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The Moanalua Legacy Of Clarence T. C. Ching (Part One)

Photo by Phil Spalding III

In the mid 1950s, partnerships headed by visionary businessman, developer, and philanthropist Clarence T. C. Ching purchased and began development of Damon Estate lands in west Honolulu. The first project was the Airport Industrial Park; new residential neighborhoods, Moanalua Valley and Salt Lake, followed.

Moanalua, Honolulu’s west-ernmost neighborhood, is an “ahupuaa,” or Hawaiian land division, stretching from the Koolaus to the coast and comprising two valleys. Kamananui to the west and Kamanaiki to the east, and the ridge between, were previously part of the estate of Samuel Mills Damon, who was granted over 7,000 acres in the area by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop.

Two very different landmarks are identified with Moanalua. Most prominent in terms of visibility is Tripler Army Medical Center, a sprawling pink structure on Kauakaulani Ridge that dominates the landscape. Completed in 1948, the 62.7-acre complex includes a main building designed by the New York-based architectural firm York & Sawyer and park-like grounds designed by Hawaii landscape architect Robert Oliver Thompson.

Twenty-four-acre Moanalua Gardens is the area’s most significant cultural resource and the site of the annual Prince Lot Hula Festival, presented on the third Saturday in July by the Moanalua Gardens Foundation. The present garden, reduced in size from the original, was designed by Hawaii landscape architect Paul Weissich. The Foundation offers Hawaiian environmental and cultural education programs. The gardens are open to the public daily.

Two residential subdivisions, Moanalua Valley and Moanalua Gardens, were developed in the 1960s by Clarence T. C. Ching’s International Development Company (IDC). Although IDC planned the new neighborhoods and created the infrastructures, the homes were built by individual buyers. Ching believed there was a strong market for house lots although the trend at the time was tract housing. His assessment proved correct when the first offering of 170 lots adjacent to Ft. Shafter sold out in two days.

Over the years, Moanalua has established itself as a desirable family neighborhood, with elementary, middle, and high schools within the community and shopping and entertainment conveniently close in Aiea and Pearl City.

Property Profiles owner and Principal Broker Berton Hamamoto, Past President of the Hawaii Association of Realtors, grew up in Moanalua Gardens and has sold numerous homes in the neighborhood. He recently built a multigenerational home there for family members. “Moanalua is a close-knit community with many original owners still in their homes…often a family home is passed along to younger generations. Those who decide to move elsewhere often choose to rent the property out rather than sell it…with a number of military bases in the area and Tripler and Shafter right next door, a big percentage of the renters are military families.

“There are parks and golf courses right in the neighborhood, including the Moanalua Golf Club, which is considered Hawaii’s oldest golf course, built in 1898 for Samuel Mills Damon. Aloha Stadium is just a few minutes away. Commuting to downtown Honolulu is facilitated by the availability of several routes in addition to the H1 Freeway.”

Hamamoto noted that many Moanalua homes, which are typically between 40 and 50 years old, are being remodeled by both existing owners and new buyers. “If a 50-year-old house in poor condition is well located with a nice view and priced right, for example under $500,000, there’s a good chance someone will buy it as a tear-down and invest another $300,000 or so in building a new home.”

There are currently 9 homes offered for sale in Moanalua; only 2 are active with the other 7 in escrow. At the low end is a 43-year-old Moanalua Valley home priced at $499,000. Top-ping the price range in Moanalua Gardens is an 8-year-old home listed at $1,198,000.

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