Ursula’s Hawaiian Adventure Continues

1923 female surfer

Illustration of a female surfer in a 1923 issue of “Judge”—five years before Ursula visited (and possibly surfed in) Hawaii

Beyond enjoying live music and dancing at her luxury hotel and checking out the waterfront activities on Waikiki beach, Ursula would have ventured further afield to experience more of Oahu, her host island.

Sutherland Oriental Shop logoShe might have walked down the street from her hotel to the Sutherland Oriental Shop in the new Waikiki business district to find her mother a special gift, like silk embroidery, handkerchiefs or a kimono. Or perhaps she stopped at the new restaurant nearby—Barbecue Inn—to try their toasted barbecued sandwiches, frogs legs, and Japanese tea.

There was no shortage of sights to see. At the time, streetcars provided convenient transportation to a variety of interesting points all over Honolulu. Ursula could have boarded the trolley at a stop right across from the Moana Hotel, where she and her friend Elizabeth Everhardy likely stayed.

1925 Honolulu streetcar

A Honolulu streetcar in 1925

Depending on the route she took, her itinerary might have included such sights as:

Iolani Palace postcard

Vintage 1940s postcard of the Royal Palace, now called Iolani Palace

  • The Royal Palace, the residence of Hawaiian monarchs until they were overthrown and Hawaii became a republic in 1894. Located on—where else?—King Street, it was now a government building where Ursula could have viewed portraits and souvenirs of the old royalty. On view elsewhere on the Palace grounds were rare documents, old treaties and relics, as well as the famous statue of King Kamehameha.
  • The Aquarium at Kapiolani Park, where she would have seen a world-class collection of colorful and exotic tropical fish and other marine animals.
  • The “Oriental” District, where visitors could experience Chinese, Japanese, Philippine and Korean business and cultures, from specialty shops selling silks, jade and porcelain, to Japanese tea houses and the famous fish market.
  • Moanalua Gardens, which offered visitors the beauty of a cultivated Hawaiian landscape, including rare tropical and semi-tropical flowers and other flora.
  • The Bishop Museum, where Ursula could have learned more about Hawaiian history and culture through their collections, including examples of the primitive art of feather work, rare feather cloaks, a grass house, model of a Hawaiian temple and other works.
  • The Kamehameha Schools, boarding schools (one for boys, one for girls) open to students of Hawaiian ancestry only.

A previous Mystery Dancer post (“Ursula’s Hawaiian Adventure”) featured a short home movie filmed by a tourist visiting Hawaii around the same time as Ursula. Here is another silent film travelogue of Hawaii, filmed in 1926, that shows some scenes like those Ursula would have seen, including Waikiki beach (at 3:10).

To reach some of the spectacular natural sights on Oahu, Ursula would have needed the use of an automobile or had to hire a driver. Wasn’t it lucky, then, that her friend Elizabeth had a car?! I discovered this upon looking up Miss Everhardy in the Honolulu newspapers.

The May 26, 1928 issue of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin announced that Elizabeth was one of eight new members added to the roll of the Honolulu Automobile Club in one day—a record—during the previous week. In addition to revealing that she was driving a Buick sedan, the article also confirmed that she was residing at the Moana Hotel, as I suspected!

I imagine Ursula and Elizabeth, perhaps with a few new friends, tooling around the island in the spacious automobile. They might have motored up to the Pali lookout for panoramic views of downtown Honolulu, the lush coast and the sheer cliffs of the Koolau range. Another option would have been driving up 2,010-foot tall Mount Tantalus, around hairpin curves, for breathtaking views of Diamond Head, downtown Honolulu and Punchbowl Crater.

1928 Buick ad

Ad for a Buick sedan, like the one Elizabeth drove, targeted to a female audience in a 1928 issue of “Ladies’ Home Journal”

Back then, an increasing number of tourists from the mainland shipped their cars to Hawaii as baggage or freight, so it’s possible that the Buick had accompanied the two young women there on the S.S. City of Honolulu. It’s equally possible that Elizabeth bought the car in Honolulu. If so, that may be how Ursula met a man who would eventually change the course of her life: Samuel B. Riddick, two years her junior, who was then working as a salesman at a local Buick dealership.

Tune in next week for more of Ursula’s adventure in Hawaii.

Hanging Out in Waikiki

Waikiki Beach in 1928

Waikiki Beach in 1928

Why did Ursula go to Hawaii? Unlike with her travels in Europe, I don’t have her own words to tell us her reasons, what her experiences were like or what she thought of the U.S. territory. There are only a few concrete details of her time in Hawaii; the rest must be left to our imaginations, based on her own life history and the events, music and culture of the day.

Ursula at college

Though her mother was always nearby, Ursula had gotten her first taste of independence as a student at University of California, Berkeley and then as a protégé of opera luminary Emma Calvé, studying in Europe. After a brief romance, Ursula married an American in Italy but split with her husband shortly thereafter, returning to California with her mother and living with her in Los Angeles after that.

Ad for ladies hats 1928

An ad for cloche hats, all the rage during the time Ursula was in Hawaii, from a 1928 issue “The Honolulu Advertiser”

Traveling to Hawaii with her friend Elizabeth and living there for a year gave Ursula a chance to experience even more freedom in an era—the Roaring Twenties—when single women in general were enjoying greater autonomy than ever before. Voting! More work choices! Short skirts (well, knee-length—short for the time) and shorn hair! Nude stockings! Cocktails! Petting parties…even sex! Cars! Jazz!

I’ve wondered whether Ursula’s divorce would have posed a social hindrance then, but according to the 1931 book “Only Yesterday—An Informal History of the 1920’s,” during that decade, divorced men and women in urban communities were socially accepted without question. “Indeed,” the author wrote, “there was often about the divorced person just enough of an air of unconventionality, just enough of a touch of scarlet, to be considered rather dashing and desirable.”

In the past, several California newspaper articles had mentioned how charming and popular Ursula was among the “younger set,” and I have no doubt she continued to be so in Waikiki. I imagine her stylishly dressed and coiffed, with an elegant and sophisticated (having traveled abroad), but open, air about her.

Evening gown ad 1928

Illustration in an ad for evening gowns of the sort Ursula might have worn, from a 1928 issue of the “Honolulu Star-Bulletin”

The European travelogue she wrote for her sorority’s quarterly journal made it clear that she approached new places with curiosity, enjoyed seeing the sights and appreciated natural beauty. Hawaii would not have disappointed her!

Island life offered plenty to do, and Ursula didn’t have to go far. Sunbathing, swimming, riding surfboards, body surfing and canoeing were favorite pastimes at Waikiki beach. Ursula and Elizabeth could have rented surfboards right at their hotel’s bath house, and paid for expert surfing lessons and Outrigger canoe rides from the famed Waikiki “beach boys.” With nicknames like Chick, Rabbit and Steamboat Mokuahi, beach boys also fished, kept the beach clean and safe, wove hats, and entertained tourists with story, music and song. A 1932 Honolulu souvenir map explains:

Beach boys with their ukuleles and steel guitars add distinctively Hawaiian atmosphere to Waikiki—their Sunday night concerts on the Moana pier, featuring the songs of old Hawaii, are famous.

Dancing 1928

A couple dancing in the late 1920s

Ursula would have enjoyed more live music, and dancing, at her hotel. The Moana Hotel Orchestra played there regularly under the direction of composer, arranger, and performer Johnny Noble, dubbed “The Hawaiian Jazz King.” According to a program on the Territorial Airwaves, the band achieved a mellow, tropical sound with saxophones, stringed instruments and drums, but no horns. Johnny Noble was known for developing compositions that mixed traditional Hawaiian music and American ragtime (jazz). The nearby Royal Hawaiian Hotel also put on music shows, including performances by the Royal Hawaiian Girls Glee Club.

Moana Hotel Orchestra 1928

Johnny Noble (seated) and the Moana Hotel Orchestra around 1928

Here’s a song that Johnny and his orchestra—”his Hawaiians”—recorded in 1929:


If you’re interested in exploring the history of Hawaiian music, including listening to recordings of 78rpm records, check out Territorial Airwaves, a great source.

More to come next week!