Kapi‘olani Park was dedicated and named by King Kalākaua to honor his wife, Queen Kapi‘olani. It was the first public park in the Hawaiian Islands.
The park was dedicated as “a place of innocent refreshment for all who wish to leave the dust of the town street.”
Scotsman Archibald Cleghorn, Governor of Oʻahu and father of Princess Kaʻiulani, was tasked to come up with the design for the park.
Characterized from the beginning as “swamp land in a desert,” Kapiʻolani Park became a park specifically because it wasn’t considered suitable for anything else, and because of its peculiar climate – it’s one of the few places on Oahu where rain almost never falls.
An important part of the initial park was its oval horse race track. King Kalākaua reportedly liked gambling on horse racing and in 1872 he helped form The Hawaiian Jockey Club (this organized the sport according to the rules that governed races elsewhere.)
In the wet winter of 1876, horseracing enthusiasts from Honolulu asked King Kalākaua to find a dry course for their popular races. King Kalākaua chose an unoccupied dry plain at the foot of Diamond Head.
On June 11, 1877, Kapiʻolani Park was dedicated.
Nearby wetlands and stream provided a diversity of scenery and activity. Picnicking took place on the banks of streams; trails and bridges over the waterway added to the restful ambiance.
Back in the late-1800s and early-1900s, a lagoon in Kapiʻolani Park contained many islands and islets. The largest was called Makee’s Island (named after James Makee, a Scottish whaling ship captain and the Kapiʻolani Park Association’s first president.)
Makee’s Island started near the corner of Waikīkī Road and Makee Road. (Later, Waikīkī Road was renamed Kalākaua Avenue and a portion of Makee Road joined Kapahulu Road to become Kapahulu Avenue.)
The island, shaped like a long rectangle, was over 700-feet long and 100-feet wide. On it was the first Kapiʻolani Park bandstand, a wooden gazebo-like structure.
The Royal Hawaiian Band performed there on Sunday afternoons and occasionally had night concerts.
At that time, Waikīkī was a popular retreat for the royal families, merchants of Honolulu and visitors. They were attracted by the long white sand beach, the protective reef and the proximity to Honolulu. Then, there were relatively few visitor accommodations.
Initially, people would convert their homes and rent rooms. Finally, in 1893, the first famous Waikīkī hotel opened, “Sans Souci.” It became one of the first beach resorts (that end of Waikīkī is still called “Sans Souci Beach” – makai of Kapiʻolani Park.)
At the turn of the century, more hotels began to spring up in Waikīkī – starting with the Moana Hotel in 1901, the Royal Hawaiian in 1927 and others.
In the early years, the park’s primary attractions were an exotic bird collection and horse racing, especially the running of the Rosita Cup, held annually on King Kamehameha Day.
Peacocks, trees and palms were added to the park, with plantings obtained from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Roads and trolley lines were extended to include “Waikīkī Road at Makee” (Kalākaua and Kapahulu Avenues.)
Then the zoo component started to expand. During 1914 to 1916, more animals were exhibited at Kapiʻolani Park. The first animals included a monkey, a honey bear and some lion cubs. In 1916, Daisy, a friendly African elephant, arrived in Honolulu.
In 1947, the Honolulu Zoo master plan was approved to occupy the triangle of Kapiʻolani Park lying between Kapahulu Avenue, Monsarrat Avenue and Paki Street.
Nestled near the Zoo is the Waikīkī Shell, a venue for outdoor concerts and large gatherings (it was home to the now retired Kodak Hula Show.)
Likewise, sports activities also expanded. Polo was introduced and baseball was played, in addition to tennis courts, field laid out for soccer and rugby and a continuous path for walkers and joggers.
This area now includes Kapiʻolani Park, Waikīkī Zoo, Waikīkī Shell, Waikīkī War Memorial Natatorium and Waikīkī Aquarium.
The image shows Kapiʻolani Park in about 1900. The carriages are lined along the race track and a polo game is going on in the center. I have also added other images and maps on Kapiʻolani Park in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook page.