The debate on the site of City Hall waged in Honolulu …
“The plan of having all of the public buildings located in one part of the city is an excellent one, but the general convenience of the public should be taken into consideration.”
“The Honolulu Hale site is very central and I should like to see the City Hall located there.” (ZK Myers, Pacific Commercial Advertiser, July 15, 1909)
“I think that the ideal site for the City Hall would be the lots now occupied by Honolulu Hale and the post office. When the Federal building has been completed, it should be possible to secure the post office site, and the two pieces of property, thrown in together, would furnish an ideal location for a convenient and imposing City Hall.”
“If the post office property should not be available, I fear that the Honolulu Hale land alone would not give sufficient room.” (HO Smith, Pacific Commercial Advertiser, July 15, 1909)
“Put the City Hall alongside the Federal building. I think Honolulu Hale an excellent site, but it is too small. This city is going to grow. The City Hall should be centrally located. Have it downtown by all means. … I like the Honolulu Hale site, but, as I said, I’m afraid that it is too small.” (AL Castle, Pacific Commercial Advertiser, July 15, 1909)
But, the Honolulu Hale site they are suggesting was not the site of Honolulu Hale that we know today (on the corner of King and Punchbowl.)
The first Honolulu Hale was on Merchant Street (it’s now a park-like lot on the Diamond Head side of the Kamehameha V Post Office Building.)
Kamehameha III is said to have built this government office building in 1835. (The building was interchangeably called Honolulu Hale and Honolulu House.)
“All of the business of the Hawaiian government was transacted there, and the life of the town centered in that neighborhood to a very considerable extent.”
In 1847, “It was occupied by government offices, the Custom House, Department of Education, Treasury Department and Department of Interior occupied the four corner rooms of the building on the lower floor, while the Department of Foreign Affairs was on the upper floor.” (Carter; Pacific Commercial Advertiser, May 30, 1906)
The government Executive Ministers’ offices were a short walk from the palace (which were situated on the same grounds as the present ʻIolani Palace (completed in 1882.) The palace was initially a home called Hanailoia (built in July 1844,) renamed Hale Aliʻi in 1845 and used as the palace.)
At the former Honolulu Hale, an arched gateway served as the entrance to the Executive Offices property. Dr Gerrit P Judd, Minister of Finance was on the ground floor. Upstairs, Robert C Wyllie had his Foreign Minister office. (Dye)
The Kingdom of Hawai‘i instituted a postal system in 1851, issuing 5 and 13 cent stamps for letters and a 2 cent stamp for papers. Operated as a private concession for many years, the postal service expanded its work in the 1860s. David Kalakaua, later Hawaii’s monarch, ran the service from 1862 to 1865.
Later, with growing community and business needs, the postal authorities were using part of Honolulu Hale. A partition divided the ʻEwa or North side, which was used by the Post Office, while the Waikiki or South side was used by the Whitney stationery business and also the editorial office of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser. (HHS)
As postal operations grew, in 1871, the Kamehameha V Post Office at the corner of Merchant and Bethel Streets was constructed and the Post Office folks moved out of Honolulu Hale. In 1900, the old Post Office became a unit of the US Postal System.
(Where the Kamehameha V Post Office Building now sits (adjacent to the former Honolulu Hale) was a 2-story coral structure that housed the ‘Polynesian’ (the Hawaiian Government’s English language weekly paper.)) (Dye)
On June 12, 1857, a marine telegraph was put into operation on Puʻu O Kaimuki (Telegraph Hill) behind Diamond Head. This device was actually a kind of semaphore designed to send visual (rather than electric) signals to the post office in downtown Honolulu when an approaching ship was sighted. (Schmitt)
It was initially set up by the local Post Master to time the landing of ships to collect the mail, it also served as a means to notify the community of what ship was landing, especially those who service the ships and their passengers.
Honolulu Hale on Merchant Street was fitted with a marine lookout and a tall semaphore, making its signals accessible to a larger segment of the population.
“When the telephone system got into working order, the lookout station was moved to a position on Diamond Head which gave a view further along the channel, because it was no longer necessary for the station to be in full view of the city.” (Hawaiian Star, February 10, 1899)
While the debate was waged on where to put City Hall in 1909 (as noted in the initial paragraphs, here,) it wasn’t until 1929 that the Spanish mission style, Dickey-designed Honolulu Hale was completed at the corner of King and Punchbowl street.
A 1950 map of Downtown Honolulu shows that the former Honolulu Hale/Honolulu House site was used as a parking lot for the Police Department (that was situated diagonally across the Merchant-Bethel streets intersection.) As noted, today it is a park-like area.