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Friendship Garden is a ten-acre park which is sited at the rear of Keana in Kaneohe on the island of Oahu, and is the mauka terminus of the Kokokahi residential subdivision. Planted as a forest area, the park is penetrated by lower and upper loop trails, both of which are unpaved, and is characterized by mature vegetation, with different plant varities located in distinct areas. The park's character is further defined by its stone entry steps, two wood structures, and several Asian-style masonry objects. The property is in very good condition and retains its historic integrity of design, materials, craftsmanship, location, setting, feelings and associations.
Friendship Garden is significant at a statewide level for its associations with the development of the Kokokahi tract, and the Pan-Pacific Movement. It is also significant for its associations with Theodore Richards and as a good example of landscape design in Hawaii during the 1930s. The period of significance commences with the platting of Kokokahi as a subdivision and concludes with the death of Theodore Richards.
The historical information on this website is drawn substantially from the Garden's historic registration application. Research by Don Hibbard.
The original garden design of 1927 is by landscape architect Ricard Tong and Francis Bowers. A set of fifteen, broad lava rock steps with six inch risers, provide a gradual transition from the street to the park. The stone steps were former curbstones salvaged when Beretania Street was widened between Punahou and McCully streets. The steps lead to a terrace held in place by a three foot lava rock wall, which is faced with stone salvaged from the former Waipahu Irrigation ditch. At the terrace the steps fan outward to make an amphitheater-like, four tier seating area. The entrance steps and seating area were designed by landscape architect Janet Gillmar. African tulip (Spathodea campanulata), Washingtonia palms (Washingtonia robusta), milo (Thespesia populnea), mock orange (Murraya paniculata) , and a monkey pod (Samanea saman) form the canopy for this area, while blue thunbergia vine (Thunbergia laurifolia)and Mexican creeper (Antigonon leptopus) provide a backdrop. A large natural stone dominates the left corner, and a small concrete bench is located here. In the right corner stands a three foot high, cylindrical stone basin, on which is inscribed in Japanese, “Kokokahi 1936---Doshisha”. The latter dates from 1999 and is a replica of the original stone basin, which was given to the garden in 1936 as a gift from Doshisha University. Fearing for its safety, the original was removed in the 1960s, and now sits at the entry to the Japanese garden at the East-West Center. An orientation bulletin board and trail maps await visitors under the Garden's maintenance shed. The shed is a former camper cabin designed by architect Ray Morris that was relocated from the former bay front campground.
The entry trail ascends the ridge between the two intermittent stream beds before it joins the lower loop trail. The floor of the valley is vegetated with Brazilian bower bush (Adhatoda cydoniaefolia), while philodendron (Philodendron sp) covers much of the hillside. The mature canopy includes Christmas berry (Schinus terebinthifolius), silver oak (Grevillea robusta), ironwood (Casuarina equisetifolia), octopus tree (Brassaia actinophylla), and kukui (Aleurites moluccana). Up the trail is a second set of 11 stone steps. At the top of the second set of steps is a small opening to the side of the trail, which is presided over by a large Chinese banyan (Ficus retusa) whose roots drape down a hillside as imitating a waterfall to form a scenic backdrop for this area. A small pavilion may have once stood here, as some remnants of what appear to be a concrete footing are evident. The trail continues upward, past a cup of gold (Solandra hartwegii), and leads to a giant banyan (Ficus benghalensis), which dominates the left valley and marks the upper extent of the lower loop trail. Prior to reaching the banyan, a rock marks the intersection of the lower loop trail with the upper loop trail, and a 30 foot long stone and mortar retaining wall adds structural stability to the trail. Just before the banyan on the uphill side of the trail is a cluster of coffee plants.
At the banyan, the lower loop trail crosses over a simple slab, concrete bridge that spans the intermittent stream and then ascends up the right slope of the valley, aided by a set of 7 stone steps. The trail passes a cup and saucer bush (Holmskioldia sanguinea), levels out, and continues around a bend to an area where Kaneohe Bay may be viewed. An Asian style masonry lantern is at this point, standing in front of a Chinese banyan. The pathway leading to this point is bordered by plumbago (Plumbago capensis) and night blooming cereus (Hylocereus undatus) climb the trees. From here the trail leads to a Japanese pavilion bridge. This bridge spans the intermittent stream that flows down the right side of the garden. The pavilion has a hipped-gable roof supported by four posts, with plank seats on either side. It sits on a stone, round arched bridge. When the stream is active, a waterfall is behind the pavilion, flowing under the bridge to a pool below. A stone Japanese lantern stands to the side of the pool. At one end of the bridge is a clump of golden bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris) and golden dew drop (Duranta repens), and Bamboo palms (Rhapis excelsa) are to the other. Vandals at some point tipped the pavilion’s decaying wood superstructure into the pool, and the pavilion was rebuilt in 1984. The original tea house, based on Chinese prototypes, was designed by Mark Potter. The second incarnation of the tea house, based on the original, was designed by Janet Gillmar. Beyond the pavilion the lower loop trail goes through a grove of lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus maculata ) and then commences its descent back to the entrance of the gardens. The upper loop trail connects to the lower loop trail in the eucalyptus grove. At a bend in the lower loop trail, just beyond the eucalyptus grove is a small alcove, where the Doshisha University stone basin originally stood. Bamboo palms (Rhapis excelsa) border this area. As the trail descends it passes two allspice trees (Pimenta dioica), a royal poinciana (Delonix regia), a Bo tree (Ficus religiosa), and goes through an area of ironwood and brassaia with Chinese violet (Asystasia gangetica) serving as a ground cover. Near the road it emerges into a grove of macadamia nut trees (Macadamia integrifolia), with bamboo (Sinocalamus beecheyanus) to one side. Near its terminus the trail passes under a small cabin which extends from the hillside and is supported by wood posts. A stone bench is under this board and batten cabin. Stone steps lead up to the entry to the cabin, which is used for storage of maintenance equipment. The single wall, gable roofed cabin was originally located down on the Kokokahi camp property, next to an amphitheater. It was used as overnight accommodations for campers. When that area was subdivided for houses, two cabins were salvaged, and from their materials this cabin was reconstructed in 1985-86 and placed in use as a tool shed. It retains the original dimensions and style of the earlier cabins, including the ornate wood screens that cover the rectangular openings that run along the top of the walls on each side.
The upper loop trail accesses the higher elevations of the garden. It branches off the lower loop trail on the left side of the park by a large rock and gradually ascends up through a bamboo grove (Sinocalamus beecheyanus). At the end of the bamboo is a natural rock outcrop, on which a small pavilion once stood. From here the trail winds through an area vegetated by silver oak, brassaia, Christmas berry, strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum), and red Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis). In the course of the uphill climb Chinese violet becomes the predominant ground cover, with some Jamaica vervain (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) also present. Where the upper loop trail levels off, a branch trail goes off to the left and leads to the ridge of the mountain. The top lookout, approximately 400 feet in elevation, offers a panoramic view of Kaneohe Bay and the Koolau mountains, and parts of Kailua also may be glimpsed. Here the branch trail connects with a ridgeline trail which ascends to an upper elevation of 795 feet.
The upper loop trail, upon leveling off, passes a line of Cook Island pines (Araucaria columnaris). From that point forward, much of the remainder of the upper loop trail was lost over time to erosion, but was reconstructed during the 1990s by Ted Talbott in memory of his grandfather Paul Dudley. The trail wends its way past a hillside covered in plumbago, and a stand of swamp mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta) with a lauae fern (Microsorium scolopendria) ground cover, affording a grand view of the Koolau mountains before rounding a bend and descending 17 stone steps to commence the journey down to its intersection with the lower loop trail at the eucalyptus grove. As in other parts of the garden philodendron forms a ground cover and Christmas berry, silver oak, and octopus tree contribute to a mature canopy.
Friendship Garden retains its historic integrity, although some modifications have occurred over time. All the vegetation in the garden is original or self-propagated, with the exception of two trees, the monkey pod at the entry and the Bo tree (Ficus religiosa), which stands near the right side terminus of the lower trail. The Bo tree derives from a cutting from the tree at Foster Botanical Garden, which reputedly derives from the Bo Tree in India under which Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment.
From the intact trees and shrubs the original design intention of the garden is still very evident. The entry to the garden is new, having been made in 1976, following the design of landscape architect Janet Gillmar. The new entry was necessitated by the development of houses on either side of the garden in the 1950s, which destroyed parts of the original lower loop trail. Originally the lower loop trail commenced at the present entry, but went off immediately to the left, over the intermittent stream by way of a Chinese style bridge with red railings, before proceeding up the hillside. The construction of the house to the left of the garden resulted in the destruction of the bridge and the covering of a segment of the trail. The bridge’s stone abutment is still visible behind the small concrete bench. Similarly, the construction of a house on the right side of the garden resulted in the loss of a portion of the loop trail where it returned to exit onto Kokokahi Place on the right side of the garden. Russ Porter in 1979 constructed the new segment of trail which connects the lower loop trail back to the entry on the right side, thus avoiding the precipitous dead end to the trail that had resulted when the new house lot had been bulldozed. The relocated YWCA cabin was placed in the garden in 1985. Aside from the need to reconfigure the garden’s access, the replacement of the pavilion over the Japanese bridge, and the reconfiguration of a segment of the upper loop trail in the late 1990s, the historic character of the 10.08 acre garden remains unchanged except for the natural on-going growth and regeneration of the plant life.
Friendship Garden is an integral part of the Kokokahi Tract, which was developed in 1927 as a consciously designed Christian, multi-ethnic community based on a belief in the brotherhood of mankind. The name of the subdivision, Kokokahi, translates “one blood,” and recalls a quotation from Chapter XVII of The Bible’s book of Acts, “God has made of one blood all nations of men.” The inspiration of Theodore Richards, the subdivision was intended to demonstrate that all the peoples of Hawaii could live together in harmony.
To make this, at the time seemingly idealistic, vision a reality, Theodore and Mary Atherton Richards in 1926 sold lands they owned in the Kauluwela district, which was roughly bounded by King and School, and Nuuanu and Liliha streets. They used the realized moneys as a down payment to acquire from Kaneohe Ranch the 39 acres of land which would eventually become Kokokahi. The total price for the land was $45,000, and in 1927 the valley was platted with 87 lots. Richards envisioned Kokokahi as a Christian convention and recreation center, and vacation settlement. He established a camp at the lower elevation of the valley, and private house lots were laid out along the winding road which was constructed up the valley. The top of the valley was left undeveloped as an open space park for hiking, and was named Friendship Garden.
Church organizations were given the first option on the house lots, and then the remainder were sold on a quota basis to members of Hawaii’s different ethnic groups. To assure that all ethnic groups in Hawaii were represented in the new community, numbers were drawn by representatives of Hawaii’s ethnic groups, Hawaiian, Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino, Chinese, and Anglo-Saxon, to determine the order in which house lots would be selected. Each group was allocated a certain quantity of lots in accordance with the proportion of the population it represented. Covering the opening of Kokokahi, the July 3, 1927 Honolulu Advertiser called it, “one of the most unique real estate, as well as sociological ventures ever undertaken in Hawaii.”
Ethnically based committees screened potential purchasers within their ethnic group, and an executive committee granted a final approval, to assure that all community members were of high Christian character. All resales also had to be approved by the executive committee. By November 1927, 23 of the 58 house lots had been sold. The executive committee for 1929 included: H. Metcalf, Ah Sun Lung, L.R. Killiam, S. Fukuda, H.C. Smith, C. H. Min, and Yap Kui.
By the end of 1928 the roadway and waterlines for the subdivision were completed. Thanks to donations, the Camp Kokokahi’s modest facilities were expanded in 1930 and 1931, when ten, one-room cabins, called the Kauhale (small village) were built following plans by Mark Potter, who also designed an amphitheater for the camp. The camp grounds and amphitheater were demolished in the 1980s, making way for a housing development. A cabin built from the materials of two of the Kauhale cabins and following their design and detailing, sits today in Friendship Garden.
The upper lands, which were covered with lantana and haole koa, were gradually planted with a variety of trees, including eucalyptus. silver oak, iron wood, Cook Island pines, and monkey pod. Many of the plants were donated by friends, as Richards accepted any plants that were offered, and a nursery was established to grow young trees to transplant. In 1938, Star Bulletin reporter May Day Lo found a Japanese garden “already flourishing” with its lily pond, iron storks, and stone basin. The Chinese garden’s landscaping and planting had just begun. “Rustic benches conveniently located at various places invite the wanderer to rest and listen to the wind which is playing in the trees before dashing up the pali. It is in such surroundings that the spirit of Kokokahi has flourished.” [Lo, 1938]
The development of Kokokahi, with its conscious implementation of the idea of “one blood,” is closely associated with the Pan Pacific Movement, which laid the foundations for Hawaii’s acceptance of a cosmopolitan society, where all were treated with respect. The movement proclaimed the islands to be the “Crossroads of the Pacific,” where East met West in harmony, and promoted multicultural accord in Hawaii as well as international understanding throughout the Pacific. In large part this frame of mind was publicized and actively catalyzed by Alexander Hume Ford through his monthly Mid-Pacific Magazine (1911-1936), and the Hands Around the Pacific Club (organized in 1911). One spin-off of the latter was the 12-12-12 Club, which periodically invited a dozen representatives from several of the Islands’ different ethnic groups to meet over dinner to discuss racial misunderstandings and issues relating to Hawaii in a successful effort to gain each others’ perspectives. Hawaii’s religious institutions strongly supported the Pan-Pacific movement, and architectural embodiments of this broad minded thinking blossomed in the 1920s and 1930s in such buildings as the Chinese Christian Church , the Korean Christian Church (no longer extant), Makiki Christian Church (HR), and Church of the Crossroads (HR, NR), as well as the Alexander & Baldwin Building (HR, NR).
Today the Kokokahi tract is dotted with houses of more recent vintage. Only two houses from the pre-war period still remain in the community. Camp Kokokahi and its amphitheater no longer exist, the YWCA’s main building, which was designed by Claude Stiehl, has been greatly altered. As such Friendship Garden stands as one of the few tangible reminders of pre-war Kokokahi. As a privately owned park open to all the people of Hawaii, it embodies Richards’ belief in the brotherhood of mankind, of east meeting west in a harmonious manner in Hawaii, which initially motivated the development of this community.
Friendship Garden is also significant for its associations with Theodore Richards (1867-1948). Recalling his life, the March 29, 1948 Honolulu Advertiser declared, “His was the interest and faith in the many races of Hawaii and in their ability to live together in peace and harmony. He understood the needs and problems of tolerance, and spent his life here in devotion to his ideals.” A school teacher and Christian worker, Richards was born in Montclair, New Jersey, and graduated from Wesleyan University in 1888. He attended Columbia Law School in 1889, and later returned to Wesleyan to receive a MA in 1892. He came to Hawaii in 1889 as a teacher for the first class to graduate from Kamehameha School for Boys, and also served as an athletic coach and music teacher. In 1892 he married Mary C. Atherton, and two years later, at the age of twenty six, he was appointed principal of Kamehameha Schools, a position he held until 1899. In that year he became field secretary for the Hawaiian Board of Missions, and in 1900 became the treasurer for that organization, a position which he held for the next 25 years. In addition, he founded the Honolulu Bible Training School in 1905, serving as that institution’s superintendent for over a quarter century. He also was a trustee and the first treasurer for Mid-Pacific Institute, and a member of the first board of directors for the Honolulu Theological Seminary. He had an abiding love of music and formed the Kamehameha School Glee Club, compiled and edited the Hawaiian hymn book, Lei Hoonani, and instituted a summer music school at Kokokahi. In addition he served as the publisher and associate editor of The Friend from 1903 until 1920, and was very active in the YMCA. He and his wife also founded the Friend Peace Scholarship fund, which aided many Hawaii students who wanted to study in Asia, Europe and Africa, and also enabled foreign exchange students to come to the United States.
Friendship Garden is also significant for its landscape design, being typical of its period in its use of plant materials, method of construction, craftsmanship, and design. Richard Tongg, the first landscape architect of Chinese descent known to practice in the United States, helped lay out Friendship Garden, as also did landscape architect Francis Bowers. Tongg certainly had a hand in the Chinese plantings, and his delight in using blue colored flowers, which he noted was the rarest of all floral colors, is apparent in the presence of plumbago, blue thumburgia, Chinese violets, and the blue flowered golden dew drops within the garden. The plant selection reflects the landscaping predilections of the period, as the more exotic and colorful plants such as heliconia, are absent from the garden, while such plants as cup and saucer, Brazilian bower bush, and cup of gold appear in the garden, but are rarely observed in contemporary landscapes. In addition, many of the plantings appear to have been carefully selected as, like the desired multi-ethnic human population, they reflect a blending of specimens from various nations, with plants with Hawaiian, Chinese and Japanese associations readily evident. The winding pathways, and less manicured approach to the development of Friendship Garden reflected not only possible monetary constraints, but also the romantic predilections of the time, and the general attitude concerning spiritual communion with nature.
Because of its distance from Honolulu, a little under a one hour drive by automobile in 1928, following improvements made to Kaneohe Bay Drive, the Kokokahi subdivision essentially served as a retreat from Honolulu with the YWCA and Camp Kokokahi being focal points for activity. However, by 1937 the newspapers were referring to Kokokahi as a suburban area, and 40 houses stood on the valley’s hillsides. By 1955 Kokokahi had become a residential district with 77 owners living in the tract.
Ownership of the non-residential parts of Kokokahi was transferred to the Kokokahi Community Trust, and following Theodore Richards’ death Friendship Garden was neglected and fell into disrepair during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1973 Jack and Janet Gillmar were able to obtain a fifty year lease on the property, with the understanding that they would form a non-profit organization to manage and maintain the garden, which would eventually obtain ownership of the garden. In 1974 the Kokokahi Community Trust was dissolved and its assets, including Friendship Garden, were given to the YWCA. In 1978 the Friendship Garden Foundation was established as a 501(c)(3), and in the following year the Foundation obtained a lease for the garden. Finally, in 1998, the organization acquired fee simple title to Friendship Garden. The Foundation is intent upon preserving the garden’s historic character and maintaining the garden as an open space. To this end, in 2002 the Foundation successfully petitioned the City and County of Honolulu to down zone the property to preservation, and the placement of the property on the Hawaii and National Registers of Historic Places is viewed as another level of legal protection for the property.
Theodore and Mary Atherton Richards bought the Kokokahi Tract from Kaneohe Ranch in 1927. The property was subdivided into 87 lots. House lots were distributed in a racial/ethnic lottery to create Hawaii's (perhaps the U.S.'s) first intentional inter-racial/inter-ethnic subdivision. The church camp (now the YWCA) occupied several lots, including one reserved for Friendship Garden.
Friendship Garden plantings began in the early 1930s. In 1934, the Rev. Frank Scudder's Mystic Message youth church group planted trees dedicated to living heroes and heroines of Hawaii. Two professional landscape architects, Richard Tongg, FASLA, and Francis Bowers helped to lay out Hawaiian, Chinese and Japanese Gardens. In 1936, Doshisha University of Japan donated a 750-pound ornamental stone basin in commemoration of the Richards' Friend Peace Scholarships. The original basin is currently part of the East West Center's Japanese Garden.
Jack and Janet Gillmar leased the Garden (at $1/year for 50 years) from the Kokokahi Community Trust on 7 February 1973 in order to restore the Garden fabric that had deteriorated in the 1950s and 1960s. Jack Gillmar is the grandson of Frank Scudder. The Kokokahi Community Trust was the successor in interest to Theodore and Mary Richards. Robert Midkiff, their grandson and chairman of the Trust, designed the lease in such a way that, if the Gillmars restored the Garden and set up a non-profit foundation to care for the Garden's future, the ownership of the Garden's land could pass to the foundation.
When the YWCA of Oahu received title to the lands owned by Trust on 27 March 1974, the documents recognized the Gillmar lease and option.
The formal Garden entrance steps were constructed in 1976 of old curbstones originally from King Street between Punahou and McCully. The steps were designed by Janet Gillmar, a landscape architect, and installed by Watanabe & Sons. The Gillmars donated the improvement.
The Friendship Garden Foundation was established by the Gillmars on 21 November 1978 and received its 501©3 IRS status on 7 March 1979. The Garden lease was transferred to the Foundation on 7 June 1979.
An easement purchase of 10,000 sq ft, over parcel TMK 4-5-31-77 for $10,000, was concluded on 18 July 1979. The easement made possible the reconstruction of a portion of the lower loop trail that had been cut off in the 1950s. Funding was made possible by the Atherton and Cooke Foundations and community contributions. A neighbor, Russell Porter, re-built the missing part of the loop trail.
The Bridge Pavilion (Tea House) underwent extensive repair in 1984. Ruth Scudder Gillmar underwrote the project cost.
The Tool Shed Shelter was constructed between 1985-86. Two original Kokokahi camper cottages were de-constructed in 1985 with enough lumber retained to build a replica of one cottage as a tool shed and shelter. Walter Ishikawa and Masaru Okamura, who also repaired the Bridge Pavilion, were the carpenters involved. The Gillmars donated the improvement.
Major trail improvements, made possible by the donated labor of neighbor Ted Talbott, began in the early 1990s and ran throughout the decade. Ted realigned and rebuilt the upper loop trail with its marvelous views of the Koolaus and Kaneohe Bay.
The land title to Friendship Garden was transferred from the YWCA of Oahu to the Foundation on 8 September 1998. Robert Midkiff intervened with the YWCA on behalf of the Garden to secure the fee title.
Landscape contractor James Nakata installed a replica of the Doshisha stone basin and further landscape improvements which took place during the summer of 1999.
In the fall of 2001 James Richards, another Richards grandson, and Robert Midkiff laid plans for a Friendship Garden Endowment. The Atherton Family Foundation donated $25,000 to seed its creation. By 2002 that initial grant was matched by the community. The endowment continues to grow through investments and additional donations. This fund is reserved for future major repairs to the two historic garden structures. Volunteers care for the day-to-day maintenance of the Garden.
The Garden was listed on State's Register of Historic Places, 15 March 2008.
2016 The Garden was added to the National Register of Historic Places. A tree fall severely damaged the tea house roof, Mark Mench, Bobby Flores and friends re-built the roof.
Allen, Gwenfread, Bridge Builders, The Story of Theodore and Mary Atherton Richards, Honolulu: Hawaii Conference Foundation, 1970.
Black, Cobey, “Kokokahi, The Possible Dream,” Honolulu: Kokokahi Commuity Trust, 1973.
Hibbard, Don. “Hawaii---The Cross Roads of the Pacific,” CRM, vol. 21, no. 8, 1998.
Lo, May Day, “Kokokahi, A Decade of Christian Service,” Honolulu Star Bulletin, March 26, 1938, section 3, p. 1.
Nellist, George, Men of Hawaii, Honolulu: Star-Bulletin, 1925, p. 733
Nellist, George, Men of Hawaii, Honolulu: Star-Bulletin, 1930, p. 411
“Kokokahi Open to Inspection in Two Weeks,” Honolulu Advertiser, June 19, 1927, p. 12.
“Inter-Racial Tract Opened at Kaneohe,” Honolulu Advertiser, July 3, 1927, p. 15.
“Kokokahi, Oahu’s Christian Inter-Racial Development,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 6, 1927, p. 10.
“Plan Theater at Kokokahi Community,” Honolulu Advertiser, June 7, 1931, p. 12.
“Suburban House Lots Over Kokokahi Way,” Honolulu Advertiser, April 25, 1937, p. 13.
“Theodore Richards Dies on Eve of 81st Birthday,” Honolulu Advertiser, March 28, 1948, p. 1.
“Friendship Center at Kokokahi,” Honolulu Advertiser, July 17, 1955, magazine section, p. 4.
“Friendship Garden Grows from Its 72-Year-Old Roots,” Honolulu Advertiser, April 25, 2002, page A6.
“Spend $10,000 for Kokokahi,” Honolulu Star Bulletin, January 9, 1929, p. 11.
“Kokokahi Proves Interesting Stop During Sunday Driving,” Honolulu Star Bulletin,
February 22, 1930, section 2, p. 1.
“Funeral Services Tuesday for Dr. Theodore Richards,” Honolulu Star Bulletin, March 29, 1948, p. 1.
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PO Box 2902 - Honolulu, HI 96802