In 1841, on the makai side of the road (Merchant Street,) from Nuʻuanu to Kaʻahumanu Street (now the breezeway through the Harbor Court,) were empty lots, with blocks of coral for fences near the corner of Merchant and Fort streets, on the makai side of the street, were the premises of Mr. William French. (Maly)
French first came to Hawaiʻi in 1819. He settled in Honolulu and established himself as a leading trader. Financial success during the next decade made French known as “the merchant prince.” He also had property in Kawaihae, on the Island of Hawaiʻi. There, in 1835, French hired John Parker as bookkeeper, cattle hunter and in other capacities. (Wellmon)
John Parker later purchased 640-acres (1850,) then another 1,000-acres (1851) and leased land in the Waikoloa region from Kamehameha III – these formed the foundation for the future Parker Ranch.
By 1840, French made numerous shipments of live cattle to Honolulu. These cattle were fattened in the pasture close to Waimea then driven to Kawaihae and transported to Honolulu to supply the numerous whaling ships that visited the port each fall. (Wellmon)
French’s Honolulu premises extended from Kaʻahumanu to Fort Street, surrounded by a high picket fence with some hau trees standing just within the line of the fence. The building was quite a sizable one of wood, with a high basement and large trading rooms above. Mr. French was one of the oldest residents and a person of considerable influence. (Maly)
The property was sold to James Austin, who sold it in 1882 to James Campbell, who owned the adjacent land on the Diamond Head side (fronting Fort Street.) He built the “Campbell Block,” a large building that included uses such as storage, shops and offices.
Merchant Street was once the main street of the financial and governmental functions in the city, and was Honolulu’s earliest commercial center. Dating from 1854, the remaining historic buildings along this road help tell the story of the growth and development of Honolulu’s professional and business community.
A great deal of the economic and political history of Hawaiʻi was created and written by the previous occupants of these buildings. Ranging from banks to bars and post office to newspapers, they have paid silent witness to the creation of present day Hawaiʻi. (NPS)
Today, we still see these remnants of the past: Melchers (1854,) the oldest commercial building in Honolulu; Kamehameha V Post Office (1871;) Bishop Bank (1878,) now known as the Harriet Bouslog Building; The Friend Building (1887 and 1900,) the site of the Oʻahu Bethel Church established in 1837; Royal Saloon (1890,) now Murphy’s; TR Foster Building (1891,) forerunner to Hawaiian Airlines; Bishop Estate Building (1896;) Stangenwald Building (1901,) the tallest structure in Hawaiʻi until 1950; Judd Building (1898;) Yokohama Specie Bank (1909) and Honolulu Police Station (1931,) one of the earliest police forces in the world, dating to 1834.
Then, in 1902, near tragedy struck when “One of the hardest fights in the history of the Honolulu Fire Department was experienced Saturday afternoon, when a fire broke out in the middle of the Hawaiian Hardware Company’s warehouse. For two hours the whole block bounded by Merchant and Queen, Fort and Kaahumanu streets, was in danger.” (Hawaiian Star, August 25, 1902)
“The fire is said to have been caused by an accident with gasoline in the warehouse. An order for gasoline for Young Bros. launch had been received and was being filled.” (Hawaiian Star, August 25, 1902)
The Campbell Block survived (at least that fire.)
Then, on October 11, 1964, the Sunday Star-Bulletin and Advertiser noted, “Office-Parking Building Planned by Campbell Estate on Fort Street.”
Plans called for a combined office and parking structure to replace the 2-story Campbell Block on Fort and Merchants Streets; this new building was considered an important part of the redevelopment of downtown Honolulu. (Adamson) The new building was completed in May 1967.
So, the Campbell Block is gone … well, sort of.
You see, a fragment of the Campbell Block remains. It was interconnected with the adjoining Bishop Estate Building and removing it all would harm its neighbor; so, a part was retained in-place.
As you walk down Merchant Street, between Fort and Bethel (across from the Pioneer Plaza loading and parking structure access,) take a look at the (now obvious) sliver of a building; it was once the Campbell Block (and the area of the former establishment of merchant William French.)
Prof Willis H A Moore, Editor and Manager says
Hawai’i Geographic Society offers walking treks in Downtown Honolulu which always focus on this city block along Merchant Street…..and, yes, we point out the famous sliver. Mahalo plenty for these details.