Sunday, April 4, 2004


Holoholo Honolulu

Isle society women
founded the YWCA

Good works were certainly on the minds of the ladies gathered at Mrs. Dillingham's home on the afternoon of April 30, 1900. The Young Mens Christian Association had been firmly established in the islands for more than half a century, and the society ladies were determined to found a version for young women.

They not only succeeded in creating a stable organization devoted to good works, their legacy includes one of the most elegant buildings in downtown Honolulu, as well as a number of architectural firsts in the islands.

After two decades of moving about, the YWCA was ready to settle down in a permanent structure.

In 1924, they settled on some Allan Estate land adjacent to Iolani Palace and horrified many in the community by hiring a -- gasp! -- professional fund-raiser from the mainland. It worked; their goal of $350,000 was met in less than a week.

Work began in 1926, and the Y ladies figuratively broke new ground by hiring female architect Julia Morgan from San Francisco and female landscaper Catherine Jones Richards. This wasn't charity -- Morgan also designed Hearst's San Simeon and Richards' works include the Academy of Arts and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. They created the first significant structure in Hawaii wholly designed by women.

Morgan's design, like San Simeon, featured a Mediterranean motif built atop an extremely strong foundation of reinforced concrete, steel girder and concrete beams. In plan, the complex is essentially two buildings linked by a two-story loggia. The loggia is flanked by a 61-foot swimming pool and an outdoor court.

Morgan had a whimsical nature and buried sly references all over the structure, ranging from lion heads and flowers to her signature "M" placed high on a tower.

The entrance building is Elizabeth Fuller Memorial Hall, named for a Hawaiian girl who died in India while touring with Hawaiian performers, and includes an auditorium and stage.

The closest the building has come to scandal was in the 1930s under the leadership of Mrs. C. Montague Cooke, branded a liberal because she allowed smoking, card playing, social dancing and union meetings, and during World War II, when the YWCA refused to discriminate against black women war workers and allowed them in. Although most of Richards' landscaping has been gobbled up by surrounding skyscrapers, Morgan's YWCA remains airy, comfortable and functionally utilitarian without compromising elegance and good taste. There are occasional tours available.


YWCA Building

Opened: 1927
Architect: Julia Morgan
Style: Mediterranean
Address: 1040 Richards St.
National Register: 1978
Hawaii Register: No

The YWCA building, opened in 1927 to shape minds and bodies of young women, continuess to help women, young and old, today.

Quicktime VR Panorama
Click on pictures to view panaromas




Every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin Travel section, rediscover the charms of old Hawaii through a tour created by the Honolulu Historic Trail Committee and Historic Hawai'i Foundation and supported by the city's Office of Economic Development. The yearlong project commemorates Honolulu's bicentennial.

See Holoholo Honolulu for past articles.


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