HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – A Historic Home Has Closed

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran

A Historic Home Has Closed

Most “historic” homes here are merely old, and not especially significant in local history.  Fewer still are also visitor attractions. But among those that can rightly be considered of historical value, and well worth a tour, none is more important than the Parker family seat, Puuopelu. Unfortunately, it’s now closed.

Puuopelu
Puuopelu

It stands a hundred yards or so off Hwy 190, on the dry side of Waimea – also called Kamuela, the Hawaiian rendition of “Samuel,” and specifically Samuel Parker, next to whose ranchland the town itself grew up.

Samuel’s father, John Palmer Parker II, created the eponymous Parker Ranch in the early 1800s, under a grant from King Kamehameha I himself, to round up and fence in feral cattle that had become a nuisance.

Parker Ranch
Parker Ranch

His original home, a few miles away, was a cottage in the New England “saltbox” style, but whose entire interior – walls, ceilings and floors – were paneled in wide koa boards.  In 1879, Samuel acquired a Victorian mansion called Puuopelu (literally a “pile of stones” but figuratively the “folding hills” of Kohala, which border the property).  It has been the family seat ever since.  Several generations have remodeled and expanded the house, and in 1986 John Parker’s cottage was dismantled, moved, reassembled and erected right next door.

That was a favorite project of Richard Smart, the home’s most colorful Parker heir, and the last of his family to have owned the ranch outright. 

Richard Smart. Photo courtesy Parker Ranch.
Richard Smart. Photo courtesy Parker Ranch.

Though an expert horseman, and a serious collector of European art, especially fond of paintings of Venice, Smart was not a rancher by profession.  Mainly, he was a singer, actor and theatrical producer, and in that capacity was largely responsible for the creation of the Kahilu Theater, a marvelous performance venue, which now stands in the Waimea shopping center that’s also named after the Parker Ranch.

Since Smart’s death in 1992, ownership and operation of the ranch and of Puuopelu have been the responsibility of the Parker Ranch Foundation Trust.  But the Trust has lost money in recent years, forcing it to sell some 3,500 (of its 130,000) acres of ranchland for residential development. And this past January, it announced that the historic home would be closed to visitors.  An exception was made, though, for the weekend of the Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival, during which admission was free!

The celebration of the first cherry blossoms of the spring dates back to 7th century Japan. Aristocrats of the day would enjoy the blossoms while writing poetry beneath the flowering branches. Today “hanami” (literally hana, flower and mi, look) is the single word in the Japanese language that means “Cherry Blossom viewing party.”
The celebration of the first cherry blossoms of the spring dates back to 7th century Japan. Aristocrats of the day would enjoy the blossoms while writing poetry beneath the flowering branches. Today “hanami” (literally hana, flower and mi, look) is the single word in the Japanese language that means “Cherry Blossom viewing party.” Photo courtesy Parker Ranch.

A Trust spokeswoman told the West Hawaii Today newspaper in January that the Ranch will continue to offer visitors horseback and all-terrain vehicle tours, and hunting excursions, on the land.  (Go to www.parkerranch.com for details.) It’s only the house-tours that will no longer be available.

Riders will feel like Hawaiian paniolo (cowboys) as they ride through old stone corrals where up to 5,000 Hereford cattle were once rounded up after being brought down from the slopes of Mauna Kea. Photo courtesy Parker Ranch.
Riders will feel like Hawaiian paniolo (cowboys) as they ride through old stone corrals where up to 5,000 Hereford cattle were once rounded up after being brought down from the slopes of Mauna Kea. Photo courtesy Parker Ranch.

So, what will be missed?  Plenty.  The estate includes John Parker II’s old koa-paneled cottage, a carriage-house with two of the family’s own buggies, and an Italian-style parterre garden that sits above a lake-size pond.  The main house has Victorian and early 20th century furnishings, as well as Richard Smart’s important art collection.  Inside Puuopelu, too, are some museum-worthy historical documents, such as the formal commission making Richard’s father, John Parker III, a cabinet minister to Queen Liliuokalani; and a handwritten letter of thanks to him from a grateful visitor: the Queen’s predecessor, her brother, King Kalakaua.

3 Replies to “HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – A Historic Home Has Closed”

  1. Kelly,
    It saddens me very much that Puu’opelu could some day be sold. As a child growing up in Kamuela, I remember the many Christmas’ that the children of Kamuela were invited to Puu’opelu to have Santa come for a visit to give every child a gift. One cannot imagine the happiness this brought to each child in that huge house unless you were there. Richard Smart was a very giving and wonderful person! The history of that house and all that is in it, and what goes with it, must be preserved for the sake of Kamuela, for the sake of the Parker Family and for the memories it gave to so many children who grew up in that beautiful little town! My father worked for Parker Ranch, my uncles and my friends’ fathers also worked for Parker Ranch, everyone worked for Parker Ranch! I would hope and pray that the Trust would come up with a solution other than selling it. Parker Ranch, Puu’opelu, are what makes Kamuela (Waimea) so unique and truly a part of “Paradise!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.