Settling In To Honolulu

1930s Hawaii tourist brochure

Cover of a 1930s Hawaii Tourist Bureau brochure

If you’re new to Mystery Dancer, welcome! The best place to start is at the beginning and go from there.

A HAWAII TOURIST BUREAU BROCHURE published not long after Ursula traveled to Hawaii boasts, “Visitors are learning rapidly that Hawaii is too beautiful for only a cursory visit, and many of those in circumstances to linger have willingly allowed a casual visit to melt into an endless sojourn.”

This seems to have been the case with Ursula. I don’t know how long she intended to stay in the U.S. territory when she first set out. Perhaps she planned to return to California after a couple of months, but found the Islands so alluring, she felt compelled to settle in indefinitely. I do know that after living at the Moana Hotel for several months, Ursula and Elizabeth’s circles widened beyond beach-going, sightseeing, and hotel reveling; they started to integrate their lives into Honolulu as residents rather than tourists.

The 1928-1929 Directory of Honolulu and the Territory of Hawaii revealed that at some point in 1928, the two young women decided to move out of their Waikiki hotel and into a nearby apartment building. They shared apartment 46D Cleghorn Drive, an easy walk to the beach and streetcar line. This would have been after the end of May, as that was when the news item appeared about Elizabeth belonging to the auto club and living at the Moana Hotel.

1928 Waikiki map

A 1928 Honolulu map zoomed in on Waikiki beach (and Diamond Head at lower right).

Though I don’t know the exact timing of their move to more permanent quarters, it is possible their relocation was spurred by an event beyond their control: In mid-July, they would have learned that their hotel planned to close for five months, beginning August 1st. Just a few blocks away, a new luxury hotel, the Royal Hawaiian, had opened to great fanfare the previous year, and there was not yet enough tourist business during the fall and summer months to fill two large hotels year-round. In its announcement of the temporary closing, The Honolulu Advertiser said hotel general manager Arthur Benaglia expected that “within a year or two the all-year travel to Hawaii will be heavy enough to justify keeping both hotels open with full staffs on duty.”

Royal Hawaiian 1928

The Royal Hawaiian dominated Waikiki beach in 1928

The hotel, which reopened New Year’s Eve, would take a little longer than that to sustain year-round operations, but imagine Arthur’s astonishment if he could see Honolulu today! To give you an idea of just how greatly tourism has grown in the 90 years since Ursula lived there, the island of Oahu counted 71 hotel properties last year, with most of those located in Waikiki. (And that’s not counting the additional condo hotels, timeshare properties, B&Bs or rental units.) (Source: 2017 Visitor Plant Inventory, Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Modern Waikiki skyline with Royal Hawaiian hotel

Today’s Waikiki skyline. At center, the now diminutive Royal Hawaiian hotel—the “Pink Palace of the Pacific—is dwarfed by other hotels and high-rise buildings.

1928 Honolulu directory listing

Ursula and Elizabeth share an apartment in Waikiki in 1928

The news article noted that bookings made for Moana Hotel during its closing would be transferred to the Royal Hawaiian; however, Ursula and Elizabeth chose to live in a place of their own. The lease of the apartment they shared was likely in Ursula’s name, as the city directory recorded her as the householder (denoted by the letter “h”). They probably paid monthly rent in the neighborhood of $50 to $60, which is what apartments in a building right across the street from theirs were going for then, as I found in the classified ads section. Most Honolulu apartments were leased fully furnished, some including silverware and linens.

Interestingly, the directory did not list an occupation for Ursula, but it noted that Elizabeth was working as a stenographer at the Hawaiian Pineapple Co. Ltd., founded by James D. Dole. Yes, that Dole. (His original business would fail four years later, but its assets, including the brand name, would be acquired by a new company, which would eventually morph into today’s Dole Food Company, Inc., the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world.)

A 1928 Dole pineapple ad placed by the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, where Elizabeth worked as a stenographer

Was Ursula looking for work, too? Elizabeth had attended the University of California for two years, but, as a college graduate, Ursula was more highly credentialed. I discovered through another source—the Honolulu Star-Bulletin—that she eventually landed a job as an instructor of typing at the Honolulu Business College, a few blocks from the Aloha Tower and Honolulu harbor. With a staff of eight, the college enrolled more than 150 students, about one-third of whom attended classes at night.

Honolulu Business College staff 1928

Ursula taught typing at the local business college (clip from the “Honolulu Star-Bulletin,” Dec. 22, 1928)

Did Ursula and Elizabeth’s mothers, both widowed but well off, insist their daughters work if they wanted to stay in Hawaii? Or did the young women take it upon themselves to become more economically independent in this era of newfound feminine freedom? In any case, I imagine it was a fun and exciting time for Ursula as she started “adulting” amidst the magic and romance of Waikiki.

[Addendum to the previous Mystery Dancer post: After I published the last post about Ursula’s beau, Samuel Riddick, I found his mother listed in the 1928-1929 “Directory of Honolulu and the Territory of Hawaii” as Mrs. Virginia Reddick (a misspelling). The entry confirmed that she was a resident of the central Maui community Puunene, and worked as a dietician at Puunene Hospital. It also confirmed that she was, indeed, living in Hawaii during Samuel’s time in Honolulu, as I suspected.]