Sunday, August 10, 2014

Walker Park, Honolulu

Puna, Walker Park, Honolulu Puna, Walker Park, Honolulu
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Today's adventure takes us to tiny Walker Park, near the waterfront at the edge of downtown Honolulu, at the intersection of Queen St. & Fort St. It's a small plaza built around a fountain, with an abstract sculpture at its center. There's also an ornate gate, and an old cannon. The caption to a wallyg Flickr photo of the park explains that the park dates to 1951, and is a bit of land left over after widening & realignment of Nimitz Highway & Queen St. It's dedicated to the memory of H. Alexander Walker Sr., longtime president and chairman of American Factors, Inc. (later Amfac), a Hawaiian sugar company and one of the "Big Five" corporations that essentially controlled the state during the sugar cane era.

The park's Walker Fountain dates to 1972. The central sculpture Puna (by Hawaii sculptor Sean Browne) was added in 1991, in memory of Una Craig Walker, wife of the park's namesake. (I'd rather think of them as co-namesakes of the park, but apparently that's not how things worked back in 1951.) The caption to a second photo explains the wrought iron gate. It stood in front of American Factors company headquarters from 1902 to 1972, when it was moved here. I didn't notice this at the time, but apparently the park also has a few blocks remaining from the original Liberty House department store, which once stood nearby and was razed in 1979.

I'm not sure what the story is with the park's cannon. A blog post I ran across speculates that it might be from the old Honolulu Fort, which was located here from 1818-1857 (and was the site of a short-lived French invasion in 1849). If it's not an original cannon, it's probably at least a nod to that period of history.

A historic inventory from the Hawaii Culture & Arts District (a local nonprofit) describes the history of the old fort:

Description: Fort Street takes its name from a one-time defensive work located at the present intersection of Queen Street and Fort Street. The Honolulu Fort originated with the Russian-American Company blockhouse. Directed by the German adventurer Georg Schaffer (1779-1836), they built their blockhouse near the harbor, probably against the ancient heiau of Pakaka and close to the king’s palace. Pakaka was an important sacred site for Ku, the Hawaiian war-god and a place of great symbolic and ritual importance to the victorious King Kamehameha. Hearing about this development, Kamehameha I, the king, ordered his advisor Kalinimoku to take a contingent of Hawaiian soldiers to Honolulu and press the Russians to leave. Threatened by a large number of Hawaiians, the Russians quickly abandoned their blockhouse and sailed for Kauai, where they had earlier attempted to start a trading post and soon built another fort. Kamehameha I appropriated the fort and it protected Honolulu harbor and also housed a number of administrative functions, including many years of service as Honolulu’s prison. Created first in 1951 as a product of the widening of Nimitz Highway by the city of Honolulu, Walker Park received new attention in the aftermath of the construction of the Amfac Financial Center in 1968-71. At that time the company, through its president, Henry A. Walker, Jr., contributed to the enhancement of the earlier park through the donation of the paved walkway, benches, sculpture and the wrought and the historic cast and wrought iron sign and gateway that serves as a centerpiece of the park.

Anecdote: The The first capital punishment carried out at the fort was the hanging of Chief Kamanawa (c.1785-1840) and his accomplice Lonoapuakau on October 20, 1840. The Hawaiian Court found him guilty of poisoning his wife Kamokuiki, carried out Kamanawa to avoid a charge of adultery. Kamanawa was the grandson of one of Kamehameha I’s principal advisors, Kameeiamoku, and the grandfather of David Kalakaua, later King Kalakaua. The execution took place on the scaffold set up just inside the fort’s main gate. It attracted 10,000 viewers, all of whom watched solemnly as the Governor carried out the sentence.

Honolulu is in the early stages of building a light rail transit system, which will eventually run on elevated tracks somewhere near Walker Park. Several lawsuits were filed attempting to stop the project; in one of the cases, the National Trust for Historic Preservation filed an amicus curiae asserting that the raised trackway would block important views from the park and a few other locations, and obstruct views of the historic Aloha Tower. The city's own 2008 evaluation of the park in preparation for the light rail project had concluded that it was technically eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, but really wasn't all that significant of a place in itself. As of May 2014 the city has fended off the various lawsuits, and construction is proceeding, with completion expected in 2019.

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