Kawamoto meets Hemmeter
The Japanese billionaire puts his mark on the late hotel developer's estate
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SECOND OF TWO PARTS
What once belonged to the late Chris Hemmeter, hotel developer and entrepreneur, now belongs to Japanese billionaire Gensiro Kawamoto.
Kawamoto is putting his own signature on the former Kahala Villa, most often referred to as the Hemmeter estate, which he says he plans to transform into a beautiful garden museum.
Though he did not elaborate on the details, the estate has been undergoing renovations, though at a very slow pace.
What's most visible is a small grove of ferns and greenery along Kahala Avenue in a gap between the rock wall fronting the estate, along with bronze dolphin sculptures leaping into the air in pods.
Besides dolphin sculptures, Kawamoto seems to have a penchant for concrete pagodas, dozens of which are scattered on the property.
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PHOTOS BY CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
A dolphin sculpture stands where a wall once was on Gensiro Kawamoto's estate (formerly the Hemmeter Estate) at 4807 Kainapau St.
At the foot of Kahala Avenue sits a small grove of plants, including ti leaves, bougainvillea, palms and ferns - while several pods of bronze dolphin sculptures leap up from the garden.
The garden now occupies a new opening in the rock wall fronting Kahala Avenue, just before Waialae Beach Park.
Just a few steps down, another opening in the stone wall has been knocked down and replaced by a wrought-iron gate, matched by another one behind it, revealing the faded pink home nestled inside the cul-de-sac on Kainapau Place.
What was formerly the Hemmeter estate is now the Kawamoto estate, belonging to the elusive and eccentric Japanese billionaire who has snapped up some 20 homes on Kahala Avenue and gained national notoriety for giving three of them rent-free to native Hawaiian families he personally selected.
Gensiro Kawamoto told the Star-Bulletin through his interpreter that the estate is one of his favorite properties, and that he hopes to turn it into a garden museum in months to come.
Kawamoto earlier announced he would transform most of his oceanside homes along the avenue into public museums housing his collections of European and Oriental art.
The Japanese billionaire did not elaborate any more on his plans for what is now the Kawamoto estate.
But he seems to have a penchant for bronze dolphin sculptures, as they decorate the front of his estate, as well as the gate of another Kahala Avenue home he owns.
Large boulders appear to frame a lawn, though the grass there is tinged orange due to lack of water.
It seems as if the Kawamoto estate will have a distinctly more Asian flair, decorated by Kawamoto's collection of statues, horses, Buddhas and concrete pagodas, dozens of which are scattered in the property in different shapes and sizes.
Don Eovino, the listing agent for the former Hemmeter estate, is now having some twinges of regret, even $12 million later, about the sale.
Eovino had listed the faded mansion "as is," for $12.9 million, or completely gutted and renovated for a $20 million price tag in the spring of 2005. He already had a design team assembled, and renderings of the new estate.
He said at the time that "anything could happen" at his open house, but was expecting to move forward with the renovations.
Kawamoto walked in at the last hour of the open house, recalls Eovino, and offered to buy the property for cash, in addition to two parcels next door for $6.2 million.
His estate today stretches along a parcel from Kahala Avenue to the shore, including a small lawn area behind a large rock wall.
The former Hemmeter estate, which was built in the 1980s, still had much of the decor from that era when it was acquired by Kawamoto, with jalousie windows, koa floors and faded, pink paint.
Besides a multicar garage, tennis court, and caretaker's quarters, the four-bedroom, five-bath home has an outdoor pavilion with a media room. It has a single level, with the exception of a master bedroom at the top of a small stairway.
The total property value this year was assessed at $13.6 million, with the building assessed at only $2.1 million.
Since purchasing the property, Kawamoto has knocked down the former caretaker's quarters, and some walls which left behind gaping holes. Another window, facing the ocean, is propped in place.
Renovations appear to be under way, although at a very slow pace over the last three years. Kawamoto took out two demolition permits in June of 2007, property records show.
Gensiro Kawamoto, who still has some empty homes that never went to families as promised, wants to turn his estate into a garden museum. However, he hasn't followed through with that either. Above, a view of the back west side of his property looking east.
Eovino said Kawamoto has a right to do what he wishes with his own property, aesthetically, but he needs to maintain and care for it.
"He's torn down a lot of vegetation, connected the parcels with one long driveway and filled it with statues," said Eovino. "It looks like he wants to show people how grand his vision is."
But that vision, according to Eovino, included cutting down beautiful, 50-year-old coconut palms, plumeria trees, and areca palm fronds.
The property, formerly referred to as the Kahala Villa under Hemmeter's ownership, is where the late hotel developer hosted countless parties before he sold it to a Taiwanese conglomerate in 1992. Hemmeter died in 2003.
Kawamoto's vision, however, is for "one of the most beautiful garden museums."
He told the Star-Bulletin in earlier interviews that his Kahala Avenue Mission included making the neighborhood a better and fun community that portrays the island image, in his words.
"When the sun goes down, all my properties will light up beautifully for everyone to see," he said then. "My goal is to showcase a variety of different style houses that you will enjoy day and night driving along the street of Kahala."
The four-bedroom, five-bath house was originally built in the mid-1980s, and has had some additions, including a second story, partially enclosed porch and caretaker's quarters.
A signature water fountain - featuring hula maidens and cherubic angels in the middle of a circular driveway, is now visible from Kahala Avenue, although it is blocked off by a row of boulders.
That water fountain was built by Hemmeter, and so far, Kawamoto has decided to keep it.
But he's also added a few touches of his own, including some figurines of horses, a general and a philospher that now flank the entrance to the house.