Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Beaver Block

Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was a fur trading company that started in Canada in 1670; its first century of operation found HBC firmly focused in a few forts and posts around the shores of James and Hudson Bays, Central Canada.

Fast forward 150-years and in 1821, it merged with North West Company, its competitor; the resulting enterprise then spanned the continent - all the way to the Pacific Northwest (modern-day Oregon, Washington and British Columbia) and the North (Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.)

On January 21, 1829 the Hudson's Bay Company schooner ‘Cadboro’ arrived at Honolulu from Fort Vancouver.  While the HBC fur trade focused furs of beavers, sea otters, seals and other animals from the Pacific Northwest Coast and Alaska to be sold in China in exchange for tea, silks, porcelain and other Chinese goods, their interest in Hawaiʻi was to sell lumber and other goods, not furs.

When the Hudson's Bay Company entered the Hawaiian scene in 1829, Honolulu had already become a significant Pacific port of call and major provisioning station for trans-Pacific travelers.

The earliest location of the Agency in Honolulu was on the north side of Nuʻuanu Street (between King and Merchant Streets,) where it occupied a two-story, shingle-sided building.

"The premises were named "Aienui," meaning "great debt," perhaps in reference to the Company's liberal policy of granting credit on reasonable security, such as was and still is granted to the Indians on their prospective winter catch."  (The Beaver, June 1930)

In 1846 the Agency moved to a new site closer and more convenient to the waterfront at the corner of Fort and Queen Streets.  They had a two-story coral building with slate roof, fronting on Queen Street, and one-story storage building along Fort Street.

Thereafter, the location of their establishment became known as the “Beaver Block,” named after the HBC ‘mascot’ (and primary economic resource,) the beaver.

As the year 1859 started, Pacific whaling entered its decline, HBC’s competition in the importation of goods increased. Janion Green and Co (forerunner of Theo H Davies), Hackfeld and Co (forerunner of Amfac,) C Brewer, and Castle and Cooke (the beginnings of the Big Five) were established firms.

Instructed to wind up affairs in 1860, the last Company representative left Honolulu in March 1861.  The Company’s old Fort and Queen business site, however, continued to be known as the Beaver Block.  Other businesses moved into the premises.

Twenty years passed, during them, Lunalilo ascended to the throne and died within a year; his estate took control of the property and their trustees sold it to James Campbell.  In 1882, Campbell built a new building and put the old iron beaver weathervane of the Hudson’s Bay Company on its roof – affirming the Beaver Block tradition.

"Thousands of Honolulans who pass up and down Fort Street and visit the wharves have probably never lifted their eyes high enough on such trips to notice on the Makai-Waikiki cornice of the Campbell block at Fort and Queen Streets a weather-beaten weather vane, with the letter "N" missing from that particular arm and to notice that the vane itself resembles a well-known forest and stream animal.... It took a visitor from Winnipeg, Canada, to notice that the animal was a beaver ..."  (Advertiser, March 31, 1930; The Beaver)

Beaver Block was a large building that included uses such as storage, shops and offices that stretched along Fort Street and Queen.  That year, Campbell, who owned the adjacent land (fronting Fort and Merchant Streets) built the “Campbell Block,” a similarly-large building that included uses such as storage, shops and offices.

"The activity of building, throughout Honolulu and its suburbs, continues. That in the business portion of the city gives it the most substantial aspect of any years undertaking, the most prominent of which is the Campbell Block, extending from the Bank premises on Merchant street around onto Fort street to join the Beaver Block .... In the buildings that have been constructed a more lavish style is observed, and ornamentation externally and internally is now the rule rather than the exception, both in business houses and private dwellings."  (Hawaiian Almanac and Annual, 1884)

The first elevators in Hawai‘i were installed in the early 1880s. One was in the Beaver Block, a two-story structure at Fort and Queen Streets, completed in 1882. (The elevator was replaced by an electric elevator.)  Another pioneering elevator was located near the front of a two-story brick building occupied by Wing Wo Chan & Co., on Nu‘uanu Avenue between King and Merchant Streets. This structure was lost in the 1886 Chinatown fire.) (Hawaiian Historical Society)

A notable Beaver Block tenant was GW MacFarlane & Co, shipping and general wholesale merchants.  George W. MacFarlane was born in Honolulu in 1849. He got a job with Theo Davies in 1868 and stayed with the firm until 1876.

McFarlane became a prominent attendant to King Kalākaua and merchant in Honolulu during the 1870s-1880s.  He was also associated with Spreckels and other financiers in sugar interests.  He died in 1921.

Another tenant in the building was the Beaver Saloon, opened on April 5, 1882 by HJ Nolte (who also had “The Casino” on his property at Kapiʻolani Park.)

The Beaver Saloon was “a favorite lunch resort for a large majority of the business element, the civil service, the factory and waterfront toilers, judges, lawyers and doctors … (and) has indeed been the most frequented noonday club in Honolulu, a recognized exchange for public opinion and clearing house for community gossip.” (Hawaiian Gazette, March 29, 1907)

Then, on October 11, 1964, the Sunday Star-Bulletin and Advertiser noted, “Office-Parking Building Planned by Campbell Estate on Fort Street.”

Plans called for a combined office and parking structure to replace the 2-story on Fort and Merchants Streets; this new building was considered an important part of the redevelopment of downtown Honolulu.  (Adamson)   The Beaver Block and Campbell Block buildings were torn down and a new building was completed in May 1967.

The image shows the Beaver Block weathervane (The Beaver.)   In addition, I have added other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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