From 1890 to 1905, the United States undertook a massive program to modernize its coastal defenses. Known as the Endicott era; the huge construction program resulted in all the major harbors being fortified with newly designed steel guns ranging in size from 3 to 12 inches in diameter of bore and 12-inch, breech-loading mortars.
The gun emplacements were constructed with reinforced concrete and had huge earthen or sand parapets in front. Bombproof magazines were placed far underground.
In 1908 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was in the midst of constructing O‘ahu armored fortifications in accordance with the recommendations of the joint board.
These weapons were to be emplaced within new military reservations that were eventually named Forts Armstrong, Kamehameha, DeRussy and Ruger.
Established in 1909, Fort Kamehameha played an important role within a system of coastal defenses of the Army Coast Artillery Corps that served as a key component of the national defense of the United States in the early 20th century.
In a public address on June 11, 1911, Brig. Gen. M. M. Macomb (Commander, District of Hawai‘i) stated that Oʻahu would be encircled with a ring of steel, with mortar batteries at Diamond Head, big guns at Waikīkī and Pearl Harbor, and a series of emplacements from Koko Head around the island to Waianae.
Between 1911 and 1914 the Army Corps of Engineers built four batteries at Fort Kamehameha (Selfridge, Hasbrouck, Hawkins, and Jackson), adding a fifth one (Battery Closson) in 1920.
These batteries were key sections of Oahu’s “ring of steel,” which included Forts Armstrong, DeRussy and Ruger, along with Ford Island Military Reservation.
The Army fortified O‘ahu’s harbors with a system of gun emplacements employing mortars and long-range rifled guns. Although its guns are gone, the old batteries are still there.
Battery Selfridge was 500′ x 90′, the largest of the batteries. With an earth berm concealing the makai side, the massive two-story concrete structure was built to support eight 12-inch mortars (four to a pit). The 12-inch guns could send a 1,046-lb. projectile approximately 17,000 yards.
Battery Hasbrouck was a one-story concrete structure with a total area of 470′ x 100′. Battery Hasbrouck supported eight 12-inch mortars placed in quads of four per pit; each could send a projectile approximately 15,200 yards.
Battery Hawkins was located along the water at the south-eastern edge of the Fort Kamehameha. It supported two 3-inch rapid-fire rifled cannon-mounted pedestals. Each gun had a range of 11,100 yards when firing a 15-pound projectile. These guns were meant to cover the entrance to Pearl Harbor, where submarine mines would be activated in time of war.
Battery Jackson is the smallest of these coastal batteries. This single-story concrete structure includes three magazine sections, with a total area of 73′ x 86′. It supported two 6-inch rifles mounted on disappearing carriages. These breech-loaded cannon could send a 106-lb. projectile a maximum of 14,600 yards.
Battery Closson supported two 12-inch rifles mounted on barbette carriages with a 360-degree field of fire. These guns could cover all but the northern-most Oahu beaches. These guns could be fired at elevation angles up to 35 degrees, and the range of the 12-inch guns was increased to 30,100 yards (17.1 miles) firing a 975-lb. projectile.
OK, that’s the armament part of the story, but there’s more to this than early-1900s military defenses.
The land, once the site of Queen Emma’s home, contained three shallow fishponds, groves of trees and a marsh when the Army purchased it in 1907 and built the first gun battery.
Today, the area has been recognized as an historic area. In addition to the armaments, Fort Kamehameha historic area encompasses a flagpole, chapel and 33 homes built in 1916.
The bungalow style homes are in two styles, four in a large H-shaped plan and 29 in a smaller U-shaped footprint.
When you land at Honolulu International Airport, you almost always fly over Fort Kamehameha and these homes. They are an intact residential complex with a neighborhood feel of mature trees, large expanses of grass and open space, access to the waterfront, and a children’s playground.
A proposal to dispose of Fort Kamehameha is the result of a regulation that limits the uses that can occur along the flight path of runways at nearby Honolulu International Airport, which shares the runways with the Air Force and Hawai‘i Air National Guard.
While at DLNR, I had the opportunity to visit Fort Kamehameha, both the military armament sections, as well as the residential area. (At the time, I was serving as the State Historic Preservation Officer.)
I believed then, as I believe now, that this assemblage of homes needs to be preserved – they tell an important story about Hawai‘i. I think relocation and assemblage in a different area is probably the most practical. (Destruction is not.)
In 2008, Historic Hawai‘i Foundation put Fort Kamehameha on its Most Endangered Historic Sites in Hawai‘i list. I concur with their assessment. The homes were there first, before any airfield in the area.
We need to remember, the homes were built in 1916; Luke Field on Ford Island started in 1919; Honolulu International Airport (HNL) opened in March 1927 as John Rodgers Airport and Hickam Field started in 1934.