About the West Molokai Association
History of Moloka’i ‘s West End
Contributed by Edie Anderson
Lay of the Land
We often take the lands we live upon for granted without regard to what came before. While much attention is given to the scenic and historic sites on Moloka’i, little attention is given to what we see everyday and how it became what it now is.
The area we will consider runs along the shoreline from Ilio Point on the north to Hale O Lono on the south and from the pali mountain of Pu’unana 1,381′ above the shoreline and east of what is now Maunaloa Town. The vast area covering hundreds of acres mostly grass and range lands, also includes one of the most glorious beaches in all of the Pacific – Papohaku. To be sure there are forested and scrub tree areas, gulches and eroded hillsides, and of course magnificent views across the channel to Oahu. About 1.5 million years ago volcanic activity was responsible for what we now see with nature eventually taking over to provide flora and fauna.
Before long people arrived and small settlements were established most particularly to take advantage of fishing and what was to become an adze quarry – thus the name Kaluakoi that means just that. Remains of a fishing village at Kepuhi Beach adjacent to Kaiaka Rock along with evidence of shrines (heiau), dwellings and workplaces at Kawakiu and Ilio have been detailed by archaeologists who attribute such activities to ancient Polynesians who migrated to Hawai’i. Of special note was the famous hula school at Ka’ana on the slopes of Maunaloa where the goddess Laka is said to have learned the hula from her sister Kapo before spreading the art island-wide.
Other noteworthy events ranged from the introduction of the first cattle and sheep in about 1833, the arrival of Axis deer thanks to a gift from King Kamehameha V, and the unification of vast tracks of the King’s ranch lands into what was called “His Majesty’s Ranch on Moloka’i.” In the 1940’s a Coast Guard station was built at Ilio Point and in 1948 the road connecting Maunaloa to the rest of the island was paved. Hale O Lono, important today as a harbor and the start-point of the annual cross channel canoe races, came into being in the 1950’s principally for the shipment of Papohaku Beach sand to Oahu.
In more recent times the area became known for more mundane activities such as sand mining activities (1950’s), military training grounds during WW II, and for commercial purposes such as the growing of pineapple and raising of cattle. The resort came later – beginning in 1968 when Louisiana Land formed a joint venture known as Kaluakoi.
As an aside and as stated, the West End took part, as did other parts of the island, in all-important military activities after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Much has been made of ordinance (practice ammunition) that has been found, and which has now been safely removed. Many veterans, including the later Senator “Sparky” Matsunaga, loved to tell stories of their days in the Army – those spent training on the West End and how they came to love the land we all call home.
Paniolo Country — How It All Began
In truth, the first cattle and sheep arrived on Moloka’i in 1833*. But it was not until 1873, when King Kamehameha V consolidated his vast land holdings that ranching became a full-blown enterprise and the long and proud paniolo tradition began. Although “His Majesty’s Ranch on Moloka’i” was actually used as a retreat and vacation site until his death in 1873, it marks the beginning of the cattle business on Moloka’i. Upon the King’s death the land went to Princess Ruth Keliiokalani and subsequently to Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop in 1883 who later sold the land to her husband, Charles Reed Bishop.
Various managers oversaw the large spread with Rudolph W. Meyers serving some 40 years in that position. After his death in 1897, Moloka’i Ranch sold some 70,000 acres to American Sugar Company (ASCO) made up of a group of Honolulu businessmen. In 1908 Charles M. Cook purchased the Ranch from Charles Hartwell of the same partnership and made his son, 27-year old George Cooke, manager. During his 35-year tenure, interrupted for the period 1918 – 1923 with his return marked by the murder of the manager E. E. Conant, he made it the 2nd largest ranch in Hawaii and did much to develop the water system by extending a pipe line and by building new structures and dedicating more land to feed production and forest lands along with sweet potatoes and honey. That first cross-island water system was constructed by Molokai Ranch in 1911 and carried water from the highlands to Kaluakoi.
George Cooke is attributed for also establishing the Mapulehu Dairy in 1920. Between 1910 – 1937, and until a devastating blight wiped out the bee population, Molokai also was the world’s biggest honey producer. It should be noted that other uses were found for the vast land holdings through the years – ranging from pig and honey production to sugar and pineapple which became the island’s most lucrative “cash-cow” starting in a lease of some 1,000 acres to Libby, McNeill & Libby on the West End in 1923 and later, in 1927, when another 4,000 acres were leased to Del Monte (California Packing Corp.). It is said that Maunaloa Town eventually became the 3rd largest pineapple plantation in Hawai’i with about 10,000 acres in cultivation – of which 200 acres were allotted to “villagers” for their own cultivation.
Not to be forgotten, and around 1833, cotton was introduced as part of an unsuccessful effort intended to provide woolen uniforms to troops during the Civil War. At that time the population on island was estimated to be a whopping 8,700.
As for Molokai Ranch itself, it was incorporated as Moloka’i Ranch Ltd. in 1939 – executed in the form of an amendment to the original 1898 ASCO Charter. Granted there were other ranchers as well across the island over time – all enduring droughts, floods and disease. The troubled times of WW II hit the island particularly hard with the Ranch forced to reduce the size of its herd given that so many cattlemen joined the military. This came at the same time as the curtailment of barge transit due to fuel rationing and security reasons. Food was limited for the island’s population (including some 3,000 troops in training) with fishing restrictions, lack of imported staple goods and inability to export fresh produce. In 1986, for example, Bovine Tuberculosis was identified leading to slaughter and subsequent quarantine that lasted for an extended period. Cattle were reintroduced about 1988.
In 1978 during Aka Hodgins tenure as manager, the Wildlife Park was opened as an environmental project covering 1,000 acres of land suitable for African and Asian game animals that thrived on the tall grasses and bush lands such as that on the West End. In addition to providing a safari attraction for tourists, the wildlife habitat was designed as a means of controlling the fast-growing vegetation in the area. Hodgins believed that these conditions were similar to the East Africa plains and thus ideal for the likes of giraffe, zebra, kudu, oryx, ibex, sable, sika dear, kudu, eland, Barbary sheep and Indian black buck. Ultimately he also brought in rhea birds and ostrich to round out the “wild” population. Some 400 animals ranged the lands until the park closed.
Then, in 1987, Molokai Ranch was sold to Industrial Equities Pacific (IEP) of New Zealand. Under their stewardship, until the demise of the Ranch in 2008, Brierly (the former IEP) was run by series of managers with a team of department heads who fostered a diversification plan that focused on real estate and tourism in addition to ranching. The current owner of Molokai Ranch is GuocoLeisure, Ltd.
Boom days followed during the 1990’s with increase in cattle and rodeo activities, and with the rebuilding of the company town of Maunaloa. The latter included: a redo of existing buildings, construction of new facilities such as a new movie theatre, a retail complex (with a KFC), two parks, the Lodge, and a state of the art a new rodeo facility. Homes at several levels were constructed that offered a variety of options from self-help housing, to lease-to-own and rentals and to full ownership. Ground was broken in 1991 at Ka Hale Mua, a low income housing unit, with funding thanks to State, County and Federal sources.
During this period the Ranch also expanded its tourism activities to include 3 tenting venues, eco-tourism activities, concerts and events, rodeos and special group paniolo weekends. Kaupoa campsite was a huge success up until its final days in April 2008 as it featured cultural and nature experiences. One of the best aspects of the whole scenario was the increased employment these enterprises brought to the island.
Other parcels, such as the Industrial Park area were developed while others were leased for agricultural purposes (coffee and seed corn) and still others were donated to local organizations – including land for MCC’s new campus and a parcel for a new Veteran’s Center. It should also be mentioned that 2 failed wind farm projects, a coal burning plant intended to send power to Oahu, and the suggestion of building a prison – all on the West End -never materialized.
Looking back, it is interesting to review how our island’s cash crop, pineapple, came and then went over a 50-year period. During what some call Hawaii’s “Pineapple Rush,” this “gold” cultivation changed the face of the islands forever – for good during the boom days and for worse when large plantations closed forever.
As noted previously, ranching and a variety of field crops had been introduced over time on Moloka’i. But soon afterwards the water-intensive sugar crop was not to be as lucrative as hoped and sugar was replaced by honey production. That venture, which at its peak made Moloka’i the world’s largest honey exporter, ultimately failed as well due to the unexpected and devastative effect of a disease that wiped out the entire enterprise. Other field crops, ranging from hay, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, melons and other fruit, peppers – you name it, were tried. Story has it that even eggplant, a staple during the food rationing days of World War II was heavily cultivated.
1965 marked the beginning of winter corn breeding when Moloka’i Seed Service planted its first fields on the 5-acre Yoshida Farm. Those efforts eventually evolved into Hawaiian Research with Holden and Cargill/PAG involved until 1997. To this very day, Monsanto/Hawaiian Research remains as one of the principle employer on island with large fields visible across the island.
But it was pineapple that reigned supreme here as well as on other islands – including Lana’i which is still affectionately dubbed the “Pineapple Island” although no pineapples have been harvested there for two decades.
As an aside, it is interesting to note that a particularly bitter agriculture workers’ strike, involving about 1,000, took place in 1937. Police were called out and large areas were barracked until special forces restored calm. As it turned out, that event marked a turning point with unions gaining so much control that companies, including those on Moloka’i, decided to relocate abroad for cheaper labor. By 1970s, when economic conditions worsened, many companies fled the islands for places with where land and wages cost less and where there was less union involvement. For example, labor costs in 1973 accounted for about 50% of production costs in Hawai’i where hourly rates were $2.79 vs. in Taiwan where the same work could be done for 17¢.
It should come as no surprise that Hawaii’s share of world pineapple production dropped from 72% in the 1950s to just 33% by 1973. * Competing marketplaces around the world – from Africa to Asia and Latin America – left pineapple workers here out of jobs and whole communities in dire straights. Ironically, and proving that the Pineapple Days are over in Hawai’i, anyone on island wanting to sip pineapple juice today must resort to the canned variety imported by Del Monte from the Philippines.
What happened here, as elsewhere across Hawai’i as countless independent growers went bankrupt and closed forever, was a sign of things to come. On Moloka’i, the end of the pineapple era began in 1972 when Libby sold to Dole Corp and was finalized three years later when Dole closed its Maunaloa facility. The very last pineapple harvest took place in 1986. Those closures resulted in the loss of some 520 full time jobs and 1,200 seasonal jobs and a drop in the island’s population to the 5,000 level. In 1972 alone unemployment here reached 16% – compared to the statewide average of 7.5%.
Obviously, the recent Ranch closure with some 120 left unemployed is not without precedence and as some will tell you it brings back memories of the not too distant past. The only difference between then and now: then there were job options on the horizon. Now there appear to be few.
George Cooper, “Land & Power in Hawai’i”, 1985 (Page 200)
For decades the sleepy little company plantation town of Maunaloa was pretty much cut off from the rest of the island until the mid-1940s when the East-West road through the pali was paved. That undertaking, completed in 1948 with Federal funding, not only made a big difference in terms of pineapple operations, but it also meant that workers could come and go more easily and even live in other parts of the island instead of residing close to the fields where they worked. Likewise, the road made it easier for non-Maunaloa residents to socialize with friends and family on the West End and to enjoy what the open lands had to offer. Eventually, 78% of workers resided in Maunaloa with the rest commuting from the Ho’olehua area.
One of the most fascinating insights into plantation life at that time comes to us in the form of a research study done in 1956 by Edward Norbeck under the auspices of UC – Berkeley. That work investigated unique company towns, including Maunaloa, to discover the role played by management along with the economic and social ramifications brought about by the pineapple industry as a whole.
Most revealing was Norbeck’s description of what he called “the ugly town” and what he prophesized in regard to the future of plantation towns in general: “The future of Hawaiian plantation communities seems fairly clear. Plantation towns were founded and operated out of necessity to meet circumstances that are ceasing to exist.” (Page 155) Those who care to read Norbeck’s full work will find a fascinating detailed description on the life and times of workers and residents of Maunaloa during the Pineapple Days.
Norbeck and others have noted that the town we know was built for and by workers and management – following a set company town plan. Prefabricated building supplies were shipped from the mainland. Houses were designed and located in a hierarchical manner according to rank/position. During those years of heavy production, the town grew to include more than company infrastructure. Before long Maunaloa boasted of having: a school (with teachers’ cottages), community hospital with facilities for a visiting dentist, post office, 2 churches and a cemetery, 2 rival general stores, a restaurant, gas station, movie theatre, barber shop, some small shops , pool hall, credit union, 2 club houses, community center, tennis courts and playing fields, quonset hut laundry-dry cleaner, and some 100 houses of various types. In the latter case, dwellings ranged from dormitory type buildings with communal kitchens to more spacious single-family houses with more upscale residences located on Manager’s Hill. Rents in the mid 1950s were based on a scale of 10% of earnings and ranged from $4.15 for a single man sharing a bedroom to $72 for the best house in town. Sanitation conditions were reported to be good as were other health conditions thanks to good climate conditions and an abundance of fresh food given that many residents had their own gardens and some even kept chickens and rabbits. The territorial Dept. of Health provided infant and childcare and inoculations and the plantation nurse and doctor cared for workers with injuries or other problems.
About one-quarter of the 475 employees were American citizens with the majority being Philippine nationals with a few of Japanese or European descent as well. Their work was hard, as detailed by Norbeck, but the benefits were considered good at the time.
But all of this was to change once the plantation closed forever. Before long the aged buildings began to deteriorate and subsequently the population declined. It was not until the mid-1990s that things began to turn around as the former plantation town became a ranch town. It took time and a hefty investment on the part of new Ranch owners, Brierly Ltd., but turn around it did. By the dawn of the new millennium Maunaloa again showed its best face as a totally rejuvenated community with new streets (with gutters), electrical lines, sewage system, and such commercial additions as a KFC, movie theatre, grill restaurant, gas station, gift shops, newspaper headquarters, a beauty shop, a fabulous rodeo ring, and of course The Lodge. Festivals and special events were held at the 2 new parks and rodeos tournaments and paniolo games became a specialty. From Aloha Week Installation ceremonies to Christmas galas with fireworks and lights on all the buildings to guest performances by some of Hawaii’s most famous performers – Maunaloa had much to offer.
More housing came on line in 1992 – ranging from the low-incoming government funded Ka Hale Mua to rentals, rental-to-own, self-help, and upscale residences.
Sadly, Maunaloa’s boom days once again ceased and, at this writing, the town is experiencing tough times. Many of the commercial enterprises are gone and many have been forced to move due to lack of jobs. While plans to complete the Rec. Center are in place, many of the other activities are gone. With Maunaloa Elementary School’s enrollment at an all time low, many fear for its very existence. Only time will tell what the future holds for the town we hold so dear. For sure, all wish for better economic times and hopes that the town’s will to survive will restore it once again to its glory days.
Edward Norbeck, “Pineapple Town: Hawai’i,” UC – Berkeley Press, 1959
West End Hotels, Condos & Tourism
Tourism came alive on Moloka’i in 1968 when Louisiana Land & Exploration formed a joint venture with Molokai Ranch – forming the Kaluakoi Corporation. Louisiana Land, an oil and gas exploration business also known for work in land reclamation and industrial endeavors was to be responsible for funding the project while Moloka’i Ranch provided the land.
Work began on Kaluakoi Resort in 1973 – just as pineapple was being phased out. Luckily this came in the nick of time for displaced pineapple workers – meaning that they were able to transition from fieldwork to positions within the hotel/resort complex where a wide range of jobs became available when Sheraton opened its doors with their 292 room hotel in 1977. The demise of the pineapple operation in Maunaloa, in truth, would have been devastating for many had it not been for new options at the resort be they in: housekeeping, grounds, hotel operations, restaurant and in the golf course’s maintenance & service departments.
During the next 10 years when Sheraton managed the resort, it gained immense popularity with locals and visitors alike offering hotel accommodations, two fine restaurants (almost always full), entertainment, and a tennis program and 18-hole golf course, designed by Ted Robinson.
Sadly, the good times were not to last forever. In 1987 hotel management changed when Sheraton was replaced by Colony Resorts and Louisiana Land sold to Tokyo Kosan (Kukui Molokai) who purchased 5,600 acres at a reported $35 million on Nov. 23, 1987. They also took an option to buy Kaiaka Rock – a controversial parcel that involved a legal battle with the Thomas brothers. Adding to the disturbing mix was a hotel strike in October 1988 by members of Local 5 that led to much discontent and distrust between the Tokyo Kosan owners, workers and the public at large.
Tokyo Kosan’s expansion plan called for hundreds of new homes and 2 golf courses with a total of 72-holes. Naturally this met with opposition. Two years later, in March 1989, Sekihyo Seibaku Co., Ltd (also known as Alpha USA) purchased the remaining West End parcel of 6,349 acres owned by Louisiana Land for $33 million. This was a rapid-fire and complex/multi-faced turnover deal that spanned a mere 24-hour period. What happened was that Louisiana Land sold its last holdings to a Mr. James Salin of Las Vegas who stated he purchased the land in trust for a granddaughter – in a cash arrangement for a reported $13 million. He then, a day later, re-sold the property for $33 million to the second Japanese company to come on the scene during those “bubble” good economic times. The land involved covered the entire southwest shore acreage from Dixie Maru to Hale O Lono although the Ranch retained the harbor. Interestingly enough, La’au Point was part of this transaction. Ultimately that same land, along with the Tokyo Kosan property, was purchased by the Ranch.
Not to forget – while all this was going on both Ke Nani Kai and Paniolo Hale were built as condos. Likewise, an ownership arrangement was forged between Kaluakoi and West Molokai resort – built, financed and sold as condos and then leased back to Sheraton for 10 years with the goal being… a typical tax write-off/ tax shelter plan popular at the time.
Adding to the mix were other proposed development plans that included Egan Tensfeldt’s condo project, Degray Vanderbilt’s Pacific Bay Corp. Development with Henry Ayau listed as VP/Sec., and a plan by the Thomas brothers to build on Kaiaka Rock. As we know, none of these materialized. Other activities proposed and attempted on the West End without success were unrelated to tourism. For those who may remember – two different windmill farms on a Ranch lands adjacent to Moomomi were built and, deemed failures, were dismantled; a plan for a coal burning power plant (with electricity bound for Oahu) was aired along with a proposal to construct a prison on Federal lands near Ilio Point. These were tense times for sure with numerous protests and even vandalism in the form of arson and pipeline destruction.
Alpha USA’s grandiose development plans in the southwest La’au area included a lagoon and boat harbor, a massive residential community, and commercial areas. Blueprints and schematics were presented at public meetings headed by Henry Ayau and his assistant, Degray Vanderbilt including one well-attended session in Maunaloa.
Walter Ritte served as a consultant related to the development of La’au. The entire project faded as fast as it had appeared. In 1991 Tokyo Kosan’s Kukui Moloka’i declared bankruptcy and they along with Alpha USA were eventually sold to Molokai Ranch – by now owned by Brierly Investments Limited (BIL – formerly IEP – later renamed Molokai Properties Ltd. MMPS) and now using the corporate name, GuocoLeisure Ltd.). Colony pulled out as well and, not too long afterwards, the hotel closed as did the golf course in 2001. The latter re-opened in 2004 only to close again in April 2008.
Hopes were renewed when the Ranch built The Lodge in Maunaloa. This was a small upscale hotel designed in keeping with the paniolo culture and tradition and with architectural elements reflecting the town’s plantation heritage. At about the same time the very popular tent-a-low Kaupoa campsite was opened on Ranch property on the western shoreline. These too closed on April 5, 2008 when Molokai Ranch shut down all its entire enterprise.
As of this writing – there are no hotels on the West End. There are: three condo complexes, a number of vacation rental properties, and some 60 private homes. It should be stated that while the number of private residences has increased, the impact has been minimal during the past 30-some years. This is due in part to large lot sizes that keep density low. With the La’au Point project in limbo – only limited growth is expected in our lifetimes. Stay tuned!
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