Kaimuki, before man, was a site of rocky land, red soil high in iron and largely covered by lava.
Where Kaimuki got its name is not known. However, there are many stories and legends which tell what the name means. One is from a legend that menehune (legendary little people of Hawaiʻi) chose the place to build their ti ovens. Breaking the word down, ‘Ka’ means the, ‘imu’ – roasting-pit or ti-oven, and ‘ki’ – ti. (Kapio)
William Lunalilo ended up with most of the area known as Kaimuki through the Great Māhele (1848.) Lunalilo was born on January 31, 1835 to High Chiefess Miriam ‘Auhea Kekauluohi (Kuhina Nui, or Premier of the Hawaiian Kingdom and niece of Kamehameha I) and High Chief Charles Kanaʻina.
When Kamehameha V died on December 11, 1872 he had not named a successor to the throne. The Islands’ first election to determine who would be King was held – Lunalilo defeated Prince David Kalākaua (the Legislature met, as required by law, in the Courthouse to cast their official ballots of election of the next King. Lunalilo received all thirty-seven votes.)
Lunalilo was the first of the large landholding aliʻi to create a charitable trust for the benefit of his people. He was to reign for one year and twenty-five days, succumbing to pulmonary tuberculosis on February 3, 1874.
His estate included large landholdings on the five major islands, consisting of 33-ahupuaʻa, nine ʻili and more than a dozen home lots. His will, written in 1871, established a perpetual trust under the administration of three trustees to be appointed by the justices of the Hawaiian Supreme Court.
His will instructed his trustees to build a home to accommodate the poor, destitute and infirm people of Hawaiian (aboriginal) blood or extraction, with preference given to older people. The will instructed the Trustees to sell all of the estate’s land to build and maintain the home. (Supreme Court Records)
In 1884, the Kaimuki land was auctioned off. The rocky terrain held little value to its new owner, Dr. Trousseau, who was a “physician to the court of King Kalākaua”. Trousseau ended up giving his land to Senator Paul Isenberg. Theodore Lansing and AV Gear later bought the Kaimuki land (in 1898.) (Lee)
In 1898, Kaimuki was still the barren, rocky and red-dirt land filled with panini, kiawe, and lantana. However, Lansing, a real estate agent, thought it was a great place to build a high class residential district. Initially, sales were slow.
But in 1900, the Chinatown fire forced folks to find places for new homes and businesses – many came to Kaimuki. This eventually led to the construction of the Lēʻahi Hospital (1901.)
Lēʻahi Hospital was once called Honolulu Hospital for the Incurables. The patients were there to die. Most died of tuberculosis which spread to hundreds. The hospital was nicknamed ‘Make house,’ or the house for the dead. (Kapio)
This and other activity in the area destroyed and/or displaced the landscape.
A heiau, Kukuionapeha Heiau (Napeha’s light or beacon) was in the vicinity.
It was in an “Area seaward of 8th and 9th avenues, Ka-imu-ki, Honolulu, that was once a heap of rocks.” (Ulukau) “Kaimuki, at the town side of old signal station. All destroyed.” (Thrum.)
The image shows what is believed to be Kukuionapeha Heiau in Kaimuki (Hawaiʻi State Archives.)