“Whenever in the opinion of the Board of Health any tract or parcel of land situated in the District of Honolulu, Island of Oahu, shall be deleterious to the public health in consequence of being low …”
“… and at times covered or partly covered by water, or of being situated between high and low water mark, or of being improperly drained, or incapable by reasonable expenditure of effectual drainage or for other reason in an unsanitary or dangerous condition…”
“… it shall be the duty of the Board of Health to report such fact to the Superintendent of Public Works together with a brief recommendation of the operation deemed advisable to improve such land.” (So stated Section 1025, Revised Laws of the Territory of Hawaiʻi, in 1906.)
That year, Board of Health President, LE Pinkham, stated in a report “for the Making of Honolulu as Beautiful and Unique in Character, as nature has Endowed it in Scenery, Climate and Location:”
“Nature, situation and human circumstance fix world-wide prominence and importance on certain strategic points in commerce, navigation and defense. Human events have moved slowly, but are becoming intensely accelerated, and it would seem Honolulu is now beginning to fulfil her destiny.”
Likewise, laws in place gave the Superintendent of Public Works the right to make Improvements to property which had been condemned as insanitary by the Board of Health.
Also in 1906, the US War Department acquired more than 70-acres in the Kālia portion of Waikīkī for the establishment of a military reservation to be called Fort DeRussy. Back then, nearly 85% of present Waikīkī was in wetland.
The Army started filling in the fishponds and wetland that covered most of the Fort site – pumping fill from the ocean continuously for nearly a year in order to build up an area on which permanent structures could be built.
Thus, the Army began the transformation of Waikīkī from wetlands to solid ground and it served as a model that others followed.
Back then, much of the makai lands from Honolulu to and including Waikīkī were characterized with lowland marshes, wetlands, coral reef flats and farming of fishponds along with some limited wetland kalo (taro) taro agriculture (and later rice.)
However, they were also characterized as, “stretched useless, unsightly, offensive swamps, perpetually breeding mosquitoes and always a menace to public health and welfare”.
The Territory saw the opportunity to drain and fill the land that “was valueless” to be “available for the growth of the business district of the city” and attain “a valuation greatly in excess of the cost of the filling and draining.”
Likewise, in areas such as Kakaʻako there were practical issues to contend with. “Calmly wading around in muddy water up to waist, on Tuesday after noon last, a Kakaako housekeeper was busying herself hanging out the family washing to dry. Her clothes basket she towed after her on a raft.”
“None of the neighbors marveled at the strange sight for when it was wash-day at their places they had to do the same. Tied up at the front gates of many of the houses in the block were rafts, upon which the more particular members of the families ferried themselves back and forth from house to street”. (Hawaiian Gazette, April 3, 1908)
This set into motion a number of reclamation and sanitation projects in Kakaʻako, Honolulu, Waikīkī, Lāhaina, Hilo and others.
The first efforts were concentrated at Kakaʻako – it was then more generally referred to as “Kewalo.” The Kewalo Reclamation District included the area bounded by South Street, King Street, Ward Avenue and Ala Moana Boulevard.
This area already had a practical demonstration of dredging and filling. In 1907, the US Army Fort Armstrong was built on fill over Kaʻākaukukui reef to protect the adjoining Honolulu Harbor.
“The plan practically takes in all the land from King street to the sea, and it will be the first step in a general reclamation scheme for the low lying lands of the city.” (Hawaiian Star, October 24, 1911)
Kapālama Reclamation Project included approximately 60-acres of land between King Street and the main line of Oʻahu Railway and Land Company. In addition, approximately 11-acres of land were filled from dredge material between Piers 16 and 17.
In 1925, the “practically worthless swamp lands” were converted “into property selling as high as $30,000.00 per acre.”
During this project, Sand Island and Quarantine Island were joined to the Kalihi Kai peninsula. In 1925 and 1926, a channel was dug from the Kalihi Channel into Kapālama Basin creating a true island out of “Sand Island.”
The Waikīkī Reclamation District was identified as the approximate 800-acres from King and McCully Streets to Kapahulu Street, near Campbell Avenue down to Kapiʻolani Park and Kalākaua Avenue on the makai side. (1921-1928)
The dredge material not only filled in the Waikīkī wetlands, it was also used to fill in the McKinley High School site.
The initial planning called for the extension of the Ala Wai Canal past its present terminus and excavate along Makee Island in Kapiʻolani Park, connecting the Canal with the ocean on the Lēʻahi side of the project. However, funds ran short and this extension was contemplated “at some later date, when funds are made available”; however, that never happened.
Eleven-and-a-half acres of Lāhaina “swamp land” (near the National Guard Armory,) drainage canals and storm sewers were part of the Lāhaina Reclamation District. (1916-1917) Mokuhinia Pond was filled with coral rubble dredged from Lāhaina Harbor.
By Executive Order of the Territory of Hawaiʻi in 1918, the newly-filled pond was turned over to the County of Maui for use as Maluʻuluʻolele Park.
In Hilo, the Waiolama Reclamation Project included the draining and filling of approximately 40-acres in the area between the Hilo Railway tract, Wailoa River, and Baker and Front Streets. It included diversion of the Alenaio Stream. (1914-1919)
Generally, the consensus was the reclamation projects were successful in addressing the health concerns; in addition, they made economic sense.
As an example, in Waikīkī, before reclamation assessed values for property were at about $500 per acre and the same property reclaimed at ten cents a foot, making a total cost of $4,350 per acre. The selling price after reclamation, $6,500 to $7,000 per acre, showed the financial benefit of the reclamation efforts.