In the beginning, things looked good – very good.
“In view of the enormous demands New Honolulu will soon be making upon both building and paving material, the establishment of the brick making industry here at this juncture seems highly opportune.”
“It is the Honolulu Clay Company that is starting this new local enterprise, the partners in it being HL Kerr, ML Smith, CG Ellison and FL Litherland. The deposits of clay to be worked are up Nuuanu valley, where the brickyard is to be established. In actual substance the raw material is decomposed volcanic rock.” (Evening Bulletin, Feb 15, 1900)
Kerr and Smith were the promoters and Ellison and Litherland were the clay and brick experts. After prospecting and experimenting, they obtained the necessary land, machinery, etc., and incorporated on May 24, 1900, under the name of the Honolulu Clay Company, Limited.
By 1906, they were bankrupt. Let’s look back …
“By the steamer Australia from San Francisco yesterday [February 14, 1900] there arrived the machinery complete for manufacturing brick of Hawaiian clay. The making of the article will begin whenever the plant can be set up, which will be done without any avoidable delay.” (Evening Bulletin, Feb 15, 1900)
“The machinery employed by the incorporation was originally intended for the Paris Exposition, but the Honolulu Clay Company, having sent in their order just as the manufacturers were about to crate it and send it across the Atlantic, were persuaded to send the machinery west instead of east.” (PCA, August 6, 1900)
“[A] native Hawaiian, stated that in earlier times, and more particularly at the battle of Nu‘uanu, when Kamehameha I and his invading army drove the forces of O‘ahu over the Pali , the district was called Laimi.” (Jardin, HHR)
The district was generally referred to as the ‘Brick Yard.’ (Jardin, HHR) The brick factory stood on the site now occupied by St. Stephen Catholic Church at 2747 pall Highway and Laimi Road – just below Hānaiakamalama (Queen Emma Summer Palace).
“There is enough clay in sight for the manufacture of at least 150,000.000 brick. All of the ingredients necessary for the marking of an extra good class of brick are found either on the premises upon which the plant is located, or upon some one of the various properties of the company, of which there are several in the neighborhood.”
“The situation of the establishment is most ideal for such an enterprise. It is within fifteen minutes’ drive of the business center of the city and is close to the main business center of the Territory. Water is found on the place in abundance, the Nuuanu stream flowing across it on the lower side.” (PCA, August 6, 1900)
“The manufacture of brick in Honolulu has caused no little amount of interest among business men and contractors in this city. From the first the present company met with many discouragements, for they were told that there was no clay on the Island of Oahu suitable for the purposed desired.”
“Considerable, opposition was met among many of the builders in city, many of them even declaring that under no circumstances would the new brick be used by them. Still the Honolulu Clay Company kept on, and now after fifteen months are enabled to put bricks on the market at $16 per thousand against $22.50, the price demand elsewhere.”
“Many of the new buildings at the Navy Yard at Pearl City are to be constructed of them. Engineer USG White of the Naval Station speaks in the highest terms of the character of output.”
“When asked what his opinion of the brick might be, Captain White said: ‘I am free to say that the brick made by the Honolulu Clay Company is not only as good but much better than the bricks shipped into the Islands.’”
“‘I made several experiments, testing their ability to stand strains and pressure, and was highly pleased with the result. The bricks, as you have no doubt noticed, are excellent in color, while their weight is more than half that of the ordinary bricks found in the States.’”
“The company is fortunate in having for its manager Mr FL Litherland of Portland, Oregon, who for many years has been recognized as one of the leading brick and tile-makers on the Pacific Coast.”
“Mr. Litherland is giving the work his personal attention and is to be found on the grounds from early in the morning until late in the evening, looking after the thousand and one little details that only a practiced eye can see, but which are so necessary to be properly attended to in order to insure success.” (PCA, August 6, 1900)
“Clay for the brick-making came from a pit behind the drying shed, close to the Nuuanu Stream. The material came up from the pit on chain conveyors. Before long it was discovered that the pit contained only a small deposit of clay, and it soon gave out. This necessitated the bringing in of clay from Palolo Valley and from Puunui.” (Jardin, HHR)
“The made specimens contradict a statement that has often been repeated, that there is no clay suitable for brick making in the group.” (Evening Bulletin, Feb 15, 1900)
“The clay, however, proved not to be as good as it was believed to be and some contractors specified for California bricks, thus excluding Honolulu bricks. Conditions changed also in other respects.”
“Building operations fell off in Honolulu and the demand for brick decreased in consequence. The cost of making bricks was found to be higher than was anticipated. A long spell of rainy weather, prevented the bricks from drying properly.” (Supreme Court of the Territory of Hawaii)
“From the beginning of the operation the quality of the clay was unsuited for brick-making. The finished bricks would often crumble when exposed to heavy rain. They lacked ‘body.’”
“Many attempts were made to introduce other materials to prevent the crumbling, but they all failed. This disappointment, added to the fact that Honolulu was not then erecting many permanent buildings, hastened the doom of the venture.” (Jardin, HHR)
Finally it was a question whether to continue or give up the business.
“As time went on, the storage yard became filled with bricks that were not being sold, and the plant shut down. Eventually the entire factory was dismantled and moved away. This last operation took place about 1905 and closed the chapter on brick manufacture in Honolulu.” (Jardin, HHR)
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