Soon the last traces of Japanese billionaire Genshiro Kawamoto’s occupation of Kahala Avenue will be obliterated.
Alexander & Baldwin has already cleaned up and sold nine of Kawamoto’s Kahala properties. Gone are Kawamoto’s ugly statues.
And the three Native Hawaiian families Kawamoto invited seven years ago to live in his Kahala homes for free are moving out.
When all the families are gone, some of the houses they occupied might be torn down, leaving us even fewer reminders of the Japanese billionaire’s wacky initiatives.
A & B bought 27 of Kawamoto’s Kahala properties in September. The company has honored Kawamoto leases with his Hawaiian tenants and enlisted the services of Helping Hands Hawaii to aid them with the transition before their leases expire March 22. But two of the families decided to leave Kahala earlier.
Tenant Dorie-Ann Kahele packed up the last of her possessions this weekend to move her relatives and children to a five-bedroom rental house she found in Waianae.
Kahele declined to be interviewed but her daughter-in-law, Zelle Kapihe, spoke with me as she loaded family belongings into a U-Haul truck.
Tenants were grateful to Kawamoto for providing them a place to live rent free.
“We are OK. We are sad, but we accept that we have to move. We see this as the next chapter in our lives. We have no complaints, “ said Kapihe.
Kapihe says the family loved living in Kahala. “I am from Waianae. Here nobody bothers you here. Nobody comes around. There is no noise.”
She says they have been out of touch with Kawamoto for years. “I know everybody complains about Kawamoto but they just don’t see what he is doing. We wish we could personally thank him, to say how grateful we are.”
When the family moved in to Kawamoto’s colonial style house on Kahala Avenue and Elepaio Street on March 27, 2007, a tearful Dorrie-Ann Kahele told reporters “I am shocked. I am overwhelmed.”
She had been living in a tent with her five children on the beach at Nanakuli and then at the Onelauena homeless shelter at Kalaeloa when she was selected out of 3,000 applicants to be part of what Kawamoto called his “Kahala Avenue mission.”
At the time, Kawamoto told reporters he wanted to bring Hawaiian-style living back to Kahala and that he hoped his Hawaiian tenants would host many parties and invite all their friends.
But critics said his real goal was to lower property values so he could buy more Kahala homes at reduced prices. “He wanted to turn one of the nicest places in Hawaii into a dump,” said Andy Trozzi, a 20-year Kahala resident.
Kawamoto was not available to comment on this story.
Mami Takeda, a realtor who sometimes translates for Kawamoto, told me last year that Kawamoto is living in a five-star hotel in Tokyo. He is awaiting prosecution in a Japanese court on charges he evaded $9.2 million in corporate taxes on his Japan business profits.
Trozzi lives at 4327 Royal Place, across the street from another of Kawamoto’s tenants, Leeann Gusman, and her partner Randy Key and their six children. Gusman and Key had been living in Maili Land, a transitional shelter on the Leeward coast, when Kawamoto selected them to live at 4337 Kahala Ave. rent-free.
Gusman said her family would be moving to a three-bedroom apartment in Aiea. She was philosophical as she packed up children’s toys and other belongings. “We loved it here. The neighbors were nice to the children. But God has a plan for each of us. This his plan for us.”
Gusman said not having to pay rent has helped her save money but she wouldn’t specify how much she saved or how she would spend it. She says she has been working as a kitchen employee in a fast food restaurant in Waikiki.
“We were blessed to be able to live here,” said Gusman.
Neighbor Trozzi said that Gusman’s children were good kids who often hung around his house and help him fix his boat. He said even before Gusman and Key moved in Kawamoto had wrecked the house by filling the pond with rocks and tearing down all the fences. “The place is falling apart,” he said.
Lyn Worley, Kawamoto’s tenant at 4578 Kahala Ave., apologized, saying she was too busy with the demands of moving to be interviewed.
Some of the Kawamoto properties are in disrepair and may be torn down.
A & B says it intends to sell all three of Kawamoto’s tenant properties. A & B president Chris Benjamin says after the tenants move out the company will assess the properties to determine if they will tear them down.
A & B has hired Re-Use Hawaii to take down a couple of other former Kawamoto homes on Kahala Avenue that the company decided were too damaged or vandalized for resale. Re-Use Hawaii is a non-profit that slowly dismembers structures by hand to preserve the materials for construction re-use.
As Kawamoto’s needy Hawaiian tenants are moving out of Kahala, the super rich are moving in, public records show.
Among the buyers of former Kawamoto properties is Lee Kun-Hee, the CEO of Samsung Electronics. Lee has purchased beachfront lots at 4465 and 4469 Kahala Ave. for $13,258,000. Forbes Magazine lists Lee’s net worth at $12.6 billion. Lee is the richest man in Korea, according to Forbes.
Communications millionaires John and Susan Ocampo of Los Altos, California, paid $13,419,500 for a large (41,151 square foot) beachfront lot at 4837 Kahala Ave. The lot is part of the beachfront estate of the late Chris Hemmeter. The Ocampos are the founders of Gaas Labs.
Clyde T. and Holly Kaneshiro have paid $3.4 million for 4806 Kahala Ave. The Kaneshiros already own property at 4812 Kahala Ave. Clyde Kaneshiro is president of Honolulu Disposal Services Inc., one of Hawaii’s largest refuse companies.
And as I reported in Civil Beat last November, Australian billionaire Lindsay Fox paid A&B $2,190,000 for a former Kawamoto lot at 4851 Kahala Ave. and $2,360,000 for another former Kawamoto lot at 4845 Kahala Ave. Fox is listed by Forbes Magazine as the 14th richest man in Australia. He already owns an adjacent beachfront parcel made up of three separate Kahala lots.
Kawamoto always said he wanted to make the islands a better place. Now that he’s gone, it will be interesting to see if Kahala’s new billionaires have any of their own ideas for contributing to the local community.
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Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.