Punahou School used to be called – was located nearby. Thus, the Mānoa Valley section where Frank and Eleanore Atherton had their country home was called “College Hills Tract.”