28-Acre, National Register Marconi Telegraph Station’s History Encompasses World Wars and the Dawn of Global Communications

kahuku-map-1

Today, when locals hear “Kahuku” they often think of Kahuku sweet corn or shrimp from this agriculture-heavy area. But for over a century, one stretch of Kahuku was smack in the middle of history.  Now, over 28 acres of beachfront land and historic … proper historic … buildings are up for sale for $18 million by Julia Napua Fetzer of Hawaii Life Real Estate. It is by far the most fascinating piece of property on the market in Hawaii.

After researching the history of the place, friends and I dropped the top on the car and headed up north to see it in person.  What a treat to share with you …

It all began in 1899, when a group of investors at the behest of the Hawaiian King (Texas ain’t the only state that was a country!) brought Marconi wireless telegraph stations to Hawaii and formed the Inter-Island Telegraph Company. At the time it was UK-based Marconi’s first major order.  They’d read of the Marconi demonstration sending wireless Morse code signals across the English Channel. The purpose was to provide real-time communications between the Hawaiian Islands.

28-acre Kahuku Station properties. Surrounding plots for agriculture use.

28-acre Kahuku Station properties. Surrounding plots for agriculture use.

In June 1900, the first message sent about four miles between Iolani Palace and the closer Kaimuki Station. It was brief, “Hello! Is anybody out there?” It was the first wireless transmission west of the Rocky Mountains. In the end, five of the islands were connected for the first time. Inter-Island Telegraph’s name changed many times, but was the progenitor of today’s Hawaiian Telecom Company (owned by Verizon). The Kahuku station was constructed during this time.

Ten years later in 1912, the Marconi Corporation proposed “A Wireless Girdle around the Earth” for long-range wireless telegraph signals (still Morse code).  By 1913, Marconi’s long-range stations were built at Koko Head and Kahuku (receiver and sender) on the island of Oahu to connect stations on the U.S. mainland with Asia.

Undated Photograph of Marconi Buildings

Undated Photograph of Marconi Buildings

On September 24, 1914, 198 guests attended the opening of the new long-range Kahuku station having taken the train from Honolulu.  A small silver key, inserted by Governor Lucius Pinkham opened the new station. The first message was sent from the governor to the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.

“With time and distance annihilated and space subdued through wireless triumphs and impulse, the Territory of Hawaii conveys its greetings, profound respect and sympathy to Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States, as he so earnestly seeks the blessings of peace and good will for all men and all nations.”

* The “sympathy” was in regard to Mrs. Wilson’s death the month prior.

By 1916, Kahuku was transmitting to Funabashi Station in Japan, a distance of 4,200 miles, the longest distance ever undertaken by a commercial telegraph enterprise at that time. Eventually WWI, began in 1914, ultimately brought an end to Marconi’s “Wireless Girdle” dreams.  When the U.S. entered World War I, the Navy took over operations at Kahuku and Koko Head.

B-24 Escorting 2 Culver PQ-14s, with Kahuku runways below

B-24 Escorting 2 Culver PQ-14s, with Kahuku runways below

After the war, wireless technology changed from Morse code to begin carrying voice traffic. The patents for the technologies were split between five companies.  The U.S. Navy forced the merger between General Electric and American Marconi Company that formed Radio Corporation of America … what we remember as RCA. The Navy further orchestrated patent sharing between the remaining patent holders, AT&T, Westinghouse, and (oddly) the United Fruit Company. The Kahuku and Koko Head stations were then Americanized and operated by RCA.

In 1941, news of the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the U.S. into World War II, was transmitted to the mainland via the Kahuku station.  Two days later, the Navy once again took control of Kahuku. One day after that, the Navy began construction of a runway that kicked off the Kahuku Airfield Military Reservation. A second runway was built in 1942. During the war, the airfield was used for refueling B-17, B-24 and after expansion, B-29 bombers.

On April 1, 1946, a tsunami flooded the base and the military ceased operations soon after, returning the leased land to the James Campbell Estate. Following WWII, RCA once again operated on the site until 1978 when satellite communications made them obsolete.

The 1950s; (Former) Radio Antenna Locations Marked

The 1950s; (Former) Radio Antenna Locations Marked (Marconi Station at the Runway Intersection)

After the military left, in the 1950s and 1960s, parts of the runways were used for drag racing. Cleaved out of the original 89-acre installation, the construction of the neighboring Turtle Bay Resort in 1972 by Del Webb destroyed the northern sections of runway.  The hotel was originally called the Kuilima Resort Hotel before changing to Turtle Bay in 1983 when Hilton took over management. The Turtle Bay golf course borders the Marconi property being sold. The southern end of the original parcel lost its runways too and now contain the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge and a shrimp farming operation.

kahuku-drag-races-1

The remaining 28-acre Marconi property and historic buildings were placed on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places (2012) and National Register of Historic Places (2013) and will soon qualify for tax credits. And that’s what is now for sale along with neighboring agriculture lots. Ever the renovator, I’m fascinated by the structures …

The ruins of the Marconi power generating station (foreground) and derelict hotel in the background at Kahuku. Timothy Williamson

The ruins of the Marconi power generating station (foreground) and derelict hotel in the background at Kahuku. Timothy Williamson

The two largest buildings on the site are the power generation building and the hotel.  The seller has provided imaginings of how each of the buildings would look renovated.  Both the hotel and power station are viewed as a pair of structures for a boutique hotel I’d die to stay in.

kahuku-hotel-construction-1

The hotel’s original layout, contained 15 bedrooms, a reading room, club room, library, dining room, and kitchen.  Being Hawaii and pre-air conditioning, there were tons of windows and lanais to rake in the breezes.

kahuku-hotel-re-construction-1

As you can see, the advent of air conditioning allows for the enclosure of the upper floor bedrooms that adds needed floor space to what were not the luxurious beachfront hotel rooms of today.

kahuku-power-after-1

The power station is reimagined as a partially open air restaurant and spa facility servicing the hotel.  Of course a new owner may have their own dreams, but what’s been dreamt already is pretty heady.  Certainly from their derelict condition today, a new owner will need the will and the cash to revitalize these properties.

kahuku-power-house-new-1

The  power station becomes a partially open-air restaurant and pool with fabulous views from the mountains to the ocean. It takes a lot of imagination to see such beauty in a derelict property.

kahuku-managers-home-1

Post-restoration, a hotel manager would feel at home in the old station manager’s residence.  It’s a pinch over 2,000 square feet and originally contained three bedrooms but no kitchen. I expect he took meals over at the hotel restaurant.  A new owner might shave a bedroom and install a kitchen.

Friends Bob, Billy and I scouting the property.

Friends Bob, Billy, and me scouting the station manager’s residence.

As you can see in the map at the top, the 28-acre parcel can be purchased whole or each building can be purchased separately. Each building’s parcel is quite long, extending to the ocean in varying widths. The hotel having the widest lot at close to 350 feet while the manager’s office the thinnest at about 65 feet wide. The total width is about 850 feet of ocean frontage, a bounty not often found in Hawaii these days.

While the runways are gone and the bombers silent, the Marconi Station property is still a unique piece of history for Hawaii and the nation.  It’s my hope whatever is done with them reintroduces them to the public.  In ten years’ time, I’d like to rent another convertible and rumble up to Kahuku and have a drink at the restored hotel bar looking out at the unchanged ocean.

If you’ve been swept away by this story and have deeper pockets than I, contact Julia Napua Fetzer or Sean Ginella at Hawaiian Life to hear more about this amazing opportunity.

kahuku-view-1

Oh, I almost forgot.  Here’s your 840 linear feet of unspoiled beach, fronting one of the best surfing spots on the island according to the broker and his family who purchased an adjoining lot for continued beach access.

All this story needs is a next chapter to be written by new owners.

Marconi Station – Bulk Offering Memorandum (08!26!2016) by Joanna England on Scribd

Remember: When I’m not stirring up trouble in Dallas, Texas or Honolulu, Hawaii for Candysdirt.com and SecondShelters.com, I’m off scouting interesting locations for a second home.  In 2016, my writing was recognized with Bronze and Silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors. If you’re a Realtor with second home clients who’d like me to feature their journey, shoot me an email sharewithjon@candysdirt.com