The coastal village of Waikīkī was most likely centered around the mouth of ‘Āpuakēhau Stream (between the Royal Hawaiian and Moana Hotels.) Beginning in the 15th-century, a vast system of irrigated taro fields was constructed, extending from Waikīkī to the lower valleys of Mānoa and Pālolo.
This field system, that took advantage of streams descending from the valleys of Makiki, Mānoa and Pālolo, was an impressive feat of engineering, the design of which is traditionally attributed to the chief Kalamakua (grandson of the Island’s ruling chief Māʻilikūkahi.)
The lo‘i kalo, in combination with coconut groves and numerous fishponds along the Waikīkī shoreline, enabled the growth of a sizeable population. (Cultural Surveys)
Fast forward about a century after ‘contact’ (Captain Cook’s arrival) and “The most popular resort of the people of Oʻahu is the famous Waikīkī … Waikīkī is the seaside and pleasure-resort of the island. …”
“There are a number of private residences, picturesque-looking bungalows and cottages, but all airy, comfortable, and close to the murmuring sea. A beautiful grove of towering coconut-trees adds to the tropical charm of the place.” (Musick, 1898)
“The sea bathing is simply perfection. The water is never chilly; and yet it is most healthful and invigorating. The bottom is of nice smooth sand, always warm and pleasant to the feet.”
“There is no fear of undertow or of any finny monsters. Not only is it pleasant to bathe here during the day, but moonlight bathing is indulged in. … It is a novelty, worth seeing, if not worth trying. (Whitney, 1895)
Just as “sea bathing” were gaining popularity on the American and European continents, private bathhouses, like the Long Branch Baths, Ilaniwai Baths and Wright’s Villa, began to appear in Waikīkī. (White)
“Bath-houses that equal those in Long Branch (New Jersey) are found here, and sea-bathing in January is as pleasant as in July. There is no clearer water, no finer beach, no smoother bottom in any of the many famous watering-places than are found at Waikīkī.” (Musick, 1898)
This is where Thomas and Elizabeth (Applegarth) Wright made their home. They came to Hawaiʻi from England in the early-1880s. Thomas was a carriage maker who came to Hawaiʻi with two brothers who operated a carriage business. (Krauss)
Their home was built in about 1890, on the water, across from Uluniu Street on Kalākaua.
Then tragedy struck the Wright family. First, their 10-year old son, Gladstone, was struck and killed by a falling rock while on a Sunday school outing in Manoa. The Sunday school teacher carried him unconscious down the trail to his carriage and drove to Queen’s Hospital; there, treated by Dr. Hildebrand, unfortunately, he died. (Krauss)
A memorial “Gladstone Wright Killed May 14 1891” chiseled into a hard to find boulder on Waiakeakua Stream (between its upper and lower falls on the east side of Mānoa Valley) is a vigilant reminder of the hazards of hiking in Hawaiʻi’s wilderness – and it continues the memory of its focus.
Gladstone’s sister Cicely died (at the age of 7) of an undisclosed disease the year after he was killed. It was shortly after when the Wrights opened their home as a bath house and accommodations (food and lodging.) It was initially known as Wright’s Villa.
It received favorable success, “Over one hundred bathers visited Wright’s Villa and Ilaniwai yesterday.” (Evening Bulletin, June 24, 1895) “Over fifty bathers visited Wright’s Villa last Sunday, Mr Wright will shortly erect a number of new dressing rooms and a two-roomed cottage on his premises.” (Evening Bulletin, July 8, 1895)
Thomas and Elizabeth Wright left in 1899 and returned to Staindrop, England, never to return to the Islands (although they were constantly reminded of the Islands; they named their England home ‘Honolulu House.’)
Back in the Island, “ES Buhlon has bought the bathing resort at Waikīkī, known as Ilaniwai. This will be joined with Wright’s Villa and the two places will be under the management of JB Hayward, the present manager of Wright’s Villa. Now that this consolidation has taken place, people who desire rooms at Waikīkī can find them.” (Evening Bulletin, April 5, 1899)
Then, “Wright’s Villa has been rechristened and will henceforth be known as the ‘Waikīkī Inn.’ … It is conducted under the same management. You can have the same bathing on the best beach in the Islands, the same excellent dinner and if you are so inclined enjoy a bottle of claret while dining.” (Evening Bulletin, October 14, 1899)
For a while, things were looking up, “Waikīkī Inn has undergone considerable improvement under the management of Almy, vice Mr. Hayward retired, and many more changes are contemplated. Mr Almy hopes to make Waikīkī Inn the resort of the beach.”
“He is prepared to take orders for special dinners and is even contemplating making a café of his ‘lanai’ and putting in a grill room where short orders may be served at any time. No more genial host can be found than Mr Almy and his enterprise deserves the patronage of the public.” (Austin’s Hawaiian Weekly, March 17, 1900)
Almy had a bit of a run in with the law, “Because it is illegal to sell liquor on Sundays the Waikīkī Inn will close. HN Almy, manager of this popular seaside resort, said yesterday that the charge of Judge Humphreys to the grand jury was in part directly aimed at the custom of selling liquor at the beach resorts on Sundays.”
“Light wine and beer licenses had been granted, as it was clearly shown that the beach resorts could not compete with the down town saloons if they were made to pay the regular saloon license of $1,000 per year, unless they were allowed to sell on Sunday.” (Honolulu Republican, August 8, 1900)
Later, things got even worse, “Waikīkī Inn has a bad name and if half of the charges against its conduct are true, the bad name has been fully earned. Furthermore, no showing has been made or can be made for allowing still further liberties of liquor selling at the beach resort.”
“The reports of the license inspector, the experience of the police department, the investigations of grand juries, have repeatedly and consistently shown that the greatest danger from the booze business to the young people of Honolulu lies in the night-selling privileges at a beach resort such as Waikīkī Inn.” (Editorial, Star Bulletin, August 19, 1914)
Interestingly, the property was later acquired by Honolulu Brewing & Malting Company. Sometime later the inn was renamed Waikīkī Tavern and Inn. It and surrounding properties were later demolished to make way for the Kūhiō Beach improvements in the early 1960s.
Today, the home of Thomas and Elizabeth Wright is now a small patch of grass and a sandy beach, just ‘Ewa of the hula mound and banyan tree at Kūhiō Beach on Waikīkī. (Lots of information and images here are from Riley.)