Sunday, September 28, 2003

neighborhoods: where we live

mountain neighborhoods

When summer heats the flats and beaches of Oahu, the highlands of Tantalus and Pupukea soothe their residents with coolness.

Pupukea, at the northern stretch of the Koolaus, hovers over a close rural shoreline while Tantalus-Round Top expansively displays the sprawl of urban Honolulu.

Good brakes and steady steering are vehicular necessities as roads coil through steep drops and daring climbs in both mountain neighborhoods. But while Tantalus offers its dwellers the quick convenience of town, Pupukea residents prefer the escape of the North Shore.

Pupukea | Tantalus


Tammy and Mark Becker of Happy Trails Hawaii offer horseback riding rentals in the scenic Waimea Bay area, using retired pedigree polo horses. Their Pupukea neighborhood has a strong equestrian tradition.

Residents enjoy the
‘country’ lifestyle

A single road climbs in a steep hairpin from the North Shore to the cool uplands of Pupukea, where exuberant strands of bougainvillea reach skyward and mango trees shade the yards.

This neighborhood still prides itself on being "country," even as upscale houses sprout on lots that just a few months ago were nibbled by horses.

"When you come home to Pupukea, it's like ahhhh," said longtime resident Gerry Meade, letting out a long sigh. "I go out and sit under these huge mango trees. You feel so much peace in you."

She and her husband, Chuck, moved here in 1970 because the rolling terrain reminded her of her hometown, Kohala, on the Big Island, and they wanted to raise their children where neighbors looked out for each other. Meade enjoys growing land taro and vegetables while her husband paddles his one-man canoe.

Backed by mountains and bounded at its base by Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach, Pupukea attracts people who relish the outdoors, from hiking to diving. Its "country" zoning, with lots no smaller than an acre, encourages horticulture and horses.

Pupukea residents Mark and Tammy Becker want to make sure kids these days have alternatives to the mall and the movies. Their family business, Happy Trails Hawaii, takes children as young as 6 on horseback rides through Pupukea's highlands, sampling strawberry guava.

"I used to ride my horse down to the feed store, which is now Foodland," said Becker, who moved here in 1977. "Everybody kept horses in their back yard, a lot of them still do."

But things are changing. A few new homeowners have built massive walls that shut out their neighbors and block views. Prices have jumped. So far this year, nine homes have sold in Pupukea, for an average price of $570,000, along with three vacant lots averaging $395,000, according to R. Waldo Adams, a real estate agent who lives in the neighborhood.

"The people who are coming in are less country-like and more wealthy," said Becker, adding that some seem taken aback by the neighborly tradition of waving to each other as they pass. Still, other newcomers are helping keep Pupukea rural. Dave Delventhal, who grew up in Wahiawa, moved up here three years ago to raise salad greens.

"It's an ideal situation to live and work on the same property in beautiful surroundings," he said. "The North Shore buys everything I can produce, which is nice because I don't have to deliver into town. I go in once a week on errands and dash back to the country."

His neighbors are a diverse bunch: carpenters, artists, doctors, writers, professional surfers, firemen, retirees. The hour-long drive to Honolulu doesn't faze Pupukea's fans. Eddie and Linda Tseu used to commute every day with their children, who are now grown.

"They never complained about wanting to move to town," said Eddie Tseu. "We love Pupukea. I don't think there is any place on this island that can compare with it."


Peter Woollett, a Tantalus resident of 20 years, stood by the 16,000-gallon water tank used to provide water for his home. Residents of the mountainside area must catch rain water since there is no existing water main system.

Houses perch
beneath clouds

Residents in the cool neighborhood
must catch their own water

Like a green crown sitting atop Honolulu, Tantalus-Roundtop provides a cooling, isolated retreat.

Now home to some 900 residents, much of the mountain-top neighborhood remains in state forest preserve lands. A single, two-lane, 10-mile blacktop road provides access to the community.

Although the neighborhood is blessed with quiet streets, majestic views and community spirit, the one thing Tantalus residents don't have is county water.

The 200 or so homes on the mountain must catch their own water, because the Honolulu Board of Water Supply never put in a reservoir or pumping system.

Most of the homes are about 1,300 feet above sea level -- just below clouds on overcast days, so either pumps or a storage tank high in the hills would be needed.

John Steelquist, chairman of the Makiki-Tantalus Neighborhood Board and a Tantalus resident, said that several years ago the community was asked if it wanted a new water system and residents voted against it, saying they were happy with their private tank system that collects water from rooftops.

The neighborhood is an older one.

The 2000 Census says 1957 was median year for home construction on Tantalus.

The census also notes the median income for families on Tantalus is $120,283. Nearly half, 45.5 percent, of the residents are white with another 25 percent listing themselves as Asian and 20 percent as Hawaii or Pacific islander.

Steelquist calls the residents a "tight community." The Tantalus Community Association has work days four times a year keeping roadsides clear of rubbish and sprucing up the many hillside overlooks.

The first residents of the areas were business and government leaders around the turn of the last century, Steelquist says. "People were looking for a place to come to in the summer when it was real hot in Honolulu."

He added, "They would ride up on horseback or in a horse and buggy."

Well-to-do families such as the Dillinghams, Wilders and Castles had homes on the mountain.

Among the famous homes is Nutridge House, built halfway up Tantalus in the 1920s by E.S. Van Tassel, founder of the local macadamia nut industry.

The home is occupied by Rick Ralston, founder of Crazy Shirts, who since 1983 has been on a revocable month-to-month lease from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which owns the property at the entrance to Puu Ualakaa State Park.

Ralston pays $604 a month in lease rents and has, with his own funds, restored the house, according to state officials.

Ralston also opens the park gate in the morning and pays to have the grass and trees in the area trimmed.

Tantalus' verdant slopes are the product of one of Hawaii's first forest management programs, starting in 1882 when the kingdom of Hawaii was worried that overgrazing of cattle and goats had reduced much of the hillside vegetation.


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