Honolulu’s first neon sign flickered to life on February 19, 1929, with the opening of Gump’s Waikiki an antiques and home furnishing store. (Honolulu) The third oldest structure in Waikiki, Gump’s was one of the first retail shops in Waikiki.
S & G Gump was founded in San Francisco in 1861 as a mirror and frame shop by Solomon Gump and his brother, Gustav. It later sold mouldings, gilded cornices and European artwork to those recently made wealthy from the California Gold Rush.
With the beginning of a new century, the Gump brothers handed over the reins to Solomon’s son, Alfred Livingston Gump. Soon thereafter, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 forced AL, as he was known, to rebuild and restock the store.
He looked to the Far East for new inspiration, sending buyers to Japan and China to find exotic rugs, porcelain, silks, bronzes and jade. Among the most prized acquisitions, a Ch’ing Dynasty gilded wood Buddha, still gazes serenely over the first floor of Gump’s. It remains the largest of its kind outside of a museum.
By the 1920s, San Francisco was roaring right along with the rest. Gump’s and The City had become intertwined – the store synonymous with San Francisco in its elegance, worldly style and maverick spirit. (Gumps)
Back in the Islands, as tourism began to develop in the 1920s and 30s, people saw commercial possibilities for Waikiki. One of the most endearing was the Honolulu branch of S&G Gump Company of San Francisco.
Asian design elements were beginning to influence architecture in Hawai‘i, and the merging of these motifs and Western forms became visible in the Gump Building, as well as the Alexander & Baldwin Building on Bishop Street in Downtown Honolulu and the Honolulu Museum of Art.
In 1927, Hawai’i architect Hart Wood was commissioned to design this new outpost perfectly located between the Far East and the West.
The store opened in 1929, across the street from the recently completed Royal Hawaiian Hotel, to cater to the affluent traveler and Honolulu elite. It carried an aura of class and provided products from around the world to Hawai’i’s doorstep, presenting tourists and residents with an ornately appointed atmosphere filled with ancient and modern objet d’art. (Oahu Publications)
In Mr. Wood’s work there is a notable lack of the garishness, over-ornamentation and ‘weirdness’ too often loosely associated with Oriental architecture. His roofs curve, it is true, but only slightly; colored tiles are used, but in a restrained manner.
“The insertion of a grill of plaster in a plain stucco wall, the design and size being in walls are of stucco, quite plain, the roofs of tile, the whole effect one of substantial simplicity. The only difference lies in the details of ornamentation, mostly about the doors and windows.”
“One of the more noticeable of these decorative details is found in the designs of iron grill work, leaded windows, balcony railings and like places. Chinese designs are geometrical, mostly coordinated squares keeping with the medium, offers one of the most charming forms of decoration imaginable.”
“The introduction of color by the use of tiles is interesting also, not only in tiling for the roof, but inset in the walls as decoration. Where wood is used, natural teak is preferred, and the pillars are simply slender round columns with a characteristic cross bar treatment at the top.”
“An outstanding example of such a building is the branch shop at Waikiki of the S & G Gump Company of San Francisco. It is of two story, concrete construction of pleasing design.”
“The walls are of white stucco, the gutters, leaders and leader heads are of antique copper verde, and the plaster grills as mentioned before, it proves a particularly effective way to use this form of decoration.”
“Gateway openings in the walls are of quaint and unusual design, one of them being a ‘moon gate’ which is shown in one of the illustrations. The circle motif appears again in one of the slightly curving roof of imperial blue tiles.”
“This brilliant blue is a favorite roof color in China and one that blends well with the blue of the sub-tropical sky. No other colors than this blue, jade and white appeal in the building, except the dark teakwood pillars of the entrance and railings of the several balconies.”
“A white plaster wall incloses three courtyards, and these walls are pierced by windows of the shop. All the windows show the geometrical design in the shape of the panes or in grills. Balcony railings are also geometrical.” (The Architect & Engineer, October 1929)
Back then, it was a two-story white building standing virtually alone on Kalākaua Avenue. It is an example of the architecture of Hawai‘i’s pre-War territorial period, 1898-1941, when the sugar and pineapple industries were operating at full tilt.
A number of distinctive buildings were constructed during those years, adapting features of Asian, Mediterranean or European styles that suited Hawai‘i’s tropical climate, including large openings to catch the trade winds, wide eaves and often a double-pitched hipped roof.
The first commercial perfume successfully made in Hawaiʻi from local island flowers (pikake, pink plumeria and fern lei – each sold in hand-carved wooden bottles) was introduced in January 1935 at the Gump’s store in Waikiki. (Schmitt)
If the Gump family had a vision of the potential for shopping along Kalākaua Avenue, they were decades ahead of their time. Even in the 1950s and early 1960s, Kalākaua Avenue was not a center of high-end retail sales.
February 24, 1951 Gump’s announced it will close its Waikiki store after 25 years of business in Honolulu. The store was closed to settle the estate of AL Gump.
It was not until the 1980s, with the arrival of waves of visitors from Japan, that a significant number of other high-end shops, comparable to Gump’s, sprang up in Waikīkī.
In fact, the Gump building in Waikīkī was converted into a McDonald’s restaurant (in the 1970s or 1980s.) With the boom that began in the late-1980s, it was sold in 1991 to a corporate affiliate of high-end retailer Louis Vuitton Malletier of Paris, refurbished and, in 1992, rededicated to retail. (Kelley)