The story of Hawai‘i’s largest companies dominates Hawaiʻi’s economic history. Since the early/mid-1800s, until relatively recently, five major companies emerged and dominated the Island’s economic framework. Their common trait: they were focused on agriculture – sugar.
They became known as the Big Five: C. Brewer (1826;) Theo H Davies (1845;) American Factors (Amfac) – starting as Hackfeld & Company (1849;) Castle & Cooke (1851) and Alexander & Baldwin (1870.)
“By 1941, every time a native Hawaiian switched on his lights, turned on the gas or rode on a street car, he paid a tiny tribute into Big Five coffers.” (Alexander MacDonald, 1944) Things changed.
On June 3, 1968, the first increment of Mililani’s single-family homes went on sale; 112 houses were originally offered for purchase at $25,000 to $35,000 each.
In its time, Mililani was one of the biggest signifiers that the Big Five were abandoning agriculture in Leeward and Central Oahu in favor of suburban development. Castle & Cooke created Mililani out of pineapple fields it had owned since 1948. (In 1976, the H-2 Freeway opened.)
On June 19, 1970, following the changes in travel that the introduction of jetliners in 1959 made another Big Five company, Alexander & Baldwin, was seeing changes. Just 6-years previously, A&B bought out the interests of other Big Five ownership in Matson (Castle & Cook, C Brewer and Amfac). (NY Times)
In 1970, A&B’s Matson line’s Lurline had her last voyage – it was the end of the era (dating back to 1933) of Matson’s 5-day luxury liner travel between Hawai‘i and the West Coast, and the end of Boat Days at Honolulu Harbor. (Honolulu Magazine)
About this time, other changes were going on in downtown Honolulu, around the waterfront – Amfac was redeveloping its headquarters building.
Previously (1901), Amfac-predecessor Hackfeld built a stone and concrete building that covered the mauka-Ewa corner of the block and had its main public entrance on the Queen-Fort Street corner, beneath a fourth-level dome.
Another entry closer to the harbor on the Fort Street side opened to the company’s three floors of offices, many occupied by managers and clerks for the once immense operations of one of the largest of Hawai‘i’s Big Five sugar companies.
Oliver Traphagen came up with a both ornate and solid design for U-shaped structure to extend the whole of the Fort Street frontage and continued in along the Queen Street and Halekauwila Street (now Nimitz) sides.
The project was completed in March 1902. For over half a century, the Hackfeld Building (later renamed American Factors (Amfac) Building) dominated the harbor edge of downtown Honolulu. (Fort Street Mall)
Then, starting in the late-1960s, Amfac was redeveloping its headquarters in a joint venture (under the name Center Properties) with Seattle developer Richard H Hadley. The new complex eventually filled the entire block bounded by Bishop, Queen Fort and Halekauwila (now Nimitz) Streets.
The new complex, named Amfac Center, was built in two distinct phases between 1968 and 1971; the towers are marble-faced skyscrapers, now recognized as late International Style or, alternatively, as “Formalist.”
The first of the two 20-story buildings, the Amfac Tower (Amfac Building), was completed in 1968 at the corner of Bishop and Halekauwila (now Nimitz) streets.
The old stone Hackfeld/Amfac Building came down in 1969 to prepare for the construction of the second of the two Amfac Center buildings, the Hawaii Tower (Hawaii Building), completed in 1971.
After subsequent sales of controlling interests in the company and liquidation of land and other assets, in 2002, the once dominant business in Hawaiʻi, the biggest of the Hawaiʻi Big Five, Amfac Hawaiʻi, LLC filed for federal bankruptcy protection. (TGI)
That year, John Edward Anderson, purchased the Amfac Center and renamed it the Topa Financial Center. Topa comes from the Topatopa mountain range in Ojai, east of Santa Barbara, California, where Anderson has a ranch of the same.
Topa means gopher in the language of the Chumash, American Indians who live in the Santa Barbara area. As part of the name change, Amfac’s 20-story twin towers were renamed the East Tower and West Tower. (Ruel)
(There is some suggestion that there is a connection between the Amfac Center and the former World Trade Center (completed in 1973), reportedly through the architect who was apparently associated with each. If so, more to come on that.)
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