Kapiolani Community College
Diamond Journal 2004

The Soul of Kaimuki
Kristen Lee

Kaimuki is one of the oldest residential neighborhoods on the island of Oahu. All of my life, I have been one of thousands of people who call Kaimuki home. The neighborhood was not something to reflect upon or even cherish--it just was. Kaimuki was just a banal scene where life takes place: children go to school, adults go to work, people simply live. I had never stopped to think that Kaimuki had a history all of its own. Those who look deeper into the soul of Kaimuki will see the core of this old community, which embraces its unique beauty, flourishing with nostalgic value and historic significance.

For sixteen years, I lived up on Maunalani Heights, a place well known for its breathtaking view. I grew up on Mariposa Drive, a quiet, serene street not any more important than other streets on Oahu. For over fifty years, this white two-story sanctuary I called my home stood steadily, holding memories of treasured pastimes within its walls. To this day, the original format of the house remains untouched. My favorite spot in the house has always been the balcony. After I came home from school, I would sit on an off-white colored lounge chair as I did my homework watching the sunset. Tiny chips of brown paint fell off quite often due to fifteen years of weather damage. Despite its ugly appearance, it overlooked a view of Diamond Head worthy of securing a spot on a postcard.

The view is something to be flaunted about like a treasured trophy wife. As the sun sets, the silhouette of Diamond Head located perfectly at the left side of the vista as well as the city’s hotels and condominiums, which glitter like flawless diamonds from Tiffany & Co., frame the ethereal sunset that falls like clockwork. From a distance, the multitude of homes and businesses located in central Kaimuki look like tiny Monopoly hotels lined up in a sporadic fashion. Over the years, I have stared out into Kaimuki looking at it as just a part of the view. It was something to be admired and appreciated, but I had never paused long enough to contemplate its history.

Kaimuki’s name stems from Hawaiian and means “the ti oven,” because of a legend that menehunes built their ovens in the area (Free). The area held many nicknames including “red dirt section” (“Land”) and “red desert” for the plentiful red dirt covering the ground (qtd. in Burtnett 03). However, the proper pronunciation will always be “Ka-imu-ki” (“Land”). People who are familiar with the Hawaiian language may understand what Kaimuki translates to in English. However, the meaning behind the word Kaimuki is unknown to a majority of Hawaii’s residents. This is unfortunate, because if more people were aware of how Kaimuki’s name was derived, they would have a better understanding of Hawaii’s past and gain a better knowledge of the culture. The origin of Kaimuki’s name is rooted in Oahu’s past, serving as a reminder of Old Hawaii. As Kaimuki’s name provides identity, Kaimuki’s various ownership throughout the years has been pivotal in defining the area of land as a valid community.

Over time, Kaimuki’s ownership has been shuffled around numerous times. In fact, Kaimuki holds a historic slot in time as far back as when Kamehameha I was still in power. Kamehameha I had already conquered both Maui and Molokai and was aiming his sights on conquering Oahu as well. When the king and his army landed in Waikiki, Kaimuki was used as a lookout to see approaching enemies coming in from the ocean. In 1848, Kamehameha III decided to implement his “Great Mahele” (qtd. in Free). This meant that the people of Hawaii would be able to inherit pieces of the lands owned by the king. William Lunalilo was the greatest beneficiary of Kaimuki in this deal. In 1884, the piece of land was auctioned off for a mere $2,325. The rocky terrain held little value to its new owner, Dr. Trousseau, who was a “physician to the court of King Kalakaua” (Burtnett “Early”). The fact that the doctor held such a notable profession was humorous because his hobby was tending to his many ostriches. Trousseau ended up giving his land to Senator Paul Isenberg. However, he would not own the land for very long. Theodore Lansing and A. V. Gear bought Kaimuki’s 324 acres from Trousseau for $20,000 in 1898. After they bought the hilly, red dirt-covered terrain, they began to sell the land for 3 cents a square foot, which foreshadowed the start of steadily increasing real estate interest.

Land lots started selling in a business-like fashion once A.B. Lobenstein started helping Gear and Lansing in sectioning off the land. The price of lots, which spanned 600 feet by 500 feet, was $400. During a slow period, the price of land was docked to $100 with $5 down and $5 as a monthly charge (Burtnett “100”). People regularly started coming to the area only when they were bribed with the promise of a private road leading to each purchased property. The public was also offered $50 per baby born in Kaimuki as a promotion (Burtnett “100”). Once the crowds started rolling in, the worth of the land rose tremendously. A new proprietor named C. A. “Boomer” Stanton “was reportedly penniless when he arrived, …selling $100,000 worth of real estate a month” (“Land”). This sum of money must have made Stanton a wealthy man, proving that investing in developing subdivisions is a profitable business in itself. It is inevitable that Kaimuki would modernize and evolve, but for the most part it has remained the same.

For a multitude of people, Kaimuki is a place that brings them back to a state of nostalgia. The old buildings lined up along Waialae Avenue have remained the same throughout the years. While other communities strive to modernize and look the part of an expanding subdivision, Kaimuki holds on to its meager beginnings. For blocks, aged boxy buildings line up next to each other. After an unknown sum of years, several buildings yearn to be repainted. Many people may wish to knock down these buildings and put up newly dry-walled, cosmetically pleasing structures, and yet, Kaimuki is like my grandmother’s house. It is a familiar place and even though flawed, it is a comforting place to be. Flaws can be overlooked if a place holds irreplaceable value. I treasure the fact that Kaimuki has remained untouched for the most part because I can walk through this time capsule and relive past experiences that might otherwise be forgotten in modernized Lego towns. Kaimuki is a central location that holds historic value as well as personal significance. Some individuals may choose to attend the various educational facilities, including Kapiolani Community College. Others value the family atmosphere that continues to buzz around Kaimuki. There is also an undeniable respect that goes along with establishments that are able to succeed through the years where technology-driven companies often overtake small family-owned businesses.

There are businesses, which are still running even after fifty years providing residents with a sense of stability. The Crack Seed Store is one of the businesses that still exists, reminding me fondly of my childhood. On the weekends, I would occasionally stop by the snack shop to pick up my favorite goodies. Kaimuki Christian School also holds a generous amount of my history. From the young age of three years old until twelve, I attended Kaimuki Christian School. I remember going to the Kaimuki Library in hopes of finding valuable resources for an important research paper on Hawaiiana. I also remember frequenting Kaimuki Dry Goods during the summer in hopes of finding the perfect fabric to go with a newly purchased pattern that I would eventually end up throwing away in frustration. The tiny, family-owned fabric store opened in 1926 and was originally located where Top of the Hill Inn now resides. Edith Takeya reminisced about her family’s initial inventory, “We were like a general store because there were no stores in Kaimuki” (qtd. in Watanabe 02). Kaimuki Dry Goods has been in business for 77 years so far and is still enduring.

Harry’s Music Store also is a place where I can reminisce about my childhood. The dimly lit, dusty, cramped store is probably one of the oldest music stores located in Kaimuki. Harry Yoshioka established his store in 1946. The business sells every musical item needed or wanted by the public. Both musical intellects and those struggling to squeeze out a song can go to the store and find music ranging from classical pieces to Japanese music books, as well as instruments and their accessories. Harry’s Music Store is often frequented by music students searching for the exact piece of sheet music that they intend to master. Kaimuki is not scattered with high-end boutiques associated with pivotal tourist attractions. However, Kaimuki is a place that is strewn with family businesses, bringing back the endearing qualities of old Hawaii, reminiscent of safer times.

Now when I look out into what I think is one of the best views of Hawaii, I don’t only see the waves crashing in the distance, the sunset, or Diamond Head. I see Kaimuki and think about its history, appreciating its existence. I am proud that Kaimuki is my home.

Works Cited
Burtnett, Gerry. “$100 Lots, Cash Prizes For Babies In Kaimuki.” Honolulu Advertiser
03 Mar. 1946, Sunday Morning: 01-03.
Burtnett, Gerry. “Early Kaimuki History Might Even Amuse Sophisticates.” Press 07
Feb. 1962: 04.
Burtnett, Gerry. “Pioneers Of Kaimuki Took No Pushing Around From Honolulu.”
Press 31 Jan. 1962: 03.
Free, David. “Kaimuki—Home Sights $400.” Pacific Business News 28 Feb. 1983: 35. “Land in Kaimuki Sold for 3 Cents a Foot in 1898.” Honolulu Star-Bulletin 14 Nov.
1961: 20.
Watanabe, June. “Walk: Old Kaimuki hasn’t changed much over the years.”
Honolulu Star-Bulletin: B-1+.