Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Archibald Cleghorn and Ainahau

Roadway at Ainahau.

In 1851, when Archibald Cleghorn arrived in the islands with his Scottish parents, he was 16. His father Thomas died shortly afterwards, leaving Archibald to run the small dry goods store he had started in Honolulu. Four years later, he was on his way to becoming a powerhouse in the mercantile industry, with stores not only on Oahu but on the neighboring islands as well. By the time he was in this 30s, he had married a Hawaiian lady named Elizabeth with whom he had three daughters and shared a house on Queen Emma Street in downtown Honolulu. If Cleghorn had a knack for business, his knack for things botanical turned out to be equally as great, for the Queen Emma Street home could boast of some of the most beautiful gardens in town.

At 35, Cleghorn married Miriam Likelike, the 19-year-old sister of Kalakaua, soon to be elected king of Hawaii. When their daughter Kaiulani was christened, her godmother Princess Ruth Ke‘elikolani presented her with a ten-acre estate in the middle of Waikiki, which was called Ainahau. With this land, Cleghorn was given an opportunity to indulge his passion for horticulture on an orgiastic scale. Its broad acres were laid out in a maze of dense foliage, date palms, bananas, breadfruit, kukui, kiawe and bamboo, with here and there banks of coral-red hibiscus.

Ainahau quickly became a rendezvous of island society and the scene of frequent parties and entertainments befitting a man of his prominence. When Kalakaua became king in 1874, he appointed Cleghorn to the House of Nobles and upon the death of the Prince Consort John Dominis in 1891, Queen Lili‘uokalani made him governor of Oahu.
 After Kaiulani’s death in 1899, Cleghorn led a less active life, although he became the first parks commissioner for the City & County of Honolulu in 1900 and remained involved in the affairs of Queen’s Hospital. He died of a heart attack in 1910 and was buried in the Royal Mausoleum.

Cleghorn’s will left Ainahau to the Territory of Hawaii, with the stipulation that it become a park in Kaiulani’s memory. The territorial legislature refused this gift, due to the strenuous efforts of Rep. Archibald S. Robertson, a Cleghorn heir who subsequently inherited the estate. The royal residence, after a brief career as a hotel, passed into the hands of a film producer and was destroyed by fire in 1921. In 1955, Matson Navigation Company tore up the Ainahau lands for the development of the Princess Kaiulani Hotel.

Unfortunate though it was to lose Cleghorn’s grand opus, examples of his horticultural skill survive elsewhere in Honolulu. Cleghorn played an instrumental role in the founding of Kapiolani Park in 1877. He served as president of the Kapiolani Park Association and planned the landscaping of the park. And the stately ironwood trees that line Kalakaua Avenue through the park were planted under his supervision, as were the great banyans at Thomas Square.

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June 9, 2010 at 4:33 PM  

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