No, Punahou74 we were not the “lucky” ones who enjoyed an additional two days of summer vacation in 1968. We were in sixth grade at the time, just shy of entering Bishop Hall but very very much aware of what was going on next door to our Castle Hall classrooms.
C. R. Bishop Hall was the first reinforced concrete building in Hawaii. Completed at a cost of $58,400 in 1903, it was designed by Dickey & Newcomb and built by the Concrete Construction Company. An epitome of modern educational design, the building allowed Punahou to unite its students on one campus (young children were then schooled at a building at Beretania and Richards Street, where St. Andrews Cathedral is currently found) and was, for years, the center of the elementary experience.
Unfortunately, not long after it began welcoming students, trouble signs began to appear in Bishop Hall. The building was settling unevenly and noticeable cracks emerged. In a 1911 letter written to Walter F. Dillingham, chairman of the school’s Buildings and Grounds Committee, Arthur C. Alexander described a large crack in the mauka wall of the building: “A large vertical crack has been opened up near the east corner. Through this crack, in one place, daylight can be seen.” In three short years the building’s mauka section had settled over three inches; this was significantly more than the rest of the structure.
The culprit? Nothing less than Ka Punahou itself. The Alexander report went on to state that:
The cause of this settling of the walls is not far to seek, as the excavation made for the new annex [the building’s Diamond Head wing] of the building showed this mauka end of the building to rest upon blue clay or adobe soil which, when wet, becomes very soft and slushy. This excavation also showed the walls of the building to have a footing of a width of but 30 inches, which obviously is too narrow to support a building of such weight resting upon such poor material.
It was discovered that water ran from the spring directly downhill and under the building’s mauka end. Consequently almost all of the shifting was at the mauka end; the central and makai portions remained essentially stable. The building was settling kapakahi or in a lopsided manner.
The problem was so acute that Bishop Hall’s structural integrity was questioned. Engineers intervened, however, and a trench was dug in 1912 into which reinforcing beams and drainage pipes were installed to shunt water to the side of the foundation.
The solution, and later updates, worked well enough that, in 1951, the school invested $400,000 to upgrade and update the structure.
Unfortunately, Ka Punahou remained at work.
Bishop Hall, when we were there, they built uprights to prevent something from falling. It had been sinking every year from the underground pond and then the second time it collapsed. I think they gave up because it’s too dangerous to do anything more to it so that’s when they decided on tearing it down. (Henrietta Smith Mann ’09, Trustee ’47-’70)
Bishop Hall. And I remember the rainy-day schedules we used to have sometimes when they’d keep us in. We couldn’t go outside. We’d go down in the huge basement at lunch time. I always remember how the concrete floor of that building was bulging up. … It actually was sinking. Whether there had been taro patches on that part of the property at one point or not, I don’t know, maybe springs underneath it … (Dwight Happer Lowrey ’33, ‘O’ in Life ’86, Trustee ’60-’78)
Eventually, it was time for nature to take its course. And that time was at 1:30 a.m., May 29, 1968, just two days before the scheduled end of the school year. William Porter Hodgins ’31 (‘O’ in Life ’72, Trustee ’51-’70) described what happened in his oral history:
One morning about 5:30 I got a telephone call from Jack Stubbart (Teacher, 1948-1965, Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds 1965-1982) who said the night watchman had just reported hearing a tremendous crash inside Bishop Hall, and he said,”I still have not been able to find out, but I see where part of the ceiling in the hallway has collapsed.” So I got in my car and we rushed down, got some ladders and a flashlight. This was when we found that what we had always thought was a solid concrete structure was a heavy wooden frame. Well, it was, I believe, in May … and we felt that under the circumstances we just could not take the chance of letting the children go back. (WPH, p. 10-11)
The examination of the building showed several cracks in the main structural beam, several walls, and the first hallway. After a meeting with school president, Dr. John Fox, the decision was made. The seventh and eighth grade students would not be allowed in the building. There would be an honors assembly in the gym then school would then be dismissed.
The reaction from the students? Jubilation. Scott Bradley ’72, was quoted in the Honolulu Advertiser:
“It was a complete surprise. I was just about to go into the building when they told me to stay out because it was ready to collapse.” Scott, a blond with a Huckleberry Fin smile, burst out laughing. “I was supposed to take final exams in math and English today, but now I don’t have to worry about my grades being any more terrible than they are now.” (Fawcett, Denby. “There’s a Flaw in Bishop Hall: 2 Punahou Grades ‘Sprung’ Early.” Honolulu Advertiser 30 May 1968.)
The Advertiser article went on to describe the happiness of other students:
“I hope all of Bishop Hall collapses this summer,” said 8th grader Kimo Farm. “It will crush my Spanish classroom where I’m not doing too well.”
Rusty Starr, an eighth grader, was another delighted student. “I’m so excited,” he said. “Now I’ll have another two days to go surfing.” He was signing year books with eighth grader Ellie Oberton before they went home to start summer vacation. “My mother thought I was telling her a cock-and-bull story when I phoned to ask if I could spend the night with a friend because classes were called off,” Ellie said. … “This announcement gets me out of everything I hate except for a dentist appointment this afternoon.”
To make good with parents, all students received pink slips to take home which described the incident and confirmed the early dismissal.
The building was ruled “completely safe for continued use” in June 1968 (“Building at Punahou Ruled Safe to Enter.” Honolulu Advertiser 15 June 1968.) and was approved for summer school use.
Punahou74 entered the building that fall and was fortunate to be in the academy when construction on the new Bishop Learning Center began in the fall of 1970. I remember by Punahou77 brother bitterly complaining of the noise of piles being driven as he sat in his Castle Hall 6th grade classroom. As he would be one of the first students using the new building, I was not too sympathetic.