Keiki o ka ‘Aina

I had an exquisite day at the Honolulu Academy of Arts on a recent trip to Honolulu. Call me old-fashioned, but I love the act of sending cards, beautiful, artistic cards.

Choosing the right one for the occasion, penning a few select words, sealing the creamy envelope, adding an address label, and yes, a pretty stamp, pleases me greatly in this age of swift, impersonal electronic communications.

(#oldwriterlady: Yo, datz rad, killin treez for hall mark. LOLOL)

I stopped by the academy – it will always be that to me – to make my annual card purchases, and stumbled onto a gold mine, incited by the institution’s name change to the Honolulu Museum of Art. Card reproductions of works in the museum’s collection were all severely reduced because of management’s desire to get rid of every vestige of the old name.

Works such as D. Howard Hitchcock’s view of Hanalei Valley, Jules Tavernier’s famous rendition of the old Pali trail on Oahu, Ambrose Patterson’s explosive Kilauea all tell me something about the Hawaii gone by.

Works from the Asian collection such as a pair of gold leaf Joseon dynasty Korean screens, Georgia O’Keefe’s seductive views of ‘Iao Valley, and the Hokusai wave are all going into the dustbin at the end of June.

(Word to the wise: One can order museum shop items at 30 to 80 percent off by phone until the end of the month. Call (808) 532-8700, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.).

Afterward, I sat in a chair by the central courtyard watching a flock of white pigeons dance in the mango tree and breathed in the museum’s unique atmosphere of beauty, order and peace.

How is this perennially so? I wandered over to the docents, who kindly showed me a condensation of a history written by “Sister Grace Marion,” revealing that this was the wish of its founder, Anna Rice Cooke.

She was, of course, a missionary descendant from the old school who, like the Baldwins of Maui, believed that prosperity implies “an obligation to share and serve.” Not unlike Emily Alexander Baldwin, it was said of Cooke that “Graciousness, thoughtfulness and consideration and respect for the individual marked her every contact.”

She was the youngest daughter of William Harrison Rice and Mary Sophia Hyde of the Ninth Company, who sailed from Boston on the brig Gloucester in the mid-19th century and arrived 188 days later. They were stationed in Hana, then Lahaina and Honolulu. After the missionaries’ governing board voted in 1837 to cease support for the Hawaiian mission, the Rices moved to Kauai, where he became manager of Lihue Plantation. The Rice family of Maui descends from them.

Anna Charlotte Rice was born in 1853 and married Charles Montague Cooke, a missionary “cousin” in 1874. Head of Castle & Cooke, and after retirement, Bank of Hawaii and C. Brewer, he was a gifted businessman. (Contrary to popular opinion, few of the missionary children possessed this trait, Henry Perrine Baldwin and Samuel T. Alexander of Maui being notable exceptions.)

In 1882 the Cookes built a house on Beretania Street opposite Thomas Square, with an unbroken view from the veranda of the ocean from Diamond Head to Honolulu Harbor. Anna began collecting art in earnest, with a particular interest in local artists and objects from Asia.

When her home could no longer house the collection, the territory issued a charter for the Honolulu Museum of Art in 1922 at the request of Cooke, her daughter Alice Spalding, son Clarence, and niece Mary Atherton Richards. It was to be the “foundation on which a new culture, enriched by the old strains, may be built on the islands,” where Hawaii’s multiracial children could “receive an intimation of their own cultural legacy.” Hence the academy.

Unable to find a more suitable location, Cooke donated her own house (the mango tree in the courtyard is from there) and hired Bertram Goodhue, a well-known New York architect. He was told the building should “represent in stone the story of the islands,” and the galleries were grouped around open courts, one Chinese in style, the other Spanish. The exterior had a peaked Hawaiian roof and informal lanai from the mission era, adapted from the New England veranda.

Cooke thought of the museum as a restful place. Overcrowded rooms were to be avoided, exhibitions simply arranged. “It must be a haven to which men and women would come for rest and inspiration.”

I marvel at how her vision has been upheld.

* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose “Keiki o ka ‘Aina” column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at

Keiki o ka ‘Aina

It was a gorgeous afternoon. The trade winds had returned, the sun was warm, and I gave myself the all-too-rare treat of a swim at Charley Young, aka Kamaole I, my vote for best beach on Maui.

The water was cool and clear, the wind not too bad. Soon I was gliding through the aqua waves, letting the current drive me to the south end. We sometimes grab dinner and watch the sun set there from the little park.

It’s all so far from the days in World War II when sleepy South Maui teemed with military installations. From an in-house column Maizie Sanford wrote for The Maui News, I learned that the Army took over Kalama Park, the Navy took over Pu’unene airfield, and the whole coastline was guarded by military units including the National Guard.

When the Marines arrived, they trained for beach landings on the south shore from Maalaea to La Perouse Bay. Kamaole I became the training encampment for the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams, forerunner of the vaunted SEALs.

The UDTs were classified top secret, and the base was off limits for news correspondents and USO shows, thus nothing was written about them in The Maui News. Maizie, who lived on Maui when Pearl Harbor was attacked, mentioned her interest in World War II history one day to Denise Cohen, who gave her a treasure. It was a manuscript by Cohen’s stepfather, Lionel Blankenship, recounting his training days at the base, built in March 1944.

“A primitive road ran through the Demolition Base . . . parallel to the beach. On the beach side were officers’ quarters, training staff quarters, library, laundry and chow hall. All were tent-like construction. The only thing made of good solid wood were the old, smelly outdoor toilets. Completing the makai layout were a couple of volleyball courts in the sand, a scrawny post office and a two-story training pier protruding into the ocean.”

(With a snorkel you can still see the remains of the pier, a double row of pilings heading straight out to sea, not too far from the current lifeguard tower.)

On the mauka side of the road were enlisted men’s quarters called “The Dust Bowl” with toilets on one side and open-air cold-water showers on the other. There was also a drill area and a softball field for recreation. Refreshments were found in an open-air beer garden (two cans of beer a day was the allotment) and “a hamburger and pineapple juice restaurant run by some Hawaiians. The Demos called it the ‘kanakee shack.'”

A guardhouse sat at the north end of the base next to the road. “This was the only security available on the unfenced base. A top secret organization with minimum security seemed to be the situation on Maui. The people who ran the kanakee shack, a hog farmer down the road, and an occasional lady taxi driver from Wailuku, were admitted freely. It was nothing uncommon to see a lady taxi driver unloading a couple of drunken Demos by the open showers while naked sailors were taking their shower. But war correspondents were never allowed on the base – just everyone else, it seemed.”

A bronze plaque at the south end of the beach memorializes the “frogmen,” who numbered 3,000 by the end of the war and served as invaluable advance teams for the invasions of the Pacific islands held by the Japanese – the Marshall Islands, Peleliu, Saipan, Luzon, Iwo Jima and Okinawa among others.

The men trained 12 to 18 hours a day for six weeks in both reconnaissance and demolition work. “Wearing only swimming trunks, special swim shoes, fins, and a knife,” they were dropped into the water by a high-speed landing craft heading at 30 miles an hour toward the shore. The men scrambled into a rubber boat tied alongside, rolled into the water and swam to shore to perform reconnaissance exercises.

Demolition teams paddled rubber boats up to the surfline, unloaded 20-pound satchels of tetrytol explosives and swam them to targets on or near the beach. Charges were set with timed fuses, then activated and “the swimmers would return to deep water before the whole beach blew up.” Their “final examination” was held on Kaho’olawe.

I know how many of us feel about that part of Hawaii’s history, the wounding of Kanaloa, as the island was called in ancient times, red-colored, dolphin-finned. Despite a massive cleanup grant from the Navy, places there are still dangerous with explosives.

Thank goodness they cleaned up Charley Young.

* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose “Keiki o ka ‘Aina” column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at

Keiki o ka ‘Aina

I broke my foot at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, taking my 95-year-old mother there for her birthday. A step appeared out of nowhere on a vanishing corridor, and down I went.

I spent the lunch with my foot packed in ice, unable to find anything I liked on the menu. It turns out the food at the formal, newly remodeled Surf Room is expensive, with a poor selection, a far cry from the days when tables were right on the beach, Diamond Head prominently in view, the air casual and festive.

When I grew up in Honolulu, the Royal was the ne plus ultra of entertainment venues, particularly the green-and-gold Monarch Room, with its immense sliding doors screening it from the beach. There was a big Hawaiian music show with lots of staging effects, and dancing to the hotel orchestra, or “under the stars,” at the Surf Room. In the ’70s, a newsman friend used to listen to Ed Kinney from the beach.

I took dance lessons at Dan Wallace’s cotillion, held in a little building back in the hotel’s lush, 15-acre garden, a park with walkways and 40 varieties of trees and shrubs. It was the charming old Hawaii.

Then the heavy hand of profit maximization kicked in. The garden gave way to a shopping center full of luxury goods that nobody I knew ever went to, or does now. Worse, they built the gauche colossus of the Sheraton Hawaii next door, with its gargantuan lobby and escalators.

When it opened on Feb. 1, 1927, the Royal Hawaiian embodied everything that was grand about Waikiki. The magnificent new hotel had 400 rooms, each with a bath and a balcony with a mountain or ocean view.

Above it soared the 150-foot grand campanile with its Renaissance and Moorish overtones, making the hotel the tallest privately owned building in the territory. It was considered so high the Oahu Board of Supervisors overrode objections of the Planning Commission to raise the legal height limit.

“The Royal Hawaiian,” wrote newsman Clifford Gessler, “architecturally and by virtue of geographical location, is inescapably the center of Waikiki life and cannot be ignored any more than its thrusting hulk and ornate style can fail to catch the eye from any angle within miles.”

The Royal was “the” place to stay in the ’30s Honolulu for members of Maui’s plantation society going over for doctor’s appointments or to shop. Rates were about $14 a day. The property, built in the royal coconut grove of Helumoa, which at one time consisted of nearly 10,000 trees, has always been the province of Hawaii’s elite.

According to Don Hibbard in “The View from Diamond Head,” Kamehameha made Helumoa his headquarters. During his 1795 assault on Oahu, the chief’s war canoes stretched from there all the way to Waialae beyond Diamond Head.

In the plague of 1804, Kamehameha offered a sacrifice of “three human victims, four hundred hogs, as many coconuts and an equal number of branches of plantains” at the Papa’ena’ena heiau at the foot of Diamond Head, land that became the Walter Dillingham estate, La Pietra, now the Hawaii School for Girls.

Kamehameha V maintained a cottage built in 1866 at Helumoa, later remodeled into a large house by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. Lunalilo owned a Victorian home at Kaluaokau, mauka of Helumoa, which he willed to Queen Emma upon his death in 1874. She, according to Hibbard, had the heiau dismantled and its rocks used to wall the estate.

Kapi’olani and Kalakaua kept a thatched cottage on the beach nearby at Uluniu, adjacent to which, near where Kuhio Beach is now, was Lili’uokalani’s Hamohamo. She told of days fishing in the morning and receptions in the afternoon.

Lazy Waikiki.

My affinity for the Royal and its famous grove goes back to the days when my parents lived in a little apartment on Seaside Avenue when they first moved to Hawaii. I was pushed in my stroller many times in that garden. Maybe that’s why I chose to take my mother back to the Royal to celebrate.

The meal concluded, we strolled (I limped) back on the exotic carpets of the gallery lounge to the portico with its grand columns and arches and old monkeypod soaring gracefully above the driveway.

It blocked the view of the looming Sheraton and the high-rise clamor of today’s Waikiki. Just for a moment before our car appeared, I caught a hint of those languid, uncomplicated days, when the “Pink Palace” was the queen of Waikiki.

* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose “Keiki o ka ‘Aina” column appears each Tuesday.

She can be reached at