Joseph P Mendonça was born in the Azores Islands (1,500 miles off the coast of Portugal) on May 19, 1847; serving as a galley hand on a whaling vessel, he arrived in Hawaiʻi at about the age of 17 – he jumped ship.
He started working with his uncle, Jason (Jacinto Pereira) Perry (1826-1883 – the father of Antonio Perry, who would later serve on the Hawaii Supreme Court from 1900-1934.)
He met and lived with Mary Anehe Sylva (1870-1962.) She was part Hawaiian her father a British sea captain with at least some Portuguese ancestry.
They had not yet married and had six children; each took the last name Sylva. The children included Dr Francis K Sylva, a dentist who also served in the Territorial legislature (1939-1945;) Edward N Sylva, an attorney and graduate of Harvard Law School, who was Territorial Attorney General from 1953-1956 …
… Joseph L. Sylva, who served in the Territorial legislature (1931-1937) and was also a member of the Honolulu Board of Supervisors; Dr Henry Sylva, a dentist; Rose Anehe Sylva and Mrs. Alice (Sylva) Ackerman. (HHF)
The couple later married in the 1920s and Mary Sylva became Mrs Mary A Mendonça.
Mendonça became active the Annexation Party. On January 14, 1893, he became a member of the party’s Committee on Public safety, which soon afterward moved to overthrow the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Mendonça helped seize the government offices at Ali‘iolani Hale, an act that later led to the Queen Liliʻuokalani’s forced abdication. (Chinatown)
In 1894, Mendonça participated in the constitutional convention for the then Republic of Hawaiʻi. After that, Mendonça left politics. (Punawaiola)
Mendonça had practical training as a carpenter and mason, and went into the construction trade. He also started to acquire land, lots of it.
His leases and other acquisitions included property in Chinatown, the North Shore and the Windward side.
As early as 1890, Mendonça and his partner C Bolte had been leasing the former Kāne‘ohe Ahupua‘a lands of Queen Kalama. (MCBH)
A journal entry on June 1, 1893, noted “We commenced today doing business under the name of Kāneʻohe Ranch”. (Mendonça and Bolte formed Kāneʻohe Ranch.)
They started with the herd with imported Angus cattle, purchased from James I Dowsett, one of the founders of the ranching industry in Hawai‘i. Horses, sheep, and goats rounded out the livestock assets.
A couple years later, the ranch was incorporated, with JP Mendonça and C Bolte as the only shareholders. (MCBH) Mendonça was one of the most successful ranchers on the island.
The future of that ranch was noted in an October 31, 1905 article in the Hawaiian Gazette, “James B Castle has great plans for the future of the Koʻolau side of Oahu.”
“He has bought the one-half interest of JP Mendonça in the Kāneʻohe ranch and has secured an option on the other half interest, which is owned by C Bolte, and on the entire Heʻeia plantation, also owned by Mr. Bolte. These properties cover a considerable amount of real estate and a complete sugar mill at Heʻeia.”
“It is Mr. Castle’s intention at an early date to join the two properties which formerly constituted the Kaneohe and Heeia sugar plantations, and to add thereto a large area of fertile land not heretofore under cultivation, which will be reached by pumping, and turn the whole into a sugar plantation.” (Hawaiian Gazette, October 31, 1905)
Mendonça was ready for a change. In anticipation of getting out of Kāneʻohe Ranch, the Ranch ledger entry for December 31, 1899 stated, “Joe Mendonça is ‘pau ke aloha’ with Kaneohe, he wants to sell out or do something, he does not exactly know what; he has bought about 20 acres land in Kalihi and is now in town … about 5 days every week.” (MCBH)
It seems he diverted his interest to Chinatown.
“(Mendonça) owned a lot of property in Chinatown, all of which had windows with either red frames or red brick around them. That was his building identity, to let everyone know how many properties he owned.”
“At one time there were more than 10 buildings in Chinatown with that signature red trim.” (Leineweber; HHF)
Two devastating fires swept through Chinatown in 1886 and 1900, reducing the majority of its wooden structures to ashes. (HHF)
Mendonça was one of the first landowners to rebuild after the 1900 fire. He hired architect Oliver G Traphagen to design his new building, sited on a block that consolidated many of his small landholdings. Traphagen was at the time working on the Moana Hotel, which was completed at the same time as the Jos P Mendonça Building in 1901. (HHF)
On the North Shore, Mendonça had property less than a mile from the Oʻahu Land and Railway Company’s Mokuleʻia train station (it was also accessible by automobile;) the family had a beach house there.
He sold some of the beach front land to CC Crozier, who created the Mokuleʻia Beach Lots subdivision. (The path of the original train track was on the immediate mauka side of Crozier Drive.) (HHF)
He also had an H-shaped, 2-story Mediterranean Revival Style house, designed by Robert Miller, on Judd Hillside Road on the slopes of Pu’u ‘Ualakaʻa in lower Manoa Valley (built in 1927.) Mendonça died in 1927.