Benjamin Franklin (Frank) Dillingham’s OR&L company, created in 1889, changed the landscape of west Honolulu. Its first train depot was created between a fishpond and North King Street, next to Prison Road, later renamed Iwilei Road.
The first section of track extended only as far as Aiea, but by the 1920s, tracks had been laid all over the island. The train was the primary mode of transportation. (Burlingame)
“Among the most important works now in progress of rapid construction, is the Oahu Railway to Pearl Harbor, which is already approaching completion, so far as grading is concerned.”
“Eleven miles of this line will have the grading completed in two weeks; and of this length ten miles are already finished. The material for the bridges is already on the ground, and the work of driving the piles has been begun at the larger estuaries of Kalihi and Moanalua.”
“A few of the bridges on this line will be of considerable length; but, with the present energy being displayed only a short time will elapse before the gaps in the line will all disappear.”
“Many of the smaller bridges and culverts have been already built. There will be altogether twenty bridges between Honolulu and Ewa, of various lengths—from 16 to 300 feet, with an aggregate length of 1250 feet.”
“Plans have been approved by which the main depot will be placed 180 feet from King street in what is now a fish-pond dividing Oahu prison from the royal stables.”
“A large portion, if not all of this extensive fish-pond will be filled in without delay, and this substantial and eligible building ground, artificially firmed, will become of great value by close proximity to the main depot buildings.”
“The depot itself will be of imposing size and made as ornamental in appearance as convenience and traffic requirements will allow. The grading of the whole division of this line, twelve miles, will be completed within the next month; and the laying of the rails will commence immediately upon their arrival by the bank Deutschland now nearly due from Germany.”
“The progress of this important work has been so rapid during the month of July that we give it first place among works in progress. (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, July 27, 1889)
The inauguration of the OR&L rail service was November 16, 1889. (LOC)Eventually, the railroad ran west out of Honolulu to Waianae, around Kaena Point and on to Kahuku, and is significant in the development of the sugar industry on the island of Oahu.
As a result of the development of this rail line the lands of western and northern Oahu were able to be opened for the cultivation of sugar, with plantations started at Ewa, Waipahu, Waianae, Waialua, Kahuku and other areas. Besides freight, the OR&L also provided plantation workers with easy access to Honolulu. (NPS)
In 1924-1925, a new Depot was constructed to replace an earlier 1889 wooden terminal building, and was the main Honolulu rail terminal for OR&L’s passenger operations.
The building was designed by local architect Guy N. Rothwell. The contract to erect the terminal was officially given to the Hawaiian Contracting Company (a company that was owned by the Dillingham family), though much of the work was performed by OR&L’s in-house construction crews.
Upon completion, the building had dual functions, with the 2nd floor providing offices for the company’s daily railroad operations, and the 1st floor accommodating passengers. The 1st floor layout included a porte-cochere, a ticket office and lobby with a restaurant and bar, as well as a news stand.
The offices upstairs were occupied by OR&L’s president, general manager, superintendent and treasurer, as well as the station’s dispatcher.
Both floors also included spacious restrooms for travelers and employees. As soon as the building was completed, an extension was constructed on the north side, to accommodate the company’s growing freight department.
The railroad prospered until the 1930s when the advent of improved roadways led to its decline. The railway continued in operation through World War II, but in 1947 all operations outside of Honolulu were abandoned. (NPS)
The company continued to use Depot building as a terminal well after rail passenger operations ceased at the end of 1947. The property was acquired by the State of Hawaii in 1961. After OR&L moved off the premises eighteen months later the building was used as office space.
A 1975 renovation completely reconfigured the interior of the building for office use, and an elevator and expanded stairwell were added at an unknown date. Various state organizations have occupied the offices, with the current users being the Division of Accounting and General Services, Department of Human Services in the terminal building. (HABS)