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Globally Connected: Locally Sustainable

(page 10 of 15)

Photo: Kapolei Today


Connecting to the Past

Kapolei’s History

Kapolei has its roots in a harebrained scheme. At least, that’s what James Campbell’s colleagues thought in 1877 when the business entrepreneur paid the princely sum of $95,000 for 41,000 acres of flat, arid and completely barren lands on the Ewa plains of Oahu. What was he thinking?

Photo: Kapolei in 1990

It would prove to be a smart move. Campbell hired a California driller to drill for water, and promptly uncovered a vast pure water reserve that would transform his lands into a flourishing sugar plantation. This was Hawaii’s first artesian well, and to this day the aquifer supplies the Leeward and Honolulu areas with water.

Originally from Ireland, 24-year-old young James Campbell came to the islands as a carpenter, then went on to make his fortune in the thriving sugar industry on Maui. He used his wealth to acquire lands on the islands of Oahu, Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii, eventually becoming one of Hawaii’s most successful business tycoons. The Ewa lands represented the bulk of his holdings, which he turned into very productive and profitable agricultural lands.

When Campbell died in 1900, his vast landholdings valued at $3 million were placed in trust, the Estate of James Campbell, for his heirs including his wife, Abigail Kuaihelani Maipinepine, and four daughters. Over the ensuing years, the Estate grew to become one of the state’s largest private landowners. In the 1950s, Estate trustees foresaw the long-term need to diversify the trust’s holdings, as sugarcane production was beginning to wane as an economic mainstay. It was then that a vision of a major urban center began to evolve for the Ewa lands. Planning began for what would become the City of Kapolei. In the 1970s, city government officially designated the area as the place where the island’s future growth would be directed to create a “secondary urban center.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Originally from Ireland, 24-year-old James Campbell came
to the islands as a carpenter, then went on to make his fortune
in the thriving sugar industry.


The plan envisioned an urban center that balances a mix of retail, commercial, industrial, office, residential, resort, and agricultural uses. It also delineated urban growth boundaries that would protect agricultural land and open space. Government would have a presence in the city to bring services to a resident population that was expected to grow significantly. Businesses would invest in the city’s growth potential and at the same time create jobs for a skilled workforce. Young people would have access to good schools and, in time, a full-fledged four-year university. Visitors would be attracted to the region’s own resort destination. In its maturity, Kapolei would come into its own as Oahu’s designated city for the future.


The City of Kapolei takes its name from Kapo, Hawaiian goddess of hula and sorcery, and older sister of the legendary fire goddess, Pele. Kapo is associated with the hill or pu`u, called Pu`u O Kapolei, which is located at the heart of the city in Kapolei Regional Park. Ancient Hawaiians used this feature of the landscape to gauge the seasonal changes in the rising and setting of the sun. During the winter solstice, the glow of the setting sun creates a wreath of light around the pu`u, forming a celestial lei — thus the name Kapolei.

Today, a bronze sculpture of Kapo watches over the city from a vantage point on the grounds of the Kapolei Police Station. She stands in a hula pose at the corner of Kamokila Boulevard and Farrington Highway, welcoming all who come to the city.

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