An electric railway that once operated on Pacific Heights in the early 1900s is now history, and only a few living persons remember its operation. A record of this enterprise appeared in Thrum’s Annual for 1900, which said of Charles S 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.”
“It is the first electric passenger road in Hawaii. As such it is the forerunner of a system which before many months will stretch out from the City center In every direction. …”
“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, while at the same time they will be getting more than they pay for.”
The actual date of the first passenger run of the cars may have been on November 30, 1900, for the Honolulu Advertiser of that day in 1940, quoting from ‘our files of 40 years ago’, said: ‘Today regular trips will be made over the Pacific Heights electric railway. The fare is five cents each way.’
And on November 21, 1900, the Advertiser carried a more detailed article on the subject. It began thus:
“The Pacific Heights electric railway was running last night and quite a crowd enjoyed the novelty of a ride in the handsome cars….”
Mr. Desky was reported as saying that the decision to build an electric railway was the result of economics and an expediency for the residents of the Heights.
The passenger cars had been built by the Holman Car Co, of San Francisco and were equipped with two No. 49 thirty-five-horsepower motors each.
Mr. Desky continued:
“On November 7th, a little less than six months after start of construction, the first car was run over the line for a distance of about two miles … About midway on the line we have a turnout, which allows of the passage of cars ascending and descending….
“Although the road is still incomplete, the demand for pleasure riding has already taxed the capacity of the cars, and it would appear that at least two or possibly three more would be required to meet the demand upon the road….
“As heretofore stated, the road has not been thrown open to the public, although a great many have availed themselves of the very moderate cost of travel, five cents each way, which low rate of fare I hope to be able to maintain, so as to make Pacific Heights a popular and attractive place of resort, as well as of residence….”
“We shall endeavor to run every half hour afternoon and evenings and all day Sunday. The lighting up of the Heights in the evening will indicate that the cars are being operated, and people may ride over the road until 9 o’clock.”
The Hawaiian Annual for 1901 gave further information about the venture:
“To C.S. Desky belongs the credit of establishing Honolulu’s first electric road in connection with his Pacific Heights property. It is now in successful operation, having a well appointed electric plant, supplying light to his tract and Kaiulani Boulevard.”
“The road will likely be connected later with the Rapid [Transit] system. This latter concern is progressing, their power house and car shed being in course of construction, with the machinery all on the ground. The laying of street rail s began early in November.”
The following year the same publication reported: ‘Another pleasant drive to a commanding point is around Punchbowl, an extinct volcano some 500 feet high, just back of the city, or, a trip by the electric cars up Pacific Heights slope, between Nuuanu and Pauoa valleys, to the site of Desky’s proposed hotel at an elevation of about 800 feet.’
Before long a dance pavilion was put up a t the top of the Heights; here dancing was held twice weekly, usually on Wednesday and Saturday nights. The eves of recognized holidays were also dance nights.
The exact date of the shut-down of operation of the electric railway appears to have been unrecorded. … The few people who still remember the operation of the electric railway say it was discontinued toward the latter part of 1906.
The reader may wonder what Pacific Heights looked like before Mr Desky started building his electric railway. 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, ohia and koa trees started along the ridge to the Ko’olau range.
Cutting of Kaiulani Drive (also called Kaiulani Boulevard) but now known as Pacific Heights Road, was a manual pick-and-shovel operation as power shovels, bulldozers and other modern road equipment had not yet been designed.
The short drive up the slopes of the site of Hawaii’s first electric railway will be a rewarding experience for anyone who is interested in the history and beauty of Honolulu.
The above is all from Manuel G Jardin’s article on the Honolulu’s First Electric Railway in the October 1965 Hawaiian Historical Review.
Click the following link to read/download Manuel Jardin’s full article from the Hawaiian Historical Review: