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Mehemanuala: The House With The Soaring Birds

Historic Wilder home offers views and inspiration

Nestled on Tantalus among bird calls and gentle breezes sits a sun-dappled, redwood home originally built by James “Kimo” Wilder, cabinet member to Queen Liliuokalani and founder of the first Boy Scout troop in Hawaii.

The magic of this residence lies as much in its natural surroundings and architectural charm as in its rich, storied past.

Wilder built the house in 1907 as a summer retreat for his family to escape the heat of Waikiki. “Now behold an outline of our house – two stories and a dandy view from every window frame. We stood on the balcony, (my daughter) Kinau and I, and we were the first to kiss good luck to the trade wind,” he wrote.

Wilder’s wife, Sarah, decreed that the house maximize the ridgetop views for entertaining. The open floor-plan upstairs was made for socializing, and each window frames views of the lush mountains, Manoa valley and the shoreline from Diamond Head to the Waianaes.

The downstairs bedroom looks out to the morning sun and Diamond Head framed by a koa tree. A central fireplace anchors the home, to radiate heat in the winter months, when clouds float around the house and rainbows appear on the doorstep.

Improvements to the original structure have been made that “restore and respect the bones and integrity of the building” while improving the views and flow for modern life, says Prudential Locations’ Kapono Beamer, who is the listing agent.

For example, when renovating the enclosed lanai, the seller discovered pocket doors original to the structure hidden in the walls during earlier work. Now these doors, burnished and restored, are an accent in the main living space.

“To say it’s rare for a property like this to come on the market is an understatement,” explains Beamer. “There just aren’t many places like this left that embody history, that celebrate the ‘aina.”

Walking through the white and natural redwood walls today, one can almost hear the music and chatter of the Kama’aina elite, politicians, artists and actors who have mixed and mingled in this historic home over the past century.

Wilder and later his daughter, Kinau, kept a detailed journal of the home from its inception. A copy of the journal will pass to the buyer. While it is a chronicle of the life and evolution of the house, it is also a window into an era of Honolulu history, a guest book filled with signatures of notables and local celebrities, sketches, caricatures, songs, photographs, notes and poems created by the Wilders and their guests.

Kinau Wilder, the celebrated grand dame of Honolulu theater, was known to host parties that lasted all night, and sometimes all weekend. She was a patron of artists, opening her house to them for retreat and inspiration.

In her family memoir The Wilders of Waikiki, Kinau writes that the day they broke ground to build this house, she saw four white sea birds circling over head. “Every day until the house was finished, these four birds sailed gracefully back and forth, and (we would) cry out with delight … The day the house was completed, they disappeared forever.”

Her father named the house Mehemanuala, which in Hawaiian means “with the soaring birds.”

“It was a particularly lucky omen,” he wrote, “for this house has abounded in love and contentment and no one has ever set foot through (the) great front door who has not felt its magic spell.”

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