William G Irwin was born in England in 1843; he was the son of James and Mary Irwin. His father, a paymaster in the ordnance department of the British army, sailed with his family for California with a cargo of merchandise immediately after the discovery of gold in 1849. The family then came to Hawaiʻi.
Irwin attended Punahou School and as a young man was employed at different times by Aldrich, Walker & Co.; Lewers & Dickson; and Walker, Allen & Co.
In 1880, he and Claus Spreckels formed the firm WG Irwin & Co; for many years it was the leading sugar agency in the kingdom and the one originally used by the West Maui Sugar Association.
In 1884, the firm took over as agent for Olowalu Company. William G. Irwin and Claus Spreckels constituted the partnership in the firm, which maintained offices in Honolulu. The role of the agent had greatly expanded by this time.
William G Irwin and Company acted as a sales agent for Olowalu’s sugar crop as previous agents had done. It also was purchasing agent for plantation equipment and supplies and represented Olowalu with the Hawaiian Board of Immigration to bring in immigrant laborers.
In addition, Irwin and Company acted as an agent for the Spreckels-controlled Oceanic Steamship Company and required, for a time, that Olowalu’s sugar be shipped to the Spreckels-controlled Western Sugar Refinery in San Francisco by the Oceanic Line.
In 1885, Irwin and Spreckels opened the bank of Claus Spreckels & Co., later incorporated under the name of Bank of Honolulu, Ltd., that later merged with the Bank of Bishop & Co.
In 1886, Mr. Irwin married Mrs. Fannie Holladay. Their only child, Hélène Irwin, was married to industrialist Paul Fagan of San Francisco.
A close friend of King Kalākaua, Irwin was decorated by the King and was a member of the Privy Council of Hawaiʻi in 1887.
In 1896, the Legislature of the Republic of Hawaiʻi put Kapiʻolani Park and its management under the Honolulu Park Commission; William G Irwin was the first chair of the commission.
In 1901 he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government in recognition of his services as Hawaiʻi’s representative to the Paris Exposition.
By 1909, William G Irwin and Company’s fortunes had declined and, reaching retirement age, Irwin reluctantly decided to close the business. In January 1910, the firm of William G. Irwin and Company merged with its former rival C. Brewer and Company.
Irwin moved to San Francisco in 1909 and served as president and chairman of the board of the Mercantile Trust Company, which eventually merged with Wells Fargo Bank.
In 1913, Mr. Irwin incorporated his estate in San Francisco under the name of the William G. Irwin Estate Co., which maintained large holdings in Hawaiian plantations. He had extensive business interests in California, as well as in Hawaiʻi, and was actively associated with the Mercantile National Bank of San Francisco in later years.
William G Irwin died in San Francisco, January 28, 1914.
Irwin had a CW Dickey-designed home makai of Kapiʻolani Park. In 1921, the Territorial Legislature authorized the issuance of bonds for the construction, on the former Irwin property, of a memorial dedicated to the men and women of Hawaiʻi who served in World War I. It’s where the Waikīkī Natatorium War Memorial now sits.
The Honolulu Waterfront Development Project, introduced by Governor Lucius E Pinkham and the Board of Harbor Commissioners in 1916, was declared to be the “most important project ever handled in Honolulu Harbor.”
The project began in 1916 with the construction of new docks; it continued in 1924 with the construction of Aloha Tower as a gateway landmark heralding ship arrivals.
On September 3, 1930, the Territory of Hawaiʻi entered into an agreement with Hélène Irwin Fagan and Honolulu Construction and Draying, Ltd. (HC&D), whereby HC&D sold some property to Fagan, who then donated it to the Territory with the stipulation that the property honor her father and that it be maintained as a “public park to beautify the entrance to Honolulu Harbor.”
The Honolulu Waterfront Development Project was completed in 1934 with the creation of a 2-acre oasis shaded by the canopies of monkeypod trees (shading a parking lot;) Irwin Memorial Park is located mauka of the Aloha Tower Marketplace bounded by North Nimitz Highway, Fort Street, Bishop Street and Aloha Tower Drive.
The William G Irwin Charity Foundation was founded in 1919 by the will of his wife to support “charitable uses, including medical research and other scientific uses, designed to promote or improve the physical condition of mankind in the Hawaiian Islands or the State of California.” The 2010 Foundation report for the Foundation indicated its value at over $100-million.
Among other activities, it funds the William G Irwin Professorship in Cardiovascular Medicine, which was created with gifts from the William G Irwin Charity Foundation of San Francisco, and, with a transfer of funds in 2003, the Hélène Irwin Fagan Chair in Cardiology at the Stanford School of Medicine.
The image shows the Irwin home at what is now the Natatorium. In addition, I have included other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.
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