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Bowled over


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POSTED: Sunday, April 05, 2009

Question: On Crater Road in Kaimuki is a large stone structure that looks like it could be ancient ruins. It is certainly not neglected. The grounds around it are mowed and manicured, and it looks like an adjacent house might even be the home of a caretaker for the property. What could this strange and mysterious old structure be?

Answer: It's the remains of a reservoir — old but not ancient — and it's on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places.

Since 1917, for all of its 92-year existence, Boy Scout Troop 10 has held meetings, played games, learned crafts and turned boys into men inside “;The Bowl.”;

In 1992, Troop 10 celebrated “;75 Years of Service to Kaimuki's Youth”; by publishing a booklet tracing the troop's history.

Among the photos shown is an undated scene of an almost barren landscape: a dusty Diamond Head in the background, some scraggly trees, a handful of wooden structures and the reservoir, filled with water.

This was Kaimuki before it became a crowded residential neighborhood, but the reservoir was a harbinger of houses to come.

We weren't able to nail exact dates, but it appears the reservoir was built around 1900 and abandoned in favor of a bigger reservoir about 10 years later.

The Board of Water Supply, which was established in 1929, doesn't have any historical records about the reservoir.

However, Nancy McMahon, deputy state historic preservation officer with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, noted that it was after the great Chinatown fire in 1900 that many people began seeking new homes, “;thus the beginnings of Kaimuki.”;

It was sometime between the opening of the Kaimuki subdivision and 1917 that the reservoir was abandoned, she said.

We found brief, scattered references to the reservoir, including the fact that Puu o Kaimuki Park, just above Kaimuki Fire Station and overlooking “;The Bowl,”; was known by various names, including Telegraph Hill and Reservoir Hill.

One of the references was in an article written by C.S. Papacostas, a civil engineering professor with the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

In his article “;Know Your ASCE History,”; in the February 2006 issue of the Hawaii Council of Engineering Societies' newsletter, he mentions a “;History of the Honolulu Water Works,”; written by Thomas S. Sedgwick and published in 1913.

At our request, Papacostas searched his notes and found several other references to reservoirs in Kaimuki, among them:

» Sedgwick said the Kaimuki tract was opened around 1900, “;and for its water supply two artesian wells were sunk, and a pumping plant with capacity of 3,000,000 gallons daily was installed, near the Kapahulu and Waialae roads. The water was pumped to a reservoir built on an elevation near Telegraph Hill.”;

» Sedgwick also said that a new reservoir was completed around 1910-1912, and “;the old reservoir, long inadequate was abandoned.”;

» In the 1911 Thrum's Hawaiian Almanac, 1910 Retrospect: “;A new reservoir connecting with the city system has been constructed at Kaimuki to serve the needs of that growing residence section.”;

» In a Jan. 13, 1952, article in the Honolulu Advertiser, George F. Nellis wrote that this second reservoir “;was the first reinforced concrete reservoir built by the government.”;

We also found a fascinating account of the development of Kaimuki, written by John Takasaki and published in the Hawaiian Journal of History 10 (1976). It can also be found online: scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/10125/6374/1/JL10072.pdf.

Takasaki writes that Theodore Lansing and A.V. Gear became real estate partners and decided to build “;a high-class residential district,”; zeroing in on Kaimuki.

After they resolved the problem of a water source (via the two artesian wells), they had to figure out how to distribute the water.

They went to San Francisco to obtain the necessary pumps and pipes and “;came back to start the major water distribution system for Kaimuki Tract,”; Takasaki writes. “;Gear and Lansing built a reservoir in the crater of Kaimuki Hill (later called the 'Bowl' by many Troop 10 Boy Scouts who met there).”;

The reservoir had been abandoned for a while when Charles Crane, who would later serve as mayor of Honolulu from 1938 to 1941, organized Troop 10 and became its first scoutmaster.

Crane “;somehow got the (reservoir) property for use by the Boy Scouts”; in 1917, said Ed Yee, committee chairman for Troop 10.

Crane and his Scouts nicknamed the reservoir the “;Kaimuki Scout Bowl,”; later shortened to “;The Bowl,”; because of its shape. In some places it was 6 feet thick.

According to the Troop 10 publication, “;The walls stood 14 feet high above the concrete floor, with no entrance or exit except by climbing in and out. In later years, Mr. Crane organized a group of parent volunteers who, equipped with jackhammers, chisels, crowbars and an unlimited supply of devotion, punched a hole through the solid wall to make access easier.”;

Inside the surprisingly spacious stone-and-concrete structure, there are a few bleachers, two basketball hoops and some logs, a few of them blackened — evidence of lessons given in building a fire.

Here in this miniature coliseum, Troop 10 meets every Friday night, Yee said.

Today the structure is remarkably intact, although Yee pointed out visible cracks here and there on a tour of the property.

Adjacent to “;The Bowl,”; on Troop 10's expansive, neatly manicured property, leased from the state, Boy Scout parents also built the troop's current wooden lodge.

The abandoned reservoir was nominated to both the Hawaii and National Register of Historic Places by Troop 10 Scoutmaster Gordon Wong in 1996, McMahon said.

It made the Hawaii register for its association with the development of Kaimuki and for its association with Troop 10.

It is also significant for its association with Crane, also a territorial senator, and because it is the only known example in Hawaii of this type of reservoir, McMahon said.

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