In 1898, the US Army built a seawall and filled a submerged coral reef on the ‘Ewa (western) side of Kaʻākaukukui for a gun emplacement at Fort Armstrong to protect the mouth of adjoining Honolulu Harbor.
At the turn of the century, Ala Moana Boulevard was built at what was then the shoreline, and the broad areas on both sides of the future Kapiʻolani Boulevard consisted of rice fields.
The dredging of harbors, offshore areas and the Ala Wai Canal provided fill for the reclamation of the ‘swamps.’ The construction of the Ala Wai stopped the annual flooding of Waikīkī.
At the beginning of the twentieth-century, the stretch of coast makai of Ala Moana Boulevard between Fort Armstrong (Piers 1 & 2 at Honolulu Harbor) and Waikīkī was the site of the Honolulu garbage dump, which burned almost continually.
The residue from burned rubbish was also used to reclaim wetlands. This residue provided a fill that was quite inert and solid. Thus, a rubbish dump was considered a cost-free method for a landowner to reclaim swampy land.
Since at least the 1850s, the Hawaiian Monarchy was providing urban public services in Honolulu, including refuse collection and disposal. Horse-drawn wagons were first used for the collection of refuse; the horses were stabled in Kakaʻako.
Following Annexation and Territorial status (1900,) garbage removal was one of six items listed in the Oʻahu County’s 1905 monthly operating expenses, along with the police and fire departments, the electric light plant, city parks and the Royal Hawaiian Band. The only direct income for Oʻahu County was its refuse collection fees.
Oʻahu, like many other coastal communities, was ringed with tidelands. The area was traditionally noted for its fishponds and salt pans, and for the marsh lands where pili grass and other plants could be collected. About one-third of the coastal plain at Kakaʻako was a wetland. The entire shoreline was coral rubble bordered by fringing reefs and mudflats.
As time went on, when the fishponds were no longer used, they were more often than not filled with material dredged from the ocean or hauled from nearby areas, garbage and general material from other sources. These reclaimed areas provided valuable new land near the heart of growing urban Honolulu.
The ʻili of Kaʻākaukukui was awarded by land court to Victoria Kamāmalu; Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop inherited the land, which later became part of the Kamehameha Schools (formerly the Bishop Estate). The Territory of Hawai‘i acquired the land in 1919.
Just as the Army had done at Fort Armstrong, the government built a new seawall, extending east to reclaim more Kaʻākaukukui reef and submerged land.
During the 1920s, the channel and basin on the Waikīkī (eastern) side of the growing Kakaʻako peninsula was dredged as a small boat harbor, called Kewalo Basin, to relieve overcrowding at Honolulu Harbor by the sampan (tuna fishing) fleet.
Hawaiian Dredging Company completed Kewalo Basin’s wharf and channel in 1925, and by 1930 the sampan fishing fleet was relocated to their new base.
In 1930, a garbage incinerator was constructed on Mohala Street (now ʻĀhui Street) near the east end of the Kakaʻako seawall (near Kewalo Basin.) This moved the open dump fires into a more controlled and contained facility.
In 1931, the City and County of Honolulu dedicated the land on the Waikīkī-side of Kewalo Basin as Moana Park (the name was later changed to Ala Moana (“the path to the sea.”))
After the 1930 incinerator was constructed on ʻĀhui Street, the Star-Bulletin named it “Swillauea” (a play with words associated with the long burning fires of Kīlauea volcano on Hawai‘i Island) and lamented, “… Oh Swillauea-by-the-Sea … a monument to despair, foolishness and ugliness … all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t find another place to burn the City’s rubbish except in the City’s front yard ….” (Mason Architects)
In the 1940s, another, larger incinerator was added, as well as a significant new seawall, 500-feet seaward of the old shoreline, enclosing more acreage of tidelands to be filled with the post-combusted ash. (The large boulders laid in the wall lining Kewalo Channel and around the point came from Punchbowl Crater during the initial development of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific by James W. Glover, Ltd.)
Incinerator Number One was later removed from service after the new incinerator on ʻOhe Street was constructed in 1946-48. With the completion of the seawall in 1949, filling operations began and by the mid-1950s the shallow reef of Ka’ākaukukui was completely covered over.
And, again, in 1950 another seawall was extended and ash filled areas making more usable acreage. Following statehood in 1959, government officials met to discuss the near-completion of the fill behind the seawall. As the height increased, the State expressed concern over the mountain of ash which was growing so rapidly.
The State finally told the City in 1971 to stop placing any more ash to the pile. Parts of the ash pile were then 25 feet above the top of the seawall.
The incinerator was finally shut down in 1977 because it could not meet the increasingly stringent air pollution standards. Then, in 1992, the State constructed Kakaʻako Waterfront Park on the ash pile (the young and young-at-heart now slide on cardboard down the steep grass-covered incinerator ash hill.)
The second incinerator, on ʻOhe Street, was renovated and is now used as the Children’s Discovery Center. (The initial incinerator on ʻĀhui Street was used in 1952 by United Fishing Agency as part of their fish auction facility – the fish auction has since relocated to the Commercial Fishing Village at Pier 38.)
(Lots of information here is from the Historic American Buildings Survey for the Kewalo Incinerator and Cultural Surveys.)