In 1888, the legislature gave Benjamin Franklin (Frank) Dillingham an exclusive franchise “for construction and operation on the Island of O‘ahu a steam railroad … for the carriage of passengers and freight.”
Ultimately OR&L sublet land, partnered on several sugar operations and/or hauled cane from Ewa Plantation Company, Honolulu Sugar Company in ‘Aiea, O‘ahu Sugar in Waipahu, Waianae Sugar Company, Waialua Agriculture Company and Kahuku Plantation Company, as well as pineapples for Dole.
Passenger travel was an add-on opportunity that not only included train rides; they also operated a bus system. However, the hauling for the agricultural ventures was the most lucrative.
In addition, OR&L (using another of its “land” components,) got into land development. It developed Hawai‘i’s first planned suburban development and held a contest, through the newspaper, to name this new city. The winner selected was “Pearl City” (the public also named the main street, Lehua.)
The railway owned 2,200-acres in fee simple in the peninsula. First, they laid-out and constructed the improvements, then invited the public on a free ride to see the new residential community. The marketing went so well; ultimately, lots were auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Excursion trains filled with passengers traveled to Pearl City on weekends and the area became a favorite place for pleasure seekers and picnic parties.
“Boarding a train at the O‘ahu Railway and Land Company depot at King and Iwilei streets I we rode to Pearl City and transferred to a small section-train known as The Dummy for the short peninsula ride to within a few steps from our destination.”
“Usually the section-locomotive trailed one passenger car but when it trailed a flat car instead we were elated. We could sit on its edge and dangle our legs.” (Henrietta Mann, Watumull Oral History)
Wealthy families visited the peninsula on weekends or during the summers, maintaining mansions on the peninsula and enjoying parties and yacht races in Pearl Harbor. Dillingham promoted sail boat races, a large dancing pavilion, and many forms of entertainment and recreation. (Aiea Pearl City Livable Communities Plan)
The local paper reported, “A new sporting club is being organized by a number of Honolulu men. It will be called “The Pearl Harbor Yacht Club” and will have a handsome club house on the lochs”. (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, December 4, 1899) There was even talk of building an ‘ark’ (a barge with a house on it), noting , “In San Francisco Bay … there are many ‘arks’. (Honolulu Republican, September 3, 1900)
“In 1901 the Hawaii Yacht Club was chartered and built a boat house near the west end of Aloha Avenue, about where the ferry landing was later built. The club later reorganized at the Ala Wai. Many of the wealthy families had yachts or other vessels for recreation, which joined the utilitarian fishing and ferry boats on the waters around the peninsula.”
The Pearl Harbor Yacht Club “became known for the many sail boat races it held. The Yacht Club had a wooden L-shaped pier at the end of Lanakila Avenue and a marine railway to pull boats out of the water. (Historic Context Study)
The Pearl Harbor Yacht Club (PHYC) had two earlier locations on Pearl City Peninsula before it was established north of Lanakila Avenue in the late 1920s.
The first club house, called the “old Parker Place,” faced on Middle Loch and was loaned to the club by R.W. Atkinson, one of the club’s charter members and owner of that property.
The club purchased the “Jones Place” in November 1925, remodeling the house, and building a pier and “runway for hauling boats”.
In March 1928 the two-story residence of Albert F. Afong was purchased and “turned into a clubhouse for the Yacht Club”. The clubhouse was situated on the lot abutting the pier and some of its foundation is still visible. (HAER HI-55)
“[Pearl Harbor] Yacht Club [property] was owned by this Chinese guy, Afong. And then, when Afong, in 1929, stock crash, he went bankrupt (I heard), and he had to get rid of all his land. That’s when the yacht club bought his home. It was a big yard, big home.”
“The Pearl Harbor Yacht Club originally bought the Ted Cooke home, but that was a smaller place. The building was big, big, two-story building. Originally that was built by the Jones Family. And then they sold it to the yacht club, and the yacht club first started in the peninsula over there. Then it was too small, so they took the Afong place.” (Asada Oral History)
“Pearl Harbor was a great thing, for instance. In the late twenties and early thirties the Pearl Harbor Yacht Club was very active. A whole bunch of us young people had what we called eighteen-footers; they were center-board boats.”
“We’d go down virtually every weekend in the summer months and usually stay at Ben Dillingham’s grandmother’s house, we boys. And the girls would stay with the Theodore [Atherton] Cookes, both of whom had lovely homes right on the peninsula there.”
“We would go into these races and have just a glorious time. Of course all of that’s gone now, except over at Kaneohe; they’ve more or less continued the tradition. Honolulu, in our youth, was a small, simple, quiet, slow-moving town, which is no longer.” (James Judd Jr, Watumull Oral History)
“[M]y dad liked sailing very much. He must have started sailing competitively when I was, oh I guess, around twelve or fifteen years old. Pearl Harbor Yacht Club was inside Pearl Harbor. There was a wonderful yacht club there and there were no limits. You could sail around Ford Island and all the way down West Loch, et cetera because the U. S. Navy hadn’t set up any restricted areas.”
“Every once in a while there’d be a naval exercise. Wonderful races with several classes of sailboats were what I participated in. My dad raced a star class boat and I had a little moon boat.”
“I can remember seeing all the great ships of the Navy there, and I’d just be sailing my own little twelve-foot sail boat and be looking at the Lexington and the Saratoga … and George Patton.”
“The great General Patton was a sailor, he was at Schofield, and he was a sailor. He was a very wealthy person. He had a schooner, about a seventy-foot black-hulled gorgeous schooner and he’d sail around Pearl before he’d go out the entrance and here we were just kids taking it all in.” (Stanley Kennedy Jr, Watumull Oral History)
“The pre-war club was a place for Hawaii’s leading families and members of the Big 5 commercial and plantation companies. They included the Dillinghams, Frears, Castles, Cookes, Dowsetts, Spauldings, McInernys, Mott-Smiths, Wilders, Atkinsons, Damons, James Dole and Princess Kawananakoa.”
“Pearl Harbor Yacht Club was also a magnet for local and national celebrities in those heady days of the late 1920s and through the 1930s.” (Dean Smith; Sigall)
“Through the years, membership in the Pearl Harbor Yacht has included Shirley Temple, Duke Kahanamoku and Harold Dillingham, who sailed the 1934 Pearl Harbor Yacht Club’s entry into the biannual Trans-Pacific Yacht Race aboard ‘Manuiwa’ and won.” (Ho’okele)
“Duke was quite an avid yachtsman and he belonged to the Pearl Harbor Yacht Club, which was at Pearl City at that time. We had raced up on Saturday to Waikiki and the following Sunday, which was December 7, we were supposed to race back again to Pearl City. Well, naturally, we couldn’t because the war started that morning.” (Nadine Kahanamoku, Watumull Oral History)
Today, Pearl Harbor Yacht Club provides recreational and competitive boating opportunities for Active Duty, Reserve, Retiree, DoD personnel and their families, as well as the community at large. It is situated at 57 Arizona Memorial Drive in Pearl Harbor.