It wasn’t until 1826 that the US Navy had its first contact with the Hawaiian Islands, when the schooner USS Dolphin sailed into port. After that, it took more than 13 years for the Navy to begin to recognize the potential of Pearl Harbor.
During a routine survey of the area in 1840, an enterprising naval officer determined that the deep inner harbor could be accessed by completely removing the obstructing reef.
In 1885, Dr. Seth Porter Ford (namesake for the present reference to the island) took ownership and possession of the island. He sold it in 1891.
Ford Island is roughly translated as “Poka Ailana” in Hawaiian and some native Hawaiians did refer to the island by that name.
Despite gaining exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor in 1887, the US did not make any attempt to take advantage of their claim on this strategic estuary until well after the turn of the century.
In 1899, the O‘ahu Sugar Company leased Ford Island and planted about 300-acres of sugarcane on the island. Docks were built on the island and on Waipi‘o Peninsula to facilitate transfer of cane harvests by barge on the way to the mill at Waipahu.
It wasn’t until the capture of Manila during the Spanish-American War, when the US needed to establish a permanent way station in the Pacific to maintain control of the Philippines.
Then, for the first time, the American government began to understand the strategic importance of O‘ahu. Annexation soon followed, but even then, little was done to fortify the area or capitalize on the vast potential of Pearl Harbor.
The US government began acquisition of Ford Island in 1902, and completed this in 1916. The island was used as a joint aviation facility by the Army and Navy until the late-1930s
In preparation for World War I, the Navy selected Ford Island as a site for land-based guns to defend the harbor.
In 1916, the War Department acquired two small parcels of land on Ford Island to be used as casements for two batteries of six-inch rifled guns.
The sites were completed in mid-1917 and were the first presence of military on Ford Island. The batteries were used by the U.S. Army until 1925 by which time they were deactivated and the guns removed.
One of the sites, on the northeast corner of the island, was named Battery Adair (for First Lt. Henry Adair, 10th US Cavalry, who died in Mexico in 1916.)
In the 1920s, the US Navy was building up its Naval Air Station on Ford Island. As part of this growth, in 1922, the Navy began the construction of officers’ homes on the North End of the Island, later known as “Nob Hill.” The officer’s housing is also referred to as Luke Field Housing.
In 1923, six one-story houses are built on Belleau Woods Loop for married Chief Petty Officers (CPOs). These houses were physically separate from the Nob Hill homes, but were also north east of the aviation facilities.
In 1932, three additional CPO houses were added to the original six. However, sometime in the 1930s, one of the homes was demolished.
The 19 houses in Ford Island’s Nob Hill neighborhood—simple, single-story wood bungalows used by US Navy officers and their families—were built between 1923 and 1936.
Quarters K (Hale Loa – Long House,) the Commanding Officer’s quarters, was built on Battery Adair in 1936. The Battery serves as the basement of the home.
In 1937, CDR Robert Hickey became the first resident of Quarters K and he returned in 1958 to live in the same house as Rear Admiral. He planted the tree on the front left hand corner of the house during his first tenure.
During the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, families from the Chief Petty Officers Quarters and Nob Hill gathered in the basement in Quarters K for shelter.
The swimming pool nearby was in the opening scene of the 1965 epic “In Harm’s Way.” Close by, too, is the 1920s bungalow that was John Wayne’s quarters in the movie.
The Nob Hill neighborhood is being restored by Hawaii Military Communities, LLC, as part of the Hawai‘i Public-Private venture to develop, restore and manage Navy housing in Hawai‘i. In June 2009, the first of the homes had been restored.
Partners include Hawaii Military Communities LLC, the US Navy, DLNR’s State Historic Preservation Division, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the City and County of Honolulu and Historic Hawai‘i Foundation.
I had the opportunity to visit Quarters K on a couple of occasions. Once at a reception hosted by the Admiral of the Submarine Base and another on a tour of Pearl Harbor hosted by the commander at Pearl Harbor.