Even in today’s high-tech environment with tools and toys with satellite support, the simple illumination from a known point continues to serve as a navigational aid, as well as warn mariners of hazardous areas.
In 1924, construction of the 10-story, 184-foot Aloha Tower (lighthouse) began; it was completed in a year and a half. For four decades the Aloha Tower was the tallest structure in Hawaiʻi. But that is getting ahead of ourselves.
The original Honolulu Harbor Light was built in 1826. (USCG) Some suggest the earliest light was a “crude oil lamp wrapped with red cloth.” (De Wire)
Some official action for more formal lighting was set in motion. The Kingdom’s ‘Second Act of Kamehameha III; An Act to Organize the Executive Ministry of the Hawaiian Islands,’ Chapter 3, Section 3, Article 3, notes:
“The respective governors shall, on receiving the king’s instructions from the Minister of the Interior, have power to cause to be erected at any designated points upon the coasts of their respective islands, lighthouses or beacons, for the guidance of vessels at night”. (April 27, 1846)
The House of Nobles had previously read and reviewed “Article III., of Chapter III., regarding to Lighthouses, Beacons and Channels. This was passed being very clearly worded.” (July 22, 1845)
However, it wasn’t until 1869 that “Harbor Wink” was built at the edge of the reef on the north side of the Honolulu Harbor entrance, near what is now Sand Island. It was a white wooden structure on piles, linked to a nearby dwelling by a pier.
Two bids were submitted for the harbor lighthouse. Honolulu Iron Works agreed to provide a lighthouse on iron pilings for $2,141, but a lower bid of $360, submitted by LL Gilbert for an all-wooden structure, was accepted.
Wooden pilings were driven into the reef that formed the small island, and atop these a keeper’s residence and a square pyramidal lighthouse topped by a lantern room were constructed. Keeper Captain McGregor first exhibited the light from whale oil lamps, concentrated by a fourth-order Fresnel lens, on August 2, 1869.
The facility didn’t go without its detractors. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser called it “an infantile structure which more resembles a birdcage than a lighthouse.” The lighthouse also served as a front range light. (Lighthouse Friends)
In 1906, plans were proposed for the transition from a simple, primitive light in Honolulu Harbor to a permanent, efficient light station. The following year, the harbor was dredged, providing a deeper port for large ships.
Material created from the dredging was added to the existing Quarantine Island (what is now called Sand Island.) It was on Sand Island that the Honolulu Harbor Light station was built. (Brown)
Plans were prepared for a concrete-block (subsequently changed to re-enforced concrete) structure, to include a combined light-keeper’s dwelling and tower, the building to rest upon twenty-four concrete foundation cylinders or piles 3 feet in diameter.
The structure was rectangular, one and a half stories high, and is surmounted by a square tower supporting a fourth-order cylindrical helical-bar lantern. The illuminating apparatus consisted of an occulting fourth-order lens, revolving on ball bearings.
The main floor contains quarters for two keepers, each provided with kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. There are ample closets and pantries for each keeper. (Report of the Light-House Board, 1909)
The beacon went into service on February 15, 1910. After several years, the sturdy building, that had become the well-known Honolulu Harbor Lighthouse, almost resembled a home, complete with a gate and white picket fence.
The lower portion of the structure provided living accommodations for two light keepers. The 43-foot high illuminating apparatus above the dwelling housed the necessary guiding light for all ships entering the busy harbor. (Brown)
Sixteen years later, the iconic Aloha Tower was completed to replace the Sand Island facility. (The Honolulu Harbor Light was destroyed in 1934.)
The Aloha Tower navigational aid served until 1975, when the present Honolulu Harbor Light was established on a metal pole at the end of Pier 2.