During World War II, the military began spending enormous amounts of money in Hawai‘i to press the war in the Pacific. Thousands of sugar cane workers from mills and plantations joined the military or were lured by higher pay to work in shipyards, supply depots and other essential civilian positions to support the war effort. The plantation camps were drained of their vitality as workers sought better pay and living conditions. When the war ended, veterans had the promise of low interest loans from the GI Bill. Many others had saved money from their relatively high-paying war jobs, and they all wanted to spend their savings on better housing in pursuit of the new American dream.
But there were very few houses to buy. Plantation owners began to see the potential for developing housing on their vast acreages, and diversifying into development and building to meet the demands for new housing in the new economy.
In the 1950s, the biggest project was Maui’s “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 sugarcane lands around the company’s harbor and warehousing facilities in Kahului. A&B commissioned one of America’s leading city planners. 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 of A&B, began construction. 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 on a quarter acre lot. Terms were $600 down and $50 per month. Quoting Ampersand magazine: “Dream City fever quickly spread, and at its peak, a new house was being sold every two minutes.” While the community originally was planned to house the company’s workers at HC&S (Hawai‘i Commercial and Sugar) mills and plantations, the company decided to not limit ownership to their own employees. Kahului quickly became one of the first and most successful planned towns west of the Rockies—and the first in Hawai‘i.
At the same time it was developing housing, KD Co. was branching 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 designated “shopping center” to be built west of the Mississippi. Dream City continues today as a viable community. Many of its original homes remain unchanged after nearly 50 years. Others have been modified, remodeled or reconstructed. What was once a substantially uniform community, with one street looking very much like another, is now a community filled with individuality and vitality.
For many who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to participate in the American dream of owning their own home, Dream City offered a solution that has lasted for over half a century. Many of the original owners remain in their homes today. Homes now sell for over $300,000, more than 30 times the original investment made by the proud early participants in a new way of life. Kahului is truly an American success story.
Not a “company town,” but a viable modern ommunity; that’s what Kahului’s planners had in mind when they built the neighborhood in the 1950s.