… then came the tram to Pacific Heights.
The earliest residential subdivisions in the Islands appear to have been laid out by the government on the level areas between Thomas Square and Pawaʻa, initially under governmental auspices, during the 1880s.
The area was known as Kulaokahu‘a (“the plain of the boundary”) and commonly referred to as the Plains. Kulaokahu‘a was the comparatively level ground below Makiki Valley (between the mauka fertile valleys and the makai wetlands.) This included areas such as Kaka‘ako, Kewalo, Makiki, Pawa‘a and Mo‘ili‘ili.
In his review of the events of 1880, Thrum reported: “Building lots on the plains sold at auction by the Government the past summer averaged over $500, the lots ranging about 100 feet frontage by 150 feet in depth.”
Two years later he wrote: “The plains to the east of Honolulu proper are being rapidly built up with residences so that the blocks and streets are now well defined as far out as Punahou Street.”
Residential development soon extended in the mauka, ʻEwa and Waikīkī directions. In 1883, “a number of suburban lots adjoining Kapiʻolani Park [were] placed upon the market” and “realized good figures.”
In his retrospect for 1890, Thrum noted that “the government has held two or three sales of lots for building purposes adjacent to the city. Those on the slope of Punchbowl found ready applicants and lively competition. … “
During the same year, the Oʻahu Railway and Land Company sold lots at Pearl City, by their new railroad line.
New subdivisions “between Punchbowl slope and Punahou,” in Kaimuki, and on Pacific Heights appeared in the late 1890s.
In 1899 the Pacific Heights road was laid out by Mr. Wall, and sold by Hawaiʻi’s reported first subdivider, Mr. Charles S. Desky (who reportedly “pulled several shady land transactions.”)
By 1900, Honolulu had a population of more than 39,000 and was in the midst of a development boom, creating tremendous need for more housing. Charles Desky built the Pacific Heights Electric Railway to support the housing development he had created near downtown Honolulu.
It is the first “electric passenger road” in Hawaiʻi; as such it is the forerunner of a system which before many months stretched out from the City center in every direction.
Prior to the development, “That part of the slope toward the city was gentle, with many patches of guava trees, kalu bushes and stands of cactus (panini.) There were no large or tall trees up to the summit until where the kukui nut, ʻōhiʻa and koa trees started along the ridge to the Koʻolau range.”
A record of this enterprise appeared in Thrum’s Annual for 1900, which said Desky and his real estate developments:
“The Kaimuki addition and Pacific Heights tracts are attracting a number of selectors, and desirable residences are in course of construction in both of these sections. … Main roads and streets have also been constructed, and the Pacific Heights enterprise promises Honolulu its first electric road in the course of a few weeks, to be followed by the construction of an elegant hotel, plans of which are completed.”
Additional information about the building of the electric railway came in the Hawaiian Gazette of November 13, 1900:
“The installation of the Pacific Heights electric railway during the past week deserves more than passing notice. It marks the opening of a new era for Honolulu in more ways than one.”
“During the summer months, in the States, the electric cars that radiate from the cities into the country and to the seaside are crowded far into the night with thousands people who ride for the sheer luxury of getting out into fresh air; and as the price Is uniformly five cents for any distance, It brings within reach of the poorest a degree of comfort healthful exercise unknown before the advent of the electric car.”
“The new railway not only provides this feature, with a beautiful view thrown In. but It for the first time makes easily and quickly accessible the foothills back of the city, which are unquestionably among the most healthful of all residence locations.”
Advertisements in ‘The Friend;’ “PACIFIC HEIGHTS. Offers greater attractions and inducements as a site for choice residences than any other portion of Honolulu. The Pacific Heights Electric Railway Line affords easy access to all lots; and water and electric lights are supplied from independent systems at reasonable rates. To parties intending to purchase and improve, especially favorable terms will be given. For further particulars apply to Chas. S. Desky, Progress Block.”
“Mr. Desky is to be congratulated upon the successful inauguration of a large enterprise for one man to undertake to handle. The community should show their appreciation of his pluck by liberally patronizing the road, at the same time they will be getting more than they pay for.” (Hawaiian Gazette)
“In those days – there were only four automobiles on Oahu in 1901 – you lived downtown because you worked downtown, you couldn’t live in Kaimuki or in Manoa.” (star-bulletin)
“Unlike today, when we build a community, we send out a bus to service the people, but in those days they’d put a streetcar out there with nobody there. It was one of those ‘if you build it, they will come’ things.” (star-bulletin)
“The streetcars created neighborhoods. People could suddenly live elsewhere and find a way into town.”
Subdividing soon became a full-time occupation. In January 1898, Theodore F. Lansing and A. V. Gear formed the firm of Gear, Lansing & Co. and before the end of the year had subdivided a 10-acre tract in Makiki and had begun work on a 260-acre subdivision (with an option for another 260) in Kaimuki.
Maps of Honolulu in 1897 show few byways outside the central city. There were just a few little farm roads. Yet in 1900-1901, Mānoa, McCully and Kaimuki are all laid out with grids and it’s definitely because of the streetcars.
By 1904, the streetcars were averaging 18,327 riders a day, 365 days a year.