The present Waikīkī has a land area of approximately 500-acres; it once was a vast marshland whose boundaries encompassed more than 2,000-acres. Consistent with the character of the watered wetland of ancient Waikīkī, where water from the upland valleys would gush forth from underground, the name Waikīkī, which means “water spurting from many sources.”
Three main valleys Makiki, Mānoa and Pālolo are mauka of Waikīkī and through them their respective streams (and springs in Mānoa (Punahou and Kānewai)) watered the marshland below.
Since Maʻilikūkahi founded Waikīkī as a Royal Center of Oʻahu in the 1400s, Waikīkī served as the site of the royal residence and center of governance until 1809 (when Kamehameha I moved the government to Honolulu Harbor.)
Subsequent Kings and Queens visited and stayed in royal beach cottages in Waikīkī. Mid- and late-19th century Hawaiian royalty were prominent among the first of the new wave to permanently settle in Waikīkī. It was a place to escape to, as well as a pleasant location to entertain.
In 1877, Kapiʻolani Park was dedicated; its initial intent, through a 30-year lease, was to make available a limited number of beachfront cottage sites and a race track as an attraction.
In 1896, the Honolulu Park Commission took over management of the park and began to operate the park land and “permanently set (it) aside as a free public park and recreation ground forever.” (In 1913, the City and County of Honolulu took over the management and operation of the park.)
In the 1890s, Waikīkī drew the elite who constructed Victorian mansions. Starting with James Campbell, Frank Hustace and WC Peacock, larger mansions began to be constructed in Waikīkī.
The later homes of William Irwin (1899) and James Campbell (“Kainalu,” in 1899) epitomized the extravagance of luxury living. The wealthy discovered the ultimate destination of Waikīkī.
Starting on a small scale, Waikīkī had a number of small residential tracks. In February 1895 a small subdivision (13-lots, each approximately 5,000-square feet in size) was developed makai of Waikīkī Road (Kalākaua Avenue) and mauka of the John ‘Ena Road intersection.
Then, in 1897, a subdivision map for the Kekio tract was recorded. The Kekio Tract, shaped somewhat like a triangle, was bounded by Lili‘uokalani Avenue, Waikīkī Road (Kalākaua Avenue), Makee Road (Kapahulu Avenue) and the lands of Kāneloa (Thomas Jefferson Elementary School).
As time went on, the royal estates were sold and subdivided on the dry areas of Waikīkī.
In 1921 the former estates of James Campbell and George Beckley were offered to perspective buyers by developer Waterhouse Trust Company. With this subdivision the last of the large, readily-developable landholdings in Waikīkī had been broken up.
Further residential development would have to wait for the drainage of the area by the Ala Wai Canal. Then, they started “land reclamation” projects on the coastal wetlands.
Back then, nearly 85% of present Waikīkī was in wetland. The Army began the transformation of Waikīkī from wetlands to solid ground at Fort DeRussy and it served as a model that others followed (1909.)
The Waikīkī wetlands were 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.”
During the 1920s, the Waikīkī landscape would be transformed when the construction of the Ala Wai Drainage Canal, begun in 1921 and completed in 1928, resulted in the draining and filling in of the remaining ponds and irrigated fields of Waikīkī. (By 1924, all of the streams were diverted into the canal and stopped flowing through Waikīkī.)
Walter Dillingham’s Hawaiian Dredging Company dredged the canal and sold the material he had dredged to create the canal to build up the newly created land. (The canal is still routinely dredged.)
With construction of the Ala Wai Canal, 625-acres of wetland were drained and filled and runoff was diverted away from Waikīkī beach.
The completion of the Ala Wai Canal not only created the opportunity for the development of Waikīkī as Hawai‘i’s primary visitor destination, but also expanded the district’s potential for residential use.
Before reclamation, assessed values for property were at about $500-per acre and the same property was reclaimed at ten cents per square 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.
In 1924, the first post-canal residential venture, the McCarthy Subdivision, owned by and named for the Territory’s Governor McCarthy, was makai of what would become Ala Wai Boulevard. The property, roughly triangular in shape and widest on the Diamond Head side, was bisected by Lili‘uokalani, ‘Ōhua and Paoakalani Avenues.
The mid- and late-1920s saw more and more of Waikīkī being subdivided into residential lots until most of the area was gridded into residential plots. Before and during this time of residential development, there were hotels.
Hawai‘i’s first accommodations for transients were established sometime after 1810, when Don Francisco de Paula Marin “opened his home and table to visitors on a commercial basis … Closely arranged around the Marin home were the grass houses of his workers and the ‘guest houses’ of the ship captains who boarded with him while their vessels were in port.”
By 1820, Anthony D Allen (a former slave from the continent) owned a dozen houses, “within the enclosure were his dwelling, eating and cooking houses, with many more for a numerous train of dependents. There was also a well, a garden containing principally squashes, and in one part, a sheepfold in which was one cow, several sheep, and three hundred goats.” (Sybil Bingham Journal)
Reverend Charles Stewart notes of Allen’s place in his journal, “… it is a favourite resort of the more respectable of the seamen who visit Honoruru. …”
While these were part of the first hotel uses in the islands, as time went on, downtown Honolulu had the core of the hotel supply, and Waikīkī, two-miles away by foot over dirt roads, was not considered in the accommodation business.
But that changed.
Sans Souci Hotel, a Waikīkī beachfront resort that opened in 1884 and offered private cottages and bathing facilities, turned it into an internationally-known resort after it hosted writer Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote about staying there for five weeks in 1893.
In the late-1890s, with additional steamships to Honolulu, the visitor arrivals to Oʻahu were increasing. When Hawaiʻi became a US territory (June 14, 1900,) it was drawing cruise ship travelers to the islands; they needed a place to stay.
Hotels blossomed, including Waikīkī’s oldest surviving hotel, the Moana Hotel. Often called the “First Lady of Waikīkī,” the Moana Hotel has been a Hawaiʻi icon since its opening opened on March 11, 1901.
By 1918, Hawai‘i had 8,000 visitors annually, and by the 1920s Matson Navigation Company ships were bringing an increasing number of wealthy visitors. This prompted a massive addition to the Moana. In 1918, two floors were added along with concrete wings on each side, doubling the size of the hotel.
On February 1, 1927, the Royal Hawaiian (nicknamed The Pink Palace) was officially opened with the gala event of the decade. Over 1,200-guests were invited for the celebration that started at 6:30 pm and lasted until 2 am. Over the subsequent decades, promotional efforts grew and so did the number of visitors.
1955 saw the first of a new wave of hotel construction. Three high-rise hotels opened in Waikīkī that year: the Princess Kaʻiulani, the Reef Hotel and the Waikīkī Biltmore (which itself became a victim of progress and was imploded to make room for what is now the Hyatt Regency Waikīkī.)
Another hotel – Henry Kaiser’s Hawaiian Village, which was not yet a high-rise, opened its first 70-rooms.
Between 1950 and 1974, domestic and international visitor numbers shot up to more than 2-million from less than 50,000. Statehood and the arrival of jet-liner air travel brought unprecedented expansion and construction, in Waikīkī and across the Islands.
Construction’s dominant role in the state’s economy dates back to Statehood in 1959, which focused tremendous investment interest, as well as visitor interest, in Hawai‘i. Construction activity accelerated in the mid-1960s, and accounted for 8.2% of the State’s Gross State Product in 1970.
The driving force in this increase in construction was the post-statehood tourism boom and related investment activity. The industry hit post-statehood peaks in 1960, 1970, 1975, 1980, and 1992. (DBEDT)
The image shows locations and dates of Waikīkī construction evolution (over Google Earth.)