Highrise apartment development in Lower Nuuanu began with Queen Emma Gardens, completed in 1964 and still one of Downtown Honolulu’s most desirable residences.
Its three towers – the 12 story Prince and 23 story King and Queen – comprise a total of 587 units, originally developed as rentals and converted to fee simple condominiums by Savio Development Company, which acquired the property in 1996.
The 8.28 acre complex was purchased from Hawaiian Trust Co., which represented the owner, Robert E. Black Memorial Trust. Black, a philanthropist, was the son of developer E. E. Black, whose construction company built Queen Emma Gardens.
Peter Savio, president of Savio Development and Hawaiian Island Homes, which provides sales and rental management services for Queen Emma Gardens, noted when he purchased the project that there was nothing else like it in the state in terms of the integration of open space into the complex and that it was “one of the best projects available for potential condo-conversion.” The tenants of Queen Emma Gardens were given the first opportunity to purchase units in the buildings.
John Sestak, a Realtor with Hawaiian Island Homes, who has sold units there since conversion from apartment to condo, said, “All units were initially priced under $200,000. Within a short time, prices more than doubled, but have now pulled back around 15 percent from the peak in 2006-2008. One bedroom units now are in the $250,000 price range with two bedrooms going for about $100,000 more. Increases and decreases in pricing have been consistent with overall trends, but, in the end, Queen Emma Gardens condos have held their value and remained steady over the past year. Units rarely go on the market and, if well priced, go into escrow relatively soon. Information on current listings and past sales is posted for browsing in the Prince Tower lobby.”
Sestak noted that, in the past year, 11 units were sold, 1 studio, 5 one bedroom units, and 5 two bedroom units. Currently there are 2 two bedroom units and 1 one bedroom unit on the market.
Good design, abundant open space and parking, proximity to Downtown Honolulu, and a full complement of recreational amenities are the features that have attracted both tenants and buyers to Queen Emma Gardens over the years. The award-winning structural design was the work of one of the nation’s leading architects, Minoru Yamasaki FAIA. One of Hawaii’s most gifted landscape architects, George S. Walters, created the gardens that were acknowledged with both local and national American Society of Landscape Architects awards.
Recreational facilities include two swimming pools, one for adults and one for children, a children’s play area, tea houses available for owner and tenant use, barbecue and picnic areas, strolling paths, and koi ponds – all in the park-like setting. Pets under 35 pounds are allowed but the number is limited.
Located on Vineyard Boulevard at Nuuanu, Queen Emma Gardens is flanked by Foster Botanical Garden and the Nuuanu YMCA, both landmarks in their own right.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Foster Botanical Garden was originally a 4.5 acre tract leased by Queen Kalama to physician/botanist William Hillebrand, who made his home there in 1853 and planted much of the existing vegetation, including rare trees. In 1884 he sold the property to Thomas and Mary (Robinson) Foster who continued to develop the garden as their home-site and in 1930 bequeathed it to the City and County of Honolulu. Landscape architect Paul Weissich, director from 1957 to 1989, expanded Foster Botanical Garden to 14 acres.
Just a short walk from Queen Emma Gardens is the Nuuanu YMCA. Oahu’s largest YMCA, it houses the organization’s Metropolitan Offices and Youth Department and offers a variety of programs and exercise classes for adults and children.