This 1947 photo shows the construction of Tripler Hospital in Moanalua. The hospital was originally located in Fort Shafter.
Tripler has a colorful tale to tell
Tripler Army Medical Center sits atop a ridge in Moanalua -- one of the most modern medical facilities in the world, serving at least 400,000 people in Pacific basin.
Tripler Army Medical Center
A typical day includes:
» Births: 8
» Clinic visits: 2,316
» Lab procedures: 3,104
» Pharmacy procedures: 5,060
» Emergency room surgeries: 23
» Beds occupied: 135
Source: Tripler Army Medical Center
But many are more interested in why the hospital is painted pink. "And even after they are given the official answer," said Donald Devaney, Tripler's provost marshal, "they are not satisfied.
"People don't want the answer," said Devaney, 71, "they want the myth."
It's a question repeatedly asked of the Army hospital, which was dedicated 60 years ago.
One of the most repeated "myths" surrounds millionaire businessman Henry Kaiser, who had an affinity for pink and used that color scheme for everything he constructed in the 1950s. But Kaiser didn't come to Hawaii until after Tripler was constructed and painted.
Another myth involves a soldier who ordered the wrong color -- 30 million gallons of pink -- instead of blue. So pink was used until that supply was exhausted. Or there is the explanation that construction practices after World War II involved using whatever material is available. Mixing white mortar, crushed coral and Moanalua red dirt results in pink.
A variation of that "myth" deals with a disagreement over the color and a lottery being used to select the final color, while another story says pink was used during World War II to camouflage the building. However, the war was over by the time hospital was completed.
There is the myth that the woman who donated the land specified the paint. However, the National Archives reports that the royal family, which provided the land, never made such a request.
Devaney said a persistent story involves Robert Thompson, who was the landscape architect for both Tripler and the "Pink Palace" -- Waikiki's Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
"But that's just coincidence," said Devaney who also serves as Tripler's informal historian.
"Let the myths live on. People want to have their own version of the Pink Lady."
Officially, Army engineers in 1948 wanted the hospital and its surrounding nurses' quarters, fire house, chapel, bachelor officers' quarters, mess, theater and enlisted men's barracks to avoid an "institutional atmosphere." Instead, the planners wanted "to create the impression of a residential community and chose a "pink stucco finish," Devaney said.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the construction of the "Pink Lady," which will be celebrated on May 2. The actual completion and dedication date was Sept. 10, 1948, but because of scheduling and other conflicts the anniversary of the 375-acre medical facility will be celebrated next month.
Although the hospital has been at Moanalua for 60 years, the original facility was built at Fort Shafter and named after Brevet Brig. Gen. Charles Stuart Tripler in 1920. By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, it had 450 beds and grew to 1,000 beds. Plans for a new Tripler at Moanalua were drawn up in 1942, but actual construction didn't begin until 1945.
Besides the 231 beds, Tripler is the home of the Spark Matsunaga Veterans Affairs Clinic, which includes a 60-bed Center for Aging completed in 1992, the Center of Excellence in Disaster management and Humanitarian Assistance and the Pacific Telehealth and Technology Hui.
Devaney, who retired from the Army as command sergeant major with 30 years of service, said many mothers, who gave birth at Tripler, have returned.
"Some even want to see the birthing room," Devaney said, "which is now an office on the eighth floor."
"Others are disappointed that we don't have a record of their birth. But those records are kept by the health department in town."
Special visitors get a Tripler Christmas tree ornament which Devaney, a Vietnam War veteran, has made and paid for since 2000.
» Sept. 10, 1948: Dedication of Tripler Army Hospital at Moanalua.
» 1960s: More than 60,000 Korean War evacuees treated.
» First Korean War POWs brought to Tripler.
» 1961: Name changed to U.S. Army Tripler General Hospital.
» 1964: Name changed to Tripler Army Medical Center.
» 1985: Three additional wings built.
» 1995: Fisher House opens for families of seriously ill patients.