Keiki o ka ‘Aina

I like that the county is allowing Kamehameha Iki Park in Lahaina, on the ocean near 505 Front Street, to be used for Hawaiian cultural purposes.

On one side, Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani, Maui’s 63-foot open-ocean voyaging canoe, is in the final stages of construction. On the other lies a row of 200 banana trees to help feed the crew when she sails, and a thatched ceremonial pa.

This is fitting, since the park is the site of what to me was one of the most fascinating structures in old Lahaina: the western palace of Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III, “Ka Mo’i Maika’i,”the beneficent king.

In a tale too delicate to tell here, the king and his sister, the princess Nahi’ena’ena, loved each other in the manner of the ancient ali’i nui. When she died, his grief was profound. The king married Kalama, a low-born chiefess with whom he found happiness, and early in 1837 the two moved to Lahaina, the kingdom’s capital, where he sought solace in his roots.

They took up residence in a traditional thatched compound on Moku’ula island, living there for eight years. Prohibited to all but descendants of the mo’o goddess Kihawahine, the royal residence at Moku’ula was not to be entered lightly. It was a place of refuge, “the last resort of the traditional Hawaiian monarchy and the ancestral home of its last divine king.”

But it was the lot of Kamehameha III to straddle two worlds, the old and the new. When John J. Halstead, a carpenter from New York, arrived in Lahaina the following year, 1838, the king put him to work building a “palace” at which to entertain foreign dignitaries.

This was Hale Piula, sited just across the causeway from the royal island, where sentries in white uniforms guarded a gate. It was a coral-and-frame building on the beach, 120 feet long, 40 feet wide, named for its corrugated iron roof. Hugely conspicuous in Lahaina’s village of grass huts, it had two stories, with wide-open verandas and views of the shining Lahaina roadstead.

The Hawaiian flag commissioned by Kamehameha I flew over the grounds, imperfectly guarded by an odd assortment of cannon. The grand salon held mahogany furniture, red damask curtains and portraits of Liholiho and Kamamalu, the late king and queen.

The palace turned out to be “more curiosity than adornment,” a formality used only on state occasions. Early in 1845, Kamehameha III reluctantly moved to Honolulu and took up residence at the first ‘Iolani palace, a home with a widow’s walk and a view of the harbor, predecessor of Kalakaua’s creation on the same grounds.

Kamehameha III returned to Maui many times, but his last recorded visit to Moku’ula was in December 1846.

By then the palace – “nearly finished” according to a government report – had become the object of derision. An effort to make Hale Piula larger and grander by doubling its length was in the works, but this only succeeded in making “a still further blotch on the landscape.”

Observed James Jarves, editor of The Polynesian, “The palace, as a huge graceless, incomplete, two-story stone building, encircled by a wide verandah . . . is a monument of a waste of government means. . . . The interior is not only wretchedly arranged as to rooms, but positively mangled; special pains being manifest to prevent ventilation, and make as many ill-shaped and comfortless apartments as possible.”

By 1852, long fissures marred the corners of the building. When he was in town, William L. Lee held circuit court in the long lower room running the length of the building, otherwise occupied by the native district justice. A small upper room served as office of the police magistrate. “There are a great number of rooms in the building, but daily dropping to pieces,” wrote Jarves.

Chronically damaged by wind that roared down from Kaua’ula Valley four times a year, local officials ceased to care about repairing the palace, and its appearance grew “peculiarly ruinous.” Hale Piula was finally blown to pieces in the whirlwind of 1858.

An attempt was made to salvage doors and timbers for use in the impressive new Government House on Lahaina Harbor, inaugurated in 1859. But R.A.S. Wood, the superintendent of public works, found the material “so much decayed as to be unfit for use again.”

I’ve never seen a picture of Hale Piula, and I don’t know if one exists. But with the word pictures 19th-century writers conjured, who needs one?

* 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 wandered the grounds of Old Maui High School in Hamakuapoko on Saturday with the scores of alumni in blue T-shirts delighted to be back on campus to celebrate the school’s 100th anniversary.

One was Mayor Alan Arakawa, Class of ’69, who discovered there another world outside of his family’s farm in Omaopio. “This is where I learned speech, English,” he said. This was where he ran down the tunnel of trees to the beach and never forgot it, “breathtaking every time.”

Another alumnus was Charles Gima, Class of ’47, whose father worked “kompan” in the fields of HC&S. He became an engineer, and of the family’s 10 children, one became a doctor, another an architect, another a college professor.

“Oh, we loved it here,” said Shirley Choy Perry. “The beauty.”

Yes, the beauty.

I enjoyed the performances – the aging cheerleaders, the Elvis impersonator, the humor of master of ceremonies Curtis Lee, the good fun. “Go Sabers!”

But what stole the show for me were the classic bones of the administration building, the preservation of which was the reason Friends of Old Maui High School was founded almost a decade ago.

In 1916, while his cousin Charles W. Dickey was on Maui designing the plans for Makawao Union Church and his new home, Kaluanui, Harry Baldwin asked the renowned architect to also design a new classroom and administration building for Maui High School to replace the small, wooden one erected by the County of Maui in 1913.

The following year, according to the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, six members of the Baldwin family pledged $5,000 each to build the school to Dickey’s plans. Territorial law, however, did not allow for legislative appropriations to be augmented by private resources, and the $30,000 offered by the Baldwins was turned down.

It was not until 1921, when Maui High School was fully funded, that Dickey’s design was built. He lifted the site so the students had a new horizon over the cane fields to the ocean, and endowed the children of plantation workers with a 17,000-square-foot architectural feast of a Mediterranean revival villa, all arches and pilasters and proportions based on the golden mean.

Students from the camps had never seen such inspiring architecture, nor spent time in such a sublime setting. Maui High quickly became an idyll, a refuge from the harsh life at home, remembered as a place of great earning and great peace. These bare walls remind me of the ruins of a Greek temple, I thought, looking up at the makai wing, a temple of learning. No other campus in the territory, Punahou included, and Kamehameha, too, has a more uplifting setting.

So it’s a shame that after almost 10 years of effort by the Friends, progress in restoring the building as a prerequisite to creating a center named for its most famous alumna, the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, has slowed to a crawl.

According to the mayor, a high-level committee has been convened to explore a direction for the the entire site, but the county is still not clear where it wants to go. “It’s going to cost tens of millions of dollars,” he said.

Meanwhile, the rebar in the administration building is rusting away after 92 years near the sea, causing deterioration of the concrete, which is fast reaching the point where it cannot be repaired. “If it doesn’t happen soon it may never happen,” Friends past president Barbara Long told me. “We may lose a true architectural treasure.”

The problem is, to develop the site, land-use changes are needed from the state Land Use Commission and the Maui Planning Commission. But these can’t happen until the county decides on its intended long-term “use.”

The Glenn Mason firm in Honolulu, expert in historical building preservation, has come up with a plan to stabilize the building, that is, put in floors and a roof, and close the window openings. This can be done for less than $1 million, financially doable.

But a building permit can’t be granted until a water system is installed to handle “fire flow.” The Friends doesn’t have the money to build a new well (the old well serving the campus collapsed). And the county is reluctant to extend county waterlines until it decides on a future for the historic campus.

“It’s a Catch-22,” said Long.

Meanwhile, it’s a great place for reunions. What a pity if no other use is found that honors its great past.

* 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

We took the ferry over to Lanai last weekend for a day at Hulupoe Beach, that perfect, wide crescent of white sand on a lovely little bay where the dolphins come in to play (except when we’re there).

The ferry was full, but we were the only ones trudging the short distance from the harbor with two beach chairs, one cooler on wheels and a backpack full of unread material left over from our last expedition.

Lanai is that most private of islands, and I count on having the place to ourselves. “There’s only 40 people on the whole beach,” a guy from San Diego marveled when we arrived.

Ah, but that changed. I moved our camp several times when new arrivals from Trilogy and the noon boat invaded our shady spot. By 3 p.m. they were gone, though, leaving us with two trees (one kiawe, one hau) and seven picnic tables to ourselves.

Privacy. Just us, the mynahs and the satiny, blue ocean. Peace finally descended. That is, until I picked up The New York Times Magazine and got my dander up.

Ever since Kalakaua’s premier, Walter Murray Gibson, bought the lands of Palawai in the late 19th century, Lanai has been the fiefdom of one private owner after another. The latest is Larry Ellison, fifth-wealthiest man in the world, who is immersed at the moment in the televised extravaganza this week that he has made of the America’s Cup races (live streaming at

For decades since the schooner “America” crossed the Atlantic and beat the best of the British fleet in 1851 as part of the world’s first trade fair, the America’s Cup was in the hands of the United States, whose yachts won the ensuing international competition year after year after year.

It was such an American sinecure that the fusty New York Yacht Club built a special circular room to display it. I made a special trip into Manhattan to see the beautiful, baroque silver cup when the San Diego Evening Tribune sent me to cover Dennis Conner’s defense of it in 1983 at Newport, R.I., where the races were always held.

It was quaint; the New York Yacht Club officials in their yellow slacks and matching blazers, the sleek 12-meter sloops moored in the harbor of the picturesque, historic town. It was a gentleman’s race; the only real way to see it was in a spectator yacht, and even so, one was kept far behind the course.

I dutifully chugged around the marker buoys in a fume-laden press boat with the veteran sportswriters and couldn’t see a thing. I spent my time filing “color” dispatches about Newport’s grand mansions: Hammersmith Farm, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s childhood home, and the gilded “cottages” of the robber barons.

I was flabbergasted along with everyone else when Dennis lost – lost! – the America’s Cup for the U.S. for the first time in 132 years to Australia.

He reclaimed it in 1987, after which the sport turned ugly when a challenger demanded to race in a larger, different class of boat. That was the last year for the 12 meters, beautiful they were in the water, expressive like birds, the beautiful spinnakers unfurling in the breeze on the downwind leg. The competitive edge became all about new designs.

The winner gets to dictate venue and vessel, and when Ellison’s team won the cup in 2010, it stunned the yachting world by picking a boat that is so prohibitively expensive owners agree it can’t be raced again. This is the AC72, a highly engineered, 72-foot catamaran capable of sailing at 50 mph. Adjusting the fixed sail and the hydrofoils requires the crew to operate at 85 to 95 percent maximum heart rate.

The head of Ellison’s Oracle Team USA freely admitted the decision to use the costly, dangerous, largely untested AC 72s was made because they look better on the screen and can race in more diverse wind conditions, essential to meeting broadcast schedules.

Now there are computer-generated graphics to make the course visible, via a hovering helicopter with a camera and GPS signals from the boats. With all the advertising endorsements on the structure, the boats look more like race cars than boats. In fact, they don’t even call them boats; they call them “platforms.”

It’s all high-speed, high-tech, high testosterone. Just what we come to Lanai to escape. I wonder what’s in store for this sleepy old island.

* 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

On Saturday we threw together reading material we never get to and took ourselves far, far away to the cool reaches of Hosmer Grove in Haleakala National Park. The pilikia of household exigencies receded as we ascended through the pastures and the clouds.

A large ama’u fern clinging to a bank was the sign that we had entered native plant territory, a rarified clime, high, bright, serene. We live here. Why don’t we do this more often?

The campground was full, some folks brandishing a Hawaiian flag at theirs, kids playing and laughing and making noise. We found a hideaway farther down the road, a little patch of grass with pukiawe and ‘a’ali’i all around.

The bird chorus I was hoping for was silent, but the wind blew an Aeolian harp in the pines. The clouds were low, wisps blowing briskly to the west, caught by the trees. The wind stirred the tall grass, dry with seed. Red, the tips of the a’ali’i. It felt like Carmel. I could smell the pine.

I need time like this in my life.

I turned to Jill Engledow’s fine book, “Haleakala, A History of the Maui Mountain,” to learn out about Hosmer Grove, formerly known as McGee Spring, or Pine Trees Camp and Picnic Round Road.

Once, magnificent native forests covered Maui. Their tall trees created a canopy that blocked the drying effect of the sun, while dense vegetation below sheltered the ground from erosion and rainfall. The forest acted like a great sponge, absorbing water that soaked into the ground, replenishing the aquifer, trickling into streams, seeping underground to feed springs that bubble up even in the driest of places.

The intricately woven forest – “plants growing on plants growing on plants,” as Jill quoted Fern Duvall – sheltered more than 10,000 species, an “unmatched collection of life” while supplying freshwater to lands below and protecting the ocean reefs from runoff.

How elegant are nature’s ways.

But between 1100 and 1650, agriculture in the lowlands displaced their native forests, and those higher up were devastated in the years that followed, victim of the sandalwood trade of the 1800s, and ship captains who brought gifts of sheep, cattle and goats, which found their way to the highlands and wreaked havoc. The water supply diminished as upland forests turned to grasslands and . . .

I looked to my right. “I love the way the air feels, moist and pure and clean,” the driver said, leaning back in his chair.

In 1904, the Territorial Legislature hired Ralph Hosmer as the first territorial forester, who knew from experience in California the importance of forests in supplying water for agricultural irrigation. In Hawaii, he created a forest reserve system of more than a million acres, 150,000 of them on Maui.

Forest decline was inevitable; it was thought. The only way to maintain one was to replace natives with fast-growing introduced species. Hosmer planted a variety of species, including eucalyptus and pines, at the grove near Waikamoi that was eventually named for him.

The new forests staved off erosion, but they tended to spread, encroaching on the native forests, and did not support native birds. The now-acidic soil further depleted the ranks of the natives. A ring of forest reserves encircling Haleakala, did, however, preserve part of that wonderfully diverse ecosystem. Fencing and hunting did the rest.

“I’ve got a word for you,” he said. “Dendrochronology: the science of dating events based on the study of tree rings.”

I looked over. There he was with his beloved Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, 1971, the best ever, the definitions jewels of old-fashioned literacy. It’s so good, you can find a list of currencies of the world, diagrams of Greek architecture, elements of Morse code, the Beaufort scale of rating storms, and diagrams of the stage and the cow.

He showed me his list. “I’ve been wanting to do this for months. Why not today?”

Oneiric: of or relating to dreams. Importunate: troublesome. Demotic: in the popular style (non-rarified). Parallelopiped: a prism whose bases are parallelograms. Moue: a little grimace or pout. Euonymous: a genus of evergreen shrubs and trees. Evection . . . oh, never mind.

The day waned, the air cooled. The smell of smoke wafted over from the campground. The sun broke through the clouds in a brilliant finale and turned the grass seeds gold. Two nene soared in tandem overhead as we walked to the car, and the sky was full of angel wings.

Fulfillment. Our afternoon of small, good things was at an end.

* 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