The Dillingham family estateBy Lois Taylor
kindles memories of
times gone by
Special to the Star-Bulletin
It stands out there in Mokuleia, surrounded by acres of lawn, huge trees, a quarter-mile of paved driveway and an avenue of royal palms. They don't build houses like the Dillingham family's eight-bedroom summer cottage any more, and even if they did, today's fractured families couldn't fill one.
The former Dillingham Ranch, now owned by Mokuleia Land Co., will be opened to the public on Memorial Day as a benefit for three North Shore non-profit organizations. "A Day in the Country," as the three sponsors have named the event, promises to be a light-hearted look back, to the days when house guests arrived from Honolulu by train or horse and buggy with trunks of clothes for a three-day stay. What they wore to swim in, including the rubber shoes, would fill a contemporary back pack.
The mid-day event will include a buffet lunch and an estate-style auction of porcelain pots, rosewood plant stands, screens and water gardens. Such plants as gardenias, ti, sego palms and bromeliads will be sold, as well as homemade jellies, chutney and baked goods. Experts will give lessons in basket weaving and growing bromeliads. Entertainers from the North Shore will provide live music throughout the party.
Television fans may recognize the property as the set of the short-lived series, "The Byrds of Paradise," and of countless commercials. The quarter-mile straight road from Farrington Highway to the house may be the longest private driveway on the island. It is lined with coconut palms on one side and red hibiscus bushes on the other.
According to "Millstones and Milestones," a biography of Benjamin Franklin Dillingham written by Paul Yardley, Dillingham took control of Mokuleia Ranch in 1897. By adding smaller adjoining properties, by 1898 he owned 7,000 acres of potential cane land. He eventually sold off the cane land and held the remaining 3,000 acres, "a great strip of mountainside and beaches with flat land in between and a homestead in the middle."
In 1912, B.F. Dillingham wrote a letter to three of his children -- Walter, Harold and Marion -- conveying the ranch to them, but realizing that it had its shortcomings. In a letter to the older son, Walter, Dillingham wrote, "You have made good use of the property and buildings which came with it. But now, if you are to make any comfortable use of it in the future, it will be necessary for you to build a commodious house, up to date in point of comfort."
He acknowledged an estimate made by his children of $8,000 to build such a house, "which I do not think is enough.I have therefore had $10,000 placed to the credit of Mokuleia ... to be used for the purpose named."
He concluded, "I am indulging the cheerful hope that these and all other cousins may grow up to use Mokuleia for their house parties, during their day and generation, as you have done, and may continue to do for many years to come."
And they did, until about 25 years ago when the property was sold to Northwest Mutual, which intended to develop it into a golf course resort. The plans somehow fell through, and the ranch changed hands once more when the present owners, a company from Japan, bought it. They now rent the house and garden for $500 a day for weddings, luaus, reunions and other large events, with a $50-per-bedroom surcharge to spend the night.
Patsy Gibson, chairwoman of the Memorial Day event, ran a recent preview tour. "The house was built in 1917 for the amount of money Mr. Dillingham gave his children. A few years ago it needed a new roof, which cost more than the price of the entire house 80 years earlier.
"At the top of the driveway in back of the house were hundreds of chicken coops and a big vegetable garden, managed by people hired by the family. They also had an orchard of mango and citrus trees. The tamarind trees in Tamarind Park at King and Bishop Streets were transplanted from there. Hal Henderson told me that before the war, the eggs and produce were sent by the Waialua train into town to the various family members."
All of the water used on the ranch, including what once filled two swimming pools that are now empty, comes from an artesian well on the property. The stables have been maintained and are now rented by North Shore residents to board their horses.
"The Big House, which is what the family called it, is really of a simple design," Gibson said. "There's a big central living area with a fireplace, a kitchen in back and matching bedroom wings on either side. Each wing has four bedrooms and four bathrooms."
The bedroom we were shown is reminiscent of summer camp, with two single bunks, a chest of drawers and a small rag rug on the floor. The outdoor showers are heavily planted with 8-foot mock-orange hedges to provide privacy.
Memorial Day, a time of looking back, is an appropriate date for the benefit. Nobody builds houses like this any more because, despite its size, it is fairly primitive. Such niceties as dishwashers, microwave ovens, TV sets and air-conditioning are not part of the furnishings. But at night, which is usually very still, you can sometimes hear the peacocks that nest in Peacock Flats high above the house.
A Day in the CountryBenefit for North Shore Outdoor Circle, Friends of Waialua and Haleiwa Main Street:
Date: Memorial Day, May 25, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Place: Dillingham Ranch, 68-434 Farrington Highway, Mokuleia
Cost: $25, includes buffet lunch; $14 is tax deductible
By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
The stately palms recall a time of long past.