By the time the first company of American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) Protestant missionaries arrived in 1820, Kamehameha I had died and the centuries-old kapu system had been abolished. The Hawaiian people had already dismantled their heiau and had rejected their religious beliefs.
The missionaries, less the group left on the Big Island, landed at Honolulu on April 19, 1820. On the sabbath (April 23,) Hiram Bingham, the leader of the group, preached the first formal Protestant sermon in the Islands. Initial services were in thatched structures. Later, a more permanent church was built.
In July, 1821, they began to build a 22 by 54-foot building, large enough to seat 300. This first church building was built of thatch and lined with mats; however, it had glass windows, doors, a wooden pulpit and 2-rows of seats, separated by an aisle. In August of that year, Captain Templeton presented a bell from his ship to be used at the church.
Within a year, Hiram Bingham began to preach in the Hawaiian language. 4-services a week were conducted (3 in Hawaiian and 1 in English.) Congregations ranged from 100 – 400; by the end of the year, the church was expanded.
On May 30, 1824, the church burned to the ground. Within a couple of days after the fire, Kalanimōkū ordered a new church to be built at public expense. A new thatched building (25 by 70 feet) was placed a short distance from the old; it was dedicated July 18, 1824.
Interest in the mission’s message outgrew the church and services were held outside with 3,000 in attendance; efforts were underway to build a larger facility, to accommodate 4,000.
In December, 1825, the third Meeting House building was opened for worship; however, shortly afterward a violent rain storm collapsed the structure. In 1827, Kaʻahumanu stepped forward and “caused a temporary house to be erected which is 86 feet by 30, with 2 wings each 12 feet wide extending the whole length of the building. … It is not large enough to accommodate all who attend the service on Sabbath mornings, many are obliged to sit without.” (Mission Journal – Damon)
The last of the thatched churches served for 12-years. It measured 63 by 196 feet (larger than the present Kawaiahaʻo Church) – 4,500 people could assemble within it.
Then, between 1836 and 1842, Kawaiahaʻo Church was constructed. Revered as the Protestant “mother church” and often called “the Westminster Abbey of Hawai‘i” this structure is an outgrowth of the original Mission Church founded in Boston and is the first foreign church on O‘ahu (1820.)
Kawaiahaʻo Church was designed by its first pastor, Bingham. Following five years of construction, Kawaiahaʻo was ready for dedication ceremonies on July 21, 1842. The grounds of Kawaiahaʻo overflowed with 4,000 to 5,000 faithful worshippers. King Kamehameha III, who contributed generously to the fund to build the church, attended the service.
There were ten ‘āpana, or branches, of the Kawaiahaʻo Church. One of them was the Waikīkī Church (the others included Kalihi, Palama, Nuʻuanu, Pauoa, Moʻiliʻili, Pālolo, Kaimuki, Puaikalani (Kakaʻako) and Kawaiahaʻo itself. (Damon)
Across Kalākaua Avenue in front of the Moana Hotel, on the present site of the shops and Princess Kaʻiulani Hotel, was the first grammar school in Waikīkī, a small graveyard and the church. (Cultural Surveys)
“The Little Church at Waikīkī … The congregation which has worshipped in this church is numerous but poor …. The pretty little church among the cocoanuts is besides a prominent ornament to the neighborhood”.
The church was damaged by a thunderbolt … “It seems that the house was badly shattered – in fact rendered untenable in wet weather, and that it will cost in the neighborhood of five hundred dollars to put it again in good condition …”
“We beg to suggest a concert or other public entertainment to raise funds for the repair of the Waikīkī Church building.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, December 18, 1875)
It turns out the Waikīkī Church was a venue for many concerts, to raise money for the Waikīkī property, as well as Kawaiahaʻo in downtown – and they had frequent royal guests.
“A concert was given on Wednesday evening, commencing at half past seven o’clock, at the Waikīkī Church in aid of Kawaiahao Church. Their Royal Highnesses Princess Liliʻuokalani and Princess Likelike took an active part in promoting the furtherance of this good object, and both of these good ladies also took part in carrying out the programme.”
“The Misses Cleghorn and other young ladies also assisted. A drive to Waikīkī on a beautiful moonlight night is of itself a treat, which was greatly enhanced, by the anticipation of hearing good vocal and instrumental music on arrival there.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, December 15, 1883)
“A musical entertainment was given at Waikīkī Church on Wednesday evening. Their Royal Highnesses the Princesses Liliuokalani and Likelike had taken a great interest in the affair and many of their friends from town took the opportunity to indulge in a moonlight drive and be present at the concert.”
“The church was filled and there was a not inconsiderable audience that preferred the open air and the soft grass of the churchyard to the accommodations provided for them inside … “It is to be hoped that this is not the last time that the people of Waikīkī will invite their town friends to come and hear them sing.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, December 15, 1883)
In an interview for the Oral History Project conducted by the Social Science Research Institute, University of Hawai‘i, interviewee Mary Paoa Clarke (born in 1902) recalls the Waikīkī School:
“We (Mary and her siblings) went to Waikīkī School – that’s across the Moana Hotel – which is (where) the (Princess) Kaʻiulani Hotel (is) now. We walked from our home to school”. Mary also noted that the Waikīkī School only went up to third grade. “We started in the fourth grade at Kaʻahumanu”. (Social Science Research Institute)
“… I had gone to the Waikīkī (Elementary) School for three years. There was Mrs Henry, Mrs Perry and Mrs Ontai. (The) first Waikīkī School was opposite the Moana Hotel – across the street. (There were) three rooms, first, second and third. In one corner of the property there was a graveyard and an old Hawaiian church.) (Lemon Wond “Rusty” Holt, Sr; Social Science Research Institute)
In 1916, Kawaiaha‘o sold the cemetery land around the Waikīkī ‘āpana (branch) church to the Territorial Hotel Co, Ltd, owners of the Moana Hotel.
A new lot was obtained from the Lili‘uokalani Trust; plans for the construction of a new church began immediately, as the church contracted for the construction of a one-story frame building in 1916 on a new lot, near the corner of Kūhiō Avenue and ʻOhua Lane (in the area now occupied by the Waikīkī Banyan Condominium, which was built in 1979.)
Owing to the sale of the Waikīkī Church premises for the extension of the Moana Hotel accessories, some fifty or more bodies which had been interred in its grounds were exhumed and removed to the cemetery of the mother church, Kawaiahaʻo. (Thrum, 1916)
Kawaiahaʻo Church took the responsibility “to remove all remains and coffins buried in the church yard (so far as practical) and re-inter them in some cemetery or cemeteries in the district of Honolulu,” with the costs of the removal to be borne by the Territorial Hotel Co.
Those interred in the Protestant cemetery ranged from as young as 2 weeks to 80 years of age and were noted as having passed away from a variety of causes such as “consumption”, “constipation”, “meningitis”, “diabetes”, “whooping cough”, the most common cause being “old age.” With perhaps one exception, all of the names appear to be Hawaiians who died between 1880 and 1907. (Cultural Surveys)
“Then the Moana (Hotel) built a lot of cottages in there. Of course then years later they were torn down and they built the Princess Ka‘iulani Hotel.” (Leslie Fullard-Leo (born 1909;) Social Science Research Institute)