Plantation Camp to “Dream City”

 By Wayne Smith

 In the early 1950’s a new American dream was sweeping the nation. It was a booming post-war economy and the idea of owning a home was fast becoming the foundation of a new way of life in the country; even in the then US. Territory of Hawaii.

For more than a century, the greater portion of the islands’ population, by far, derived its economic sustenance from the sugar economy. Almost everyone worked for the sugar companies or in some way depended on the sugar economy and the old ideas of the sugar plantation. On Maui the sugar mills and plantations provided company stores, company hospitals and clinics, company transportation and, most importantly, company housing for their employees. Few owned their own homes and fewer still thought they ever would.

From the earliest days of Hawaii’s sugar era, roughly in the mid-1850s, foreign workers began coming to the Hawaiian Islands in great numbers as contract laborers. The early malahini or newcomers  primarily came here to work in the cane fields and mills. They arrived in waves from around the globe as the growers scoured the world for cheap and willing workers for their fields. In the early days these disparate strangers - Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans, Portuguese and Puerto Ricans - were mostly housed, rent-free, in plantation camps spread around the island in close proximity to one of the nearly 20 mills and growing plantations which dotted the landscape from Hana to Wailuku, and Ulupalakua to Lahaina..

With the plantation philosophy and mentality firmly in place, the owners housed their imported laborers in camps, usually segregated by ethnic groups. Camp names reflected physical locations or other distinguishing characteristics. Some took on the names of older Hawaiian villages such as Puunene and Paia. Spanish Camp housed Puerto Ricans and Portuguese, Hawaiian Camp was home to native Hawaiians, and Nashiwa Camp was for Japanese. Stable, Pump and Depot camps were named because of nearby landmarks. Honeymooners Camp was for newly weds, of course.

The camps were a way of life. In many ways they represented an improved lifestyle for the employees who had come from impoverished backgrounds from some of the poorest countries in the world to find a better life for themselves and their families. While primitive in many ways, the camps were not slums by any means. They provided a level of comfort and convenience previously unknown to most of the immigrants because the plantation owners valued the workers and needed their efforts to grow, harvest and mill their sugar cane and pineapples.

Some still remember the days, before World War II, when Central Maui plantation towns like Puunene and Paia each had more than 10,000 residents housed in surrounding camps. Together the two plantation towns accounted for about two-fifths of the island’s population. Maui had fewer than 36,000 residents in those heady days.

WWII changed all that. The military began to spend enormous amounts of money in Hawaii to press the war in the Pacific. Sugar cane workers by the thousands .joined the military or were called to work in shipyards, supply depots and other essential civilian positions to support the war effort.  The plantation camps were drained as workers sought better pay and experienced better living conditions away from the camps that had been their only homes.

When the war ended a new era was birthed on Maui and the other islands of Hawaii. Veterans had the promise of low interest loans from the G.I bill, and others had saved money and they wanted to spend their largess on better housing. The problem was that there were very few houses to buy. During the Great Depression before the war, the war years, and the post-war depression - the better part of 20 years - virtually no new housing was built in Hawaii. The result was a terrible housing shortage.

Maui’s sugar plantations and mills were faltering. The war years had taken a toll on their physical plants and operations and had opened the US to cheaper sugar imports. Plantation owners began to see the potential for developing housing on their vast acreage and diversifying into development and building to meet the demands for new housing in a new economy.

The era of the camps was over, too. It seemed that post-war Hawaii, including Maui, had catapulted from a sleepy, plantation-oriented society into a modern, automobile-oriented, housing-starved society overnight. Paradise of the Pacific magazine reported in 1950 that more than $100 million worth of new housing developments were underway in Hawaii.

The biggest project of the day was the so-called ”Dream City” of Kahului. Dream City was to be 4,000 new homes developed by A&B Properties, a division of Alexander & Baldwin Inc. on former sugar cane lands around the company's harbor and warehousing facilities in Kahului.

According to an article in A&B's publication, Ampersand, the company commissioned one of America's leading city planners, Harland Bartholomew and Associates, of St. Louis, to draw up a master plan. The new area was not to be a "company town," but an attractive, livable, modern community. It would not be rushed into existence, but allowed a 25-year period of "natural growth."

In 1949, Kahului Development Co. (KD Co.), a new subsidiary, began construction and people began moving into their new homes in 1950. Prices in the first phases of construction ranged from $6,000 to $9,200 for a fee simple house and quarter acre lot. Terms were $600 down and $50 per month. (See accompanying story)

Again quoting Ampersand, "Dream City fever quickly spread, and at its peak, new houses were being sold every two minutes." While the plan originated to house the company's workers at HC&S's (Hawaii Commercial and Sugar) mills and plantations, the company did not limit ownership to their own employees.

Kahului' and its Dream City quickly became one of the first and most successful new  towns west of the Rockies and the first in Hawaii.

At the same time it was developing the Dream City housing, KD Co. branched into commercial development. Kahului could never, in the company's view, become a real community without shopping facilities. So, in 1951 the company built and opened the Kahului shopping Center - the first shopping center to be built west of the Mississippi.

Dream City continues today as a viable community,  fulfilling the vision of its developers. Many of its original thousand square foot cinder block (hollow tile) or redwood plank-sided homes still remain unchanged after nearly fifty years of service to Maui families. Others have been modified or reconstructed to accommodate growing and changing families.

For many who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to participate in the American dream of owning their own home "Dream City" offered a solution that has lasted for nearly half a century.

Many of the original owners remain in their homes because of their convenience and, because Maui's property values have soared since their purchase, making it difficult to move into newer housing. Homes which have changed little since they were built, today sell for $150,000 and up: more than 20 times the original investment of the proud early participants a new way of life exemplified by Kahului’s Dream City, truly an American success story.


A Dream Story

 By Wayne Smith

 Dream City was the entry point to home ownership for nearly 4,000 Maui residents including James “Jimmy” Lawrence and his wife Lucille. They were among the first to move into the massive development which eventually provided homes for over 4,000 families, ,and the Lawrences still live in their home on W. Papa Avenue.

Actually, Jimmy bought the home before he and Lucille married. He was a young probationary police officer with the Maui police department in 1954 and in his early twenties.

Contemplating his new career, and being a young man, his first thought was to buy a new car with his new exorbitant income of $70 per week. It seemed the perfect way for him “to meet lots of girls,” a prevailing interest for most men his age.

Enter Dream City. Jimmy saw an advertisement in the Maui News for the new development. The ad promised 1,020 square foot homes with terms of $600 down and payments of $50.00 per month. The homes had wonderful modern amenities at the time found only in those of Maui’s very wealthy. The modern conveniences included built in ironing boards and laundry hampers; double compartment kitchen sinks; tub/shower combinations; extra large broom closets and inside laundries. All these niceties and more in a three bedroom, two bath, redwood plank home proved too much for Jimmy.  Always the practical type, he reasoned that if he had a home of his own, he’d have someplace to entertain the girls he met in his old car.

He walked into the Kahului Development Co.’s sales office with $50 in his wallet. Wearing his most sincere look and in his most sincere voice, he told Mrs. Cooper, the woman in charge of the office, that he wanted to buy a house but only had $50 in his wallet at the moment. Although it was a stretch, Mrs. Cooper decided to help the young police officer purchase his first home. She called the police chief - that’s the way Maui was at the time, and remains in many ways today - to see if the young officer was likely to be retained on the force. Given an affirmative answer by the chief, Mrs. Cooper bent rules and procedures to help Jimmy buy his first and only house with his $50. down payment.

Jimmy and Lucille met shortly after his purchase and they began their life together in their new home.

Now, nearly half a century later, they still live in their dream home in Dream City. They’ve raised three sons in their dream home, added more space to it, and kept it up-to-date with remodeling and redecorating. Their quarter acre lot is landscaped to the point of finding it difficult to find a place to plant more trees, flowers or shrubs.

Jimmy rose though the Maui police department ranks for 34 years before he retired in 1988 as Assistant Chief. Because of his investigative skills, Jimmy had spent most of his career as a detective and headed the department for years. Lucille, in addition to being wife and mother worked outside the home as a nurse and is now retired.

They both attest that it has been a good life in their Dream City home. Jimmy thinks it was the best $50 dollars he ever spent. And Lucille agrees.



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