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History of the Phoenix Fountain in Kapiolani Park

The first public fountains on Oahu were practical, providing drinking water and contributing to municipal art and beautification. In 1867, the Temperance Legion erected an ornamental drinking fountain on the grounds of the Seaman’s Bethel Church at Bethel and King Streets in hopes that the free drinking water would entice sailors passing by to stay out of nearby taverns.

Over the years, a few more ornate fountains popped up around the Islands, but the Phoenix Fountain in Kapiolani Park was the most impressive of all.

Following the reign of the Hawaiian Monarchy, Sundays at Kapiolani Park were hardly the aristocratic happenings they had been when the park was the royal playground. However, on Sunday, March 16, 1919, Kapiolani Park became the backdrop for a symbolic and cultural event like no other in Hawaiian and Japanese relations. 

According to author Dennis Ogawa of "Jan Ken Po: Jan Ken Po", in commemoration of Japanese Emperor Yoshihito’s coronation, the Japanese of Hawaii presented a modified rendition of the fountain in Hibiya Park, Tokyo to the City and County of Honolulu.

At the unveiling of the Phoenix Fountain, Consul General Rokuro Moroi announced that the fountain was a “testimonial of friendship and equality of the Japanese residing in the Hawaiian Islands.”

A post card from 1926 that recently sold on eBay.

One Japanese speaker noted, “We are assembled here to mark a spot of everlasting importance in the annals of the history of the Japanese people of Hawaii.”

Today at this “spot of everlasting importance,” you will find something different. The Phoenix Fountain became the target of the emotional uproar generated by American Patriots during World War II and in 1943, the City and County of Honolulu had the fountain torn down and scrapped the metal casting.

On the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Honolulu Advertiser reported that the “fountain which stood in Kapiolani Park for 25 years as a public symbol of Japanese imperialism may at last be removed.”

Some years later, in 1966, the Walter and Louise Dillingham Foundation gave the city the Dillingham Fountain to place in Kapiolani Park. It's located across the street from the Elks Club at Poni Moi Street.

It cost around $60,000 to build and the Foundation raised the money from private donations to honor Louise Dilingham, a longtime member of the old city Park Board. Her husband Walter Dillingham was instrumental in spearheading changes to Honolulu's landscape, including dredging the Ala Wai Canal and draining and filling-in Waikiki’s wetlands.

Today the Dilingham Fountain is a popular resting spot for joggers and sightseers, a regular prop for wedding photos and a backdrop for Magnum P.I and Hawaii Five-O episodes.

And that's our Throwback Thursday thought for January 9, 2014.

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