A Walk in the

Spend the day at this his­toric lo­cale—the old­est and largest of its kind.

Waikiki Magazine - - ILOVE WAIKIKI - by Karyl Reynolds

On any given week­end, Kapi‘olani Park is filled with peo­ple, many of them par­tic­i­pat­ing in sports; soc­cer, soft­ball, lacrosse, bocce, archery, ul­ti­mate Fris­bee and cricket all bring ac­tion to the “peo­ple’s park.” But few know that a trust was ac­tu­ally cre­ated in 1876 by the leg­is­la­ture of the Repub­lic of Hawai‘i specif­i­cally es­tab­lish­ing Kapi‘olani Park as re­served for three pri­mary pur­poses— “com­pe­ti­tion, ex­hi­bi­tion and en­ter­tain­ment.”

Kapi‘olani Park was pre­sented to the peo­ple of Hawai‘i by King David Kalakaua, reign­ing monarch from 1874 to 1891. Kalakaua is­sued the ded­i­ca­tion on Kame­hameha Day 1877 call­ing it “the first pub­lic park of the King­dom” and nam­ing it in honor of his queen, Kapi‘olani. Thus, it ex­ists to­day as the old­est and largest pub­lic park in Honolulu.

In 1876, Kalakaua made land shares avail­able for a 30-year lease. For the first 20 years, the Ka­pi­olani Park As­so­ci­a­tion, a stock­hold­ers or­ga­ni­za­tion made up of prom­i­nent men whose ini­tial fo­cus was build­ing cot­tages along the beach­front and cre­at­ing a horserac­ing track, man­aged the park. In 1896, the Repub­lic of Hawai‘i passed leg­is­la­tion that called for the for­ma­tion of a board of trustees and es­tab­lished a trust that re­mains to­day pro­hibit­ing any­one from ever leas­ing or sell­ing the land. Kapi‘olani Park preser­va­tion ad­vo­cate Michelle Mat­son re­minds us, “It was the time just be­fore an­nex­a­tion, and the peo­ple of Hawai‘i were not cer­tain of their fu­ture. To pro­tect the park­land, the trust stated that Kapi‘olani Park would be ‘first and fore­most a pub­lic park and recre­ation ground for the peo­ple of Honolulu.’”

How­ever, the area that would come to make up the park had been sig­nif­i­cant to the Hawai­ian peo­ple for cen­turies. In an­cient times, the wet­lands of Kaneloa and the fish­eries of Ka­pua were in­te­gral to so­ci­ety. Papa‘ena‘ena Heiau, re­dis­cov­ered where La Pi­etra is to­day—the former Dilling­ham es­tate—is said to have been a rec­tan­gu­lar-shaped sac­ri­fi­cial heiau (tem­ple, or place of wor­ship) at the base of Le‘ahi, or Di­a­mond Head. Its ini­tial cre­ation was sup­pos­edly for surfers to wor­ship and find in­spi­ra­tion be­fore en­ter­ing the waves. The lower tier is thought to have been an an­cient war­rior train­ing ground.

Much later, dur­ing Kalakaua’s reign, the area con­tin­ued to be a place for com­pe­ti­tion, ex­hi­bi­tion, and en­ter­tain­ment with the es­tab­lish­ment of a race­track. In the 1800s and early 1900s, ali‘i (Hawai­ian roy­alty), along with other pres­ti­gious mem­bers of so­ci­ety, were highly in­ter­ested in horserac­ing. The park area was an ideal venue, and it soon be­came a hub of so­cial ac­tiv­ity. In

cer­tain ar­eas of the park, in fact, per­cep­tive vis­i­tors can still see date palms (hint: start­ing at the band­stand) that once out­lined the track.

In 1898, the in­de­pen­dent Repub­lic of Hawai‘i of­fi­cially be­came an Amer­i­can ter­ri­tory and sol­diers were given per­mis­sion to camp tem­po­rar­ily in Kapi‘olani Park. Dur­ing the early 1900s, polo and base­ball joined horserac­ing as park pas­times, as horserac­ing was banned by the 1920s. The City and County of Honolulu took over the man­age­ment of the park in 1913, and, by 1930, all re­main­ing ponds and la­goons had all been filled with the dredg­ing of the Ala Wai Canal. Af­ter a brief pe­riod of ne­glect dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion, in the 1940s it started to be­come the land­scaped park we know it as to­day.

At ev­ery turn you will find a lo­ca­tion for com­pe­ti­tion, ex­hi­bi­tion, or en­ter­tain­ment. The Waikiki Aquar­ium, for in­stance, started as a small at­trac­tion founded in 1904 by the Honolulu Rapid Tran­sit & Land Com­pany. Although not orig­i­nally on park­land, it brought greater in­ter­est in Kapi‘olani Park. To­day, you can find a Vic­to­rian-styled cov­ered shel­ter across the street with a small plaque on the ground com­mem­o­rat­ing the era.

The first band­stand was built where the Honolulu Zoo is to­day on what was then called Ma­kee Is­land. The band­stand re­sem­bled a small gazebo, a pop­u­lar fea­ture in Vic­to­rian gar­dens of the time. In­deed, King Kalakaua’s vi­sion for the park was very much in­flu­enced by his trav­els abroad. His hopes were that the park would be­come “the fre­quent and gen­eral re­sort of all our ci­ti­zens and vis­i­tors.” In 2000, a new band­stand, the fourth in Kapi‘olani Park’s his­tory, was con­structed. Mod­eled af­ter the orig­i­nal gazebo, it has a round open-sided de­sign with large col­umns fea­tur­ing sub­tle carv­ings of hula per­form­ers. Since 1905, free con­certs at the band­stands have been a main at­trac­tion of Kapi‘olani Park. The Royal Hawai­ian Band, founded in 1836 by King Kame­hameha III, has per­formed at the band­stand in re­cent years (www.rhb-mu­sic.com).

The cre­ation of the Pub­lic Baths along­side the aquar­ium in 1907 made it so there was a pub­lic beach for the first time in the park’s his­tory. Sand, how­ever, had to be im­ported.

Then, in 1915, a small zoo was es­tab­lished at the park, mov­ing to its per­ma­nent lo­ca­tion in the 1940s. Surely, one of the most strik­ing features

of the park is The War Me­mo­rial Nata­to­rium. It was built in 1927 to com­mem­o­rate is­land sol­diers who gave their ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice dur­ing World War I. But, Kirsten Faulkner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the His­toric Hawai‘i Foun­da­tion, ex­plains its greater sig­nif­i­cance.

“Be­cause WWI was thought to be ‘the war to end all wars,’ it really stands as an an­tic­i­pa­tion of world­wide peace,” Faulkner says, adding that the ter­ri­to­rial leg­is­la­ture of that time de­cided to cre­ate, as part of the me­mo­rial, an ocean­wa­ter swim­ming pool for peo­ple young and old. At this time, the pool has been closed for a gen­er­a­tion. Deemed un­safe due to poor water cir­cu­la­tion, it has fallen into dis­re­pair. How­ever, Faulkner says that de­signs stand ready to re­store the me­mo­rial—com­plete with a clean, safe swim­ming pool—and the hope of many is that this glo­ri­ous site will be re­stored, ver­sus razed.

The Waikiki Shell can scarcely be missed, as it re­sem­bles a gi­ant seashell with its pic­turesque open-air venue. But the beauty of the park it­self is largely based on the trees found there, some of them planted more than a cen­tury ago. A num­ber of banyan trees cap­ti­vate vis­i­tors with their ae­rial root stretch­ing down to the ground. One banyan even forms a tun­nel for run­ners and walk­ers to pass through. Iron­wood trees are ev­ery­where, and an iron­wood al­lée along Kalakaua Av­enue is no­table for be­ing de­signed by Scots­man Archibald Cleghorn, the fa­ther of Princess Ka‘iu­lani.

Over the years, Kapi‘olani Park would be re­vised and res­culpted with oc­ca­sional threats to it three pri­mary pur­poses—com­pe­ti­tion, ex­hi­bi­tion and en­ter­tain­ment. But foun­da­tions such as the Kapi‘olani Park Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety, along with the park’s board of trustees and ded­i­cated com­mu­nity mem­bers, are com­mit­ted to keep­ing com­merce and devel­op­ment at bay, while pre­serv­ing Kapi‘olani Park as a gath­er­ing place for the peo­ple of Honolulu and vis­i­tors alike.



horse races Were a pop­u­lar ac­tiv­ity at Kapi‘olani parK.

photo: a.a. mon­tano

peo­ple in the stands at a horse race di­a­mond head from WaiKiKi shoW­inG the drive to Ka­pi­olani parK

a small Zoo Was es­taB­lished in the parK in 1915.

photo: pan-pa­cific press Bureau

divers maK­inG use of the dive plat­forms at the WaiKiKi nata­to­rium man rid­inG a BiKe on the Kapi‘olani race tracK

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