“Victoria Ward and Her Family” by Frank Ward Hustace III

I only knew it as the Neil Blaisdell Center, with its arching ceiling, wide green lawn, and ponds filled with constantly-moving fish. But before it was a concert hall and arena, it was Old Plantation, or Ku‘u home (our beloved home).

In 1881, Old Plantation was a family estate, a natural wilderness with coconut trees and a large loko ku‘i (inland fishpond) fed by icy artesian springs, stocked with ‘ama‘ama, āholehole, and mullet, and ‘auwai from the ocean. It was lined with a row of royal palm trees that welcomed guests and led the way home.

Old Plantation is a strong presence her biography, “Victoria Ward and Her Family: Memories of Old Plantation” (2000), written by Frank Ward Hustace III. Old Plantation really comes to life as a member of the Ward family and a symbol of abundance and hospitality.

Victoria Ward (1846-1935) was the second daughter of James Robinson and Rebecca Kaikilani Previer. She was a private person, independent, and spirited. There are few anecdotes or stories about her in the book, and her personal papers were destroyed after her death, according to kanaka maoli custom. We know that she had a “unique marriage and business partnership” with her husband, Curtis Perry Ward, and we can see her strength, practicality, and business-savvy through her actions.

A widow at age 36, Ward raised seven daughters, managed her own business affairs, and invested in the stock market. She was active in politics, a life-long supporter and friend of kings and queens, and signed the Hui Aloha Aina petition against annexation. She turned Old Plantation into a self-sufficient, income-producing operation. And she had the foresight to create the Victoria Ward Ltd in 1930, which now manages 66 acres of prime real estate.

We don’t learn much about Ward’s siblings, such as her sister Mary Foster, who bequeathed her property to the City as Foster Botanical Gardens; or much about her children, among them Lucy Ward, who championed the Hawaiian Humane Society.

The City of Honolulu purchased Old Plantation in 1958, and Victoria Ward is better known for her legacy of retail, commercial, and residential development.

As I came to the end of the biography, I realized that Old Plantation is a reflection of Hawaii: once natural and bountiful, feeding the body and spirit; today, a place of music and theater named in honor of a Honolulu mayor who advocated construction projects.

What stories do you have of Old Plantation and Neil Blaisdell Center? Where is your ku’u home?

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