January 2008:  A DRYDOCK FOR OAHU
By: C. S. Papacostas


​In April 2006, ShengKai “Karl” Cheng of the Pacific Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC PAC) asked: “Professor: I was wondering if you have looked up historical information, such as photos of construction, concreting, frame works etc. for Pearl Harbor shipyard Drydock #1. I am particularly interested in the structural elements of drydock construction.”

​I had indeed chanced upon some relevant information while researching the contemporaneous building of the Nu`uanu Dam at Reservoir No. 4. Some additional research yielded more details, which I shared with Karl. Since then, I accumulated more facts and I am ready to place the project in its proper historical context in two, perhaps three, compact installments. 

The backdrop to the U.S. Navy’s association with Pearl Harbor is well known: the first soundings by a navy vessel were taken by Commodore Charles Wilkes at the request of King Kamehameha III in 1840. In 1873, a secret survey led by General John McAlister Schofield recognized the locale’s potential. In the same year, King Lunalilo was prepared to allow the lease (or, by some accounts, cession) of the Pearl River Lagoon in exchange for a reciprocity treaty. Under King Kalakaua, the 1887 renewal of the 1875 Reciprocity Treaty incorporated a provision granting the U.S. “the exclusive right to enter the harbor of the Pearl River in the Island of Oahu, and to establish and maintain there a coaling and repair station for the use of vessels of the United States, and to that end the United States may improve the entrance to said harbor and do all other things needful to the purpose aforesaid.”

Nevertheless, it was only between 1900 and 1905 that land for the Navy’s use was taken by eminent domain and dredging of the entrance to the harbor commenced; the center of operations, the Naval Station, remained at Honolulu Harbor even longer than that. Interestingly, the Pacific Commercial Advertiser (PCA) of Dec. 7, 1906 presents a map of Pearl Harbor illustrating the specified course for the “first [yacht] race of the Governor’s Cup” within the harbor’s Middle and East Lochs, hardly a military exercise!

With the signing of the Hawaiian Organic Act in 1900 came appropriations from Congress to be expended, subject to typical provisos, for civilian (such as water works), military (e.g., fortifications) and dual use (e.g., lighthouses) facilities.

It so happened that the Naval Station at Honolulu Harbor had no repair facility of its own. According to Edward D. Beechert’s “Honolulu:  Crossroads of the Pacific,” only a marine railway was operated at the harbor since 1882 by its builder (businessman Samuel Wilder) under a lease arrangement with the government of Hawai`i. Navy vessels, it was reported, would normally be repaired and overhauled at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California, about 2400 miles away!

To rectify this problem, a petition (or “memorial” as it was then called) to allocate funds for a “Dry Dock in the Harbor of Honolulu” was circulated for signature and subsequent transmittal to the President and the Congress via Hawai`i’s Delegate to the latter, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana`ole. As reprinted in the Dec. 26, 1906 Evening Bulletin [EB], the petition made three arguments in favor of the facility: It would benefit “the Navy and Merchant Marine in times of peace as well as in times of war;” it would sustain “American shipping and commerce generally;” and it would provide revenue to the Territory in lieu of the “customs revenue and post office receipts” it surrendered to the Federal Government after annexation.

Eight months later, apparently aware that the Merchants’ Association initiated the petition and subsequent “agitation,” Naval Station Commandant Rear Admiral Samuel W. Very extended an invitation to the membership (through Territorial Secretary Ernest A. Mott- Smith) to discuss an alternate solution. The Admiral’s proposal was to abandon the idea of a drydock at Honolulu in favor of expanding Pearl Harbor, where “it had been proposed to have six drydocks there, two big ones for battleships and vessels like the Manchuria, and four small ones for smaller vessels [EB, 8/23/1907].” He argued that the Honolulu Harbor was too constricted and exposed a place for such a development, and that it was imperative that “we must all pull together to get something done with that magnificent harbor of ours,” in the face of strong opposition in Washington, D.C. He went on the clarify that “a drydock which could contain vessels like the Manchuria, would occupy five acres, without the shops, and it would be hard to get that space at Honolulu. With the shops thirty acres would be needed, and this no private concern could afford to go into without Government assistance.” In other words, he was calling for what we now refer to as public-private partnerships (PPP).

​​The merchants agreed and passed a resolution that partly averred that “the opening of Pearl Harbor besides providing adequate facilities for military, naval and general commercial purposes will afford direct shipment for large and increasing amounts of freight from the central and west portion of the Island of Oahu [EB, 8/24/1907].” At its Aug. 30, 1907 meeting, the Association’s Secretary E. H. Paris “offered the resolution of endorsing the Pearl Harbor dry dock, which was adopted without debate [EB, 8/31/1907].”

February 2008:  One Graving Drydock
By: C. S. Papacostas

Last month (January 2008), I related that in August 1907 Admiral Samuel Williams Very, the Naval Station Commandant in Honolulu, persuaded the merchants and businessmen of the city to pursue the construction of a drydock and other facilities at Pearl Harbor rather than in the constrained space of Honolulu Harbor. 

The Admiral’s position was in play at the national level at a time when the U.S. Congress and Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt’s administration were considering the future of the Pacific Fleet’s presence in Asia, Hawai`i and the West Coast. In fact, the US Navy was the “big stick” in the President’s interpretation of the old adage “speak softly and carry a big stick” that came to represent his foreign policy. The Panama Canal, under construction at the time, was to play a major role in this debate, along with certain social conditions. 

On the mainland, more than in Hawai`i, racial tensions directed formal and informal actions against Eastern and Southern European as well as Asian immigrants. Policies favoring “citizen labor,” particularly in public works, had strong racial implications in both places. As such, it became an issue in connection with government drydock construction in Hawai`i. The following is a composite picture I assembled from accounts I found in local newspapers: The Pacific Commercial Advertiser (PCA) and its sister paper The Sunday Advertiser (SA), the Hawaiian Star (HS) and the Evening Bulletin (EB); a merger of the last two on July 1, 1912, gave rise to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (SB). These newspapers had assigned correspondents in Washington, but for a some time, the EB enjoyed the advantage of receiving sometimes weekly telegraphs directly from Hawai`i’s Delegate to Congress, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana`ole.

I also looked at the New York Times (NYT) and several other documents, such as transcripts of Congressional hearings. For some technical matters, I consulted the monumental Paper No. 1354 in the ASCE Transactions of 1915 by Admiral Homer R. Stanford, Civil Engineer and Chief of Bureau of Yards and Docks, US Navy; this 71-page paper elicited 31 pages of discussion! When the Pacific Fleet arrived in Honolulu on September 1907 under the command of Rear Admiral James H. Dayton, only three of its four cruisers (West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Colorado) could be accommodated simultaneously at the crammed quarters of the naval coaling station in the harbor. The occasion, however, made it clear to the merchants that navy presence was good for business as “directly or indirectly the city, as a whole, is feeling the effects of the fleet’s visit in the line of trade,“ one company advertising:

“Boys of the Navy! Now is your chance to drink the famous PRIMO BEER made in Honolulu [EB, 9/7/1907].”

The visit also occasioned a social event: To honor the fleet’s naval officers a newspaper announced “tonight will be a gala occasion at the Alexander Hotel roof garden” to which “the people of Honolulu are cordially invited to be present [EB, 9/3/1907].” I am sure that everybody in town knew who was included and who was excluded from this invitation! In the national debate about naval expansion, a California senator was said to have argued “until we get an American population in the islands, it is useless to build a naval station that might be captured by a foreign foe assisted by foreign residents [EB, 12/4/1907],” whereas, General J. Franklin Bell, ranking head of the Army, testified “unless the United States makes Pearl Harbor impregnable this outpost could be captured by Japan in the event of war and the advantage lost by the United States would go to Japan, which would then have the mid-Pacific outpost [3/1/1908].”

The local Chamber of Commerce initiated a national drive to gain support for a naval station at Pearl Harbor by encouraging business organizations throughout the country to endorse a petition to that effect. They also dispatched H. P. Wood, Secretary of the Hawaii Promotion Committee to Washington, to reinforce the efforts of Judge Francis M. Hatch, their regular agent in the nation’s capital who had earlier served as “Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary to the United States from the Hawaiian Republic [NYT, 11/14/1895]” and as a Justice of the Hawaiian Supreme Court. Governor Walter F. Frear went with “thirty-one subjects down in my note-book,” including Pearl Harbor, immigration policy, and the new College of Agriculture, now the University of Hawai`i [EB, 11/1/1907]. The Merchants commissioned a widely distributed map [e.g., EB, 7/16/1908] depicting Hawaii as “the Cross Roads of the Pacific.”
In a similar spirit Pearl Harbor was described as “a Pacific Malta [PCA, 3/7/1908]” and later “the Gibraltar of the Pacific [EB, 6/19/1911].”

To help secure the Congressional appropriation, the Chamber decided to pay for at least 25 borings to supplement the limited “data on well borings on Ford island and other places in the vicinity,” whereas Supt. of Public Works Marston Campbell reportedly said that the Territory “has tendered the use of all the drills, machinery and appurtenances that it may have [EB, 12/17/1907].”

Based on the information obtained, the Army Engineer in Honolulu, Captain Curtis William Otwell, prepared volume and cost estimates for dredging the Pearl Harbor channel to 30 and to 35-feet below low tide. The transcript of the hearings of a US House Subcommittee on Appropriations in February 1908 (obtained via Google Books) reflects that Otwell’s full report had not been received but a cable implied that the conditions found could be “coral underlaid by mud.” The later 1915 paper, however, stated, “There is no regular stratification of the material [ASCE].” General Alexander McKenzie, US Chief of Engineers, testified that Otwell was instructed to provide advice but that the dredging of the channel would probably be a Navy job under a naval appropriation.

For about a year, the local newspapers’ coverage of the subject fluctuated wildly between optimism and pessimism, following the amendments of the naval appropriations bill as it moved on its tortuous path through Congress. When passed on May 13, 1908, Act 13 provided, among other things:

“The Secretary of the Navy is hereby authorized and directed to establish a naval station at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the site heretofore acquired for that purpose, and to erect thereat all necessary machine shops, storehouses, coal sheds, and other necessary buildings and to build thereat one graving drydock capable of receiving the largest war vessel of the navy, at a cost not to exceed two million dollars for said drydock.”

In April 1908, Captain Corwin Rees replaced Admiral Very as commandant of Honolulu naval station and on June 1, Engineer C. W. Parks, along with Assistant Engineer Glenn S. Burrell arrived with a party of about twelve to take charge of the drydock project. Parks came from Portsmouth, N.H., where he had met Captain Rees. Burrell was from the naval yard at Boston. With expertise in reinforced concrete and drafting, Architect L. C. Woodman arrived two days earlier from Seattle where he had worked on a similar drydock.

Parks rushed to work on his first day in Honolulu because he was required to present a design report to a special Board headed by Rear Admiral Seaton Schroeder who was on his way to Honolulu as commander of the “USS Virginia” of the Atlantic Fleet.

This fleet, known also as the Great White Fleet, had sailed on December 16, 1907 from Old Point Comfort, Hampton Roads, Virginia, on a historic circumnavigation of the globe. It consisted of 16 battleships and their escorts and carried 14,000 men. Its itinerary included arriving in Honolulu in July 1908. So Engineer Parks had but about a month to carry out the necessary surveys and to come up with a drydock design!

As if this was not enough to keep him busy, he immediately found himself in a dispute involving citizen labor that had the merchants aroused [HS, 6/9/1908].

March 2008:  The Merchants Are Aroused
By: C. S. Papacostas

Following the May 1908 approval by the US Congress of a naval station at Pearl Harbor, civil engineer C. W. Parks and his entourage of about a dozen were dispatched to Honolulu to conduct surveys and to prepare plans and specifications for the planned drydock (see last month, Feb. 2008). The Evening Bulletin quoted him on his first day in town saying “the dock will probably be similar to that in Seattle [EB 6/1/1908].”

At the same time frame, the Army was proceeding with its own fortifications at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere under the direction of US Engineer Curtis William Otwell. The bids for one project, the enlarging and deepening of the Honolulu Harbor and the removal of a sand spit on which a lighthouse stood for quite a while, were opened by Otwell in early September of the previous year. With a 97-cents per cubic yard offer, the Hawaiian Dredging Co. (that was destined to play a major role at Pearl Harbor as well) beat those of the North American Dredging Co. at $1.27, the San Francisco Bridge Co. at $1.18, and local competitor Cotton Brothers & Co. at $1.14 [EB 9/9/1907].

According to the Sunday Advertiser, the bid winner deployed two dredgers for this job, the suction dredger “Reclamation” and the modified deep dredger “Governor.” The material obtained from the drilling and blasting operations was placed east of the small Quarantine Island via rail cars that were brought to the site by a scow in sets of ten [SA 3/1/1908]. When the job was finished “eight or nine months ahead of the allotted time,” the Pacific Commercial Advertiser informs us, “a new sand island” had been created [PCA 12/8/1908], that, aptly, if not maginatively, became known as... Sand Island!

Major Eben Eveleth Winslow had arrived by the Sheridan a month earlier to take over Otwell’s duties and to occupy his office space in the commercial McCandless Building on Bethel Street [EB 11/12/1908]. Incidentally, an Army anecdote in a book by Lenore Fine has him reminding “young officers that the difference between ‘Engineer Corps’ and ‘Corps of Engineers’ was the same as the difference between a ‘beer bottle’ and a ‘bottle of beer!’”

​In the interim, as soon as he had arrived on June 1st 1908 on the steamer Siberia, Parks, his assistant G. S. Burrell and Captain Corwin P. Rees, the new local naval commandant since April, took the train from here and went over the ground where they are to work, and returned in the Navy launch late in the afternoon.” As a general impression, “the lonesomeness of the place at Puuloa rather disappointed the party [PCA 6/2/1908].”

The train from Honolulu that they rode belonged to the Oahu Railroad and Land (OR&L) Co. line that had a station outside the naval property, cut across the Ewa plain, skirted along the Wai`anae coast and around Ka’ena Point to its terminus at Kahuku (for details, see my June and July 2000 Wiliki articles). Pu`uloa is the traditional Hawaiian name of the area around the harbor’s mouth that could also be reached by sea. The Iroquois (as in “Iroquois Point”) and the Navajo were two often-mentioned Navy tugs used for this purpose at that time.

Interestingly, above Bishop’s Point (that is still shown on modern maps on the east side of the entrance channel) was the locality where “the Iroquois has grounded several times [PCA 2/27/1909],” illustrating, among other things, the need for improvements if a naval station was to be feasible in the vicinity.

To conduct the necessary surveys at some of its Pu`uloa lands, Park reached an “amicable agreement” for free access with the Honolulu Plantation that was at the time licensed to cultivate sugar cane there [PCA 6/4/1908]. The actual surveys started the next day by the navy crew under the supervision of assistant civil engineer Burrell [EB, 6/6/1908] but, to the newcomers’ discomfort, “sharp and stubborn thorns... of several varieties” seriously hampered their progress [EB 6/15/1908].

Regarding the naval station construction projects, at the time of Park’s arrival “the matter of labor on the work is still undecided, and whether the work will be done by the government or let out to contract was still to be decided upon [PCA 6/2/1908].”

Along these lines, the morning newspaper published a short editorial encouraging “the strongest kind of representation ought to be made to the Navy Department in favor of the employment of white and Hawaiian labor on the navy yard at Pearl Harbor,” and that “there would be no injustice to Japanese and Chinese residents in such procedure, as they, having practical control of private construction in this Territory, might well let American citizens have a chance at the public undertakings [PCA 6/6/1908].”

With a potent exclusionary spirit, the Evening Bulletin of the same day added that the Merchant Association and the Chamber of Commerce were “strongly in favor of having citizen labor used” but also that the federal government should avoid paying higher rates than those offered by the private sector in Hawai`i “in order that the local industry might not be embarrassed [EB 6/6/1908].”

A committee appointed by Captain Rees recommended, at least for the on-going preliminary work, wage rates that were consistent with the desires of local businesses. Regarding the source of workers, however, there was “no understanding as to the racial quality of labor to be employed on the whole job, but [the seven men] hired so far are citizens [SA 6/7/1908].”

“Fervor and commotion” would accurately describe events during the next few days: On June 9, the PCA clarified its position by saying that, although “what Federal contractors do is none of Honolulu’s business,” citizen workers residing in Hawaii should be given priority over outsiders. Except for small farmers, it reasoned, workers from the Coast should be avoided because some were union organizers, while most were anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese. Moreover, the editors continued, when brought here in 1899 by the construction firm of Lord & Belser, Californians voted for the Home Rulers and against “the Republican and Democratic tickets [and] the employing classes;” in other words, “they were against property, stability, conservatism, capital.”

On the same day, under a headline that said “the merchants are aroused,” the Hawaiian Star explained that a group of them were admitted by engineer Parks to discuss the matter only after “being assured that their ideas were different” than the Advertiser’s. The engineer was reported to have said that, because of its possibly adverse international implications, if it “were taken too much by the press,” he could not, in his federal capacity, discuss the issue openly. He nevertheless offered assurances that “before Pearl Harbor is completed everyone will be satisfied [HS 6/9/1908].” The EB gave a similar account, and both papers reported that the Association voted to simply drop the question and to express “confidence in engineer Parks [EB 6/12/1908].”

Although acknowledging that some labor had to be imported to avoid the substitution of “Asiatic for white labor,” the PCA strongly warned against the elements that, after the Great Earthquake of April 18, 1906, brought about the experience of “the rebuilders of San Francisco, who have had all the $8 per day bricklayers and $9 per day plumbers forced upon them by union rules that they crave [6/10/1908].”

Speaking on the wider labor conditions in Hawai`i while on a general inspection tour of the Territory that included Pearl Harbor, U.S. Secretary of the Interior James Rudolph Garfield enunciated “there is one point regarding which I am clear - that you must positively get European labor in the Islands either directly or through the United States [EB 6/29/1908].” As if wishing to have the last word, however, the PCA came out against homesteading farmers from “Italy or Spain or Portugal” but favoring “[Anglo-Saxons and Celts] from an English-speaking American base [6/30/1908].”

Such was the ethnic and racial political climate of those times!

April 2008:  Schroeder Board on Pearl Harbor Job
By: C. S. Papacostas

As quoted in the Evening Bulletin one hundred years ago, the Army and Navy Journal envisioned that “the new dock ... will be large enough to take in battleships which may be designed in the next twenty-five years [and] that the Pearl Harbor station shall be a model of its kind, with elaborate coaling, cold storage and handling facilities, as well as a plant for repairing ships [EB 6/13/1908].”

Last month (March 2008), I explained that in June 1908 Navy engineers stationed in Honolulu under the direction of C. W. Parks were feverishly gathering data relating to Pearl Harbor improvements, including land surveys, borings and soundings, ahead of the arrival of Rear Admiral Seaton Schroeder who was to chair a board to pass judgment on the plans for the new Naval Station. The Admiral was in command of the “USS Virginia,” one of the battleships in the Atlantic Fleet that was on a historic cruise around the world. The impending sojourn in Hawai`i of the “Great White Fleet” generated much anxiety and anticipation in Honolulu.

Led by Territorial Secretary Mott-Smith, the Chamber of Commerce and other mercantile groups organized several planning, reception and entertainment committees to welcome the armada. Neither was the profit motive subdued in the process: Some looked forward to the business opportunity of supplying the fleet, but Admiral Samuel W. Very, the local naval commandant, let them down by saying “Do you suppose that the matter of food is not planned for in the movement of navy vessels just as carefully as anything else? Fleets are not sent out on cruises to get their provisions by chance [Pacific Commercial Advertiser, PCA 3/20/1908].” Moreover, responding to merchants and ranchers who had sought his influence in Washington, Delegate Kuhio explained that the Navy had, in fact, procured enough beef to take the fleet to Australia “which was one of the cheapest meat markets in the world [EB 6/1/1908].” Nevertheless, replenishment of perishables and expenditures by Navy personnel on shore leave boded well for the local economy.

​The fleet left San Francisco for Honolulu on July 7, 1908 under the command of Rear Admiral Charles Stillman Sperry who had replaced the ailing Rear Admiral Robley Dunglison Evans.

In a letter to Mott-Smith that was reprinted by the PCA Sperry had suggested, among other things, modes of cooperation between the fleet patrol and the local police, emphasizing “that within the past ten years the class of men in the service has totally changed,” and boasting “there is nowhere in the world a body of working men equal to them in good character and intelligence.”

Drawing upon earlier experiences with landing “as many as three to four thousand men per day [without] the slightest trouble,” he asked for at least six convenient boat landings capable of accommodating a 40-foot steamer with adequate on-shore staging room, and “leaflets” showing sailors “the excursions which may be made in the vicinity, the means of conveyance, and the lawful and proper fares.”

He revisited this last point by cautioning against “any attempt of imposing against them any excessive charges,” and suggesting that “the transportation lines along the Coast towns have very frequently made the uniform of the sailor a free passport on all their lines.” He also claimed that the sailors would not be interested in visiting saloons and drinking if better accommodations were made available to them, as for example the facilities of the YMCA. To clarify his claim, he attached a letter from G. S. Martin, the Secretary in Charge of the San Francisco YMCA, that listed a summary of services offered there, e.g., number of individuals served, number of beds rented, meals served, games played, etc.

Of a peculiarly Hawaiian twist was the Admiral’s answer to questions “whether or not the hula hula [sic] should be given as entertainment to the men” to which he responded with “an emphatic negative.” In his opinion, the hula was “prohibited by law, and while it may be decently performed, the public belief would be quite to the contrary if it were given, even if it were not forbidden.”

He estimated a Honolulu arrival of July 16 and agreed to a request made through Governor Frear to “have the fleet pass within sight during daylight” of the “Leper Settlement, Molokai [PCA 6/10/1908].”

It is of note that not everybody in town was as positively inclined as the merchants toward the comfort and convenience of the visiting sailors. The Honolulu Board of Supervisors, for example, rejected a suggestion from Captain Corwin P. Rees, who had replaced Admiral Very in April, to oil the dusty streets on the waterfront because “there was nothing to justify the expense,” even though “Chairman Hustace suggested the water carts be got out [PCA 6/13/1908]” instead.

On July 16, the first, second and fourth Divisions of the fleet anchored off Diamond Head in view of “cheering throngs [EB 7/16/1908].” As planned, the third Division was to “proceed at once to Maui and anchor there to take coal from colliers [EB 6/10/1908].” Along with their escorts, the Louisiana, Ohio, Virginia and Missouri dropped anchor off Lahaina [EB 7/16/1908]. The local newspapers ran long special fleet editions containing historical and cultural information, as well as sports and entertainment opportunities, along with advertisements by most commercial establishments of any size.

Only a day later, the EB ran a headline that read “Schroeder Board Is On Pearl Harbor Job,” and listed the board’s members as: Admiral Schroeder; Capt. J. B. Murdock of the Rhode Island; Lieut. Commander H. I. Cone who was identified as fleet engineer; Commander E. E. Capehart of the Louisiana; Captain Rees; Navy Civil Engineer Parks; and “naval constructor” L. S. Adams.

​On July 27, it was announced, “the Schroeder Board is finished with its work. Investigations over the stay of the Fleet at the Pearl Harbor site are through, and recommendations will be made to the Department on the strength of these. [EB 7/27/1908].” The Admiral was also quoted to say, “a great deal of maps will have to be drawn and submitted to Washington.”

May 2008:  Watertown: Opposite the Shark-Pen
By: C. S. Papacostas

Last month (April 2008), I explained that, during a visit of the Atlantic Fleet in July 1908, the “Schroeder Board” met to review surveys and preliminary plans assembled by the Territory’s contingent of the US Navy to satisfy the provisions of Congressional Act 13 of 1908 establishing a naval station at Pearl Harbor. This entailed dredging the entry channel; constructing the necessary infrastructure and other naval facilities; and building “thereat one graving drydock capable of receiving the largest war vessel of the navy, at a cost not to exceed two million dollars for said drydock.”

All three of these naval station components, and indeed many individual elements of each, were notable engineering achievements. In addition, some of the nearby contemporaneous works of the Army (under separate congressional appropriations of funds) are also of special interest to engineers.

In early August, the Evening Bulletin [EB 8/6/1908] reported that, on just one day, 150 men took out applications to work at the naval station after a call for “general helpers, common laborers, artesian-well drivers, engine tenders, tool sharpeners, pile-drivers, carpenters, blacksmiths, boatmen, firemen, pipe fitters, and riggers” in anticipation of the notice-to-proceed from Washington. On Aug. 12, the same paper explained that the Navy was examining ways to import silica sand and cement from the Coast because the sand dredged locally contained too much “crushed shell” and cement was not produced in the Territory at that time (note: as I documented in a series of articles in 2004 and 2005, with the exception of some production during World War II, full scale manufacture of cement on O`ahu started in 1960 and lasted 40 years.) Back in 1908, the EB announced on Aug. 28 that Truman Handy Newberry, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, had approved the plans for a 200-ft wide and 35-foot deep channel and the location of the graving drydock. In response, on Sept. 11, a Dec. 1 deadline for receiving sealed bids for the channel job was advertised in New York, San Francisco and Honolulu newspapers, while federal engineers proceeded with the sizing and design of the drydock.

About a month later, a day before departing after a three-week inspection of the site, Rear Admiral Richard C. Hollyday, a civil engineer and Chief of the Navy Department of Yards and Docks, announced that bids for the drydock would be probably opened in the following January [EB 10/10/1908].

The cost limit of $2 million placed on the drydock by the enabling legislation hampered designers in finalizing its size because of the parallel requirement to accommodate not less than “the largest war vessel of the navy.” The largest size of dock that could be built within budget could not accommodate the “USS North Dakota” then under construction, the British “HMS Dreadnought” that eventually gave its name to that class of vessels, and the largest size of ship that could navigate the locks of the Panama Canal that was afoot. As a result, the reported dimensions of the structure kept changing, from as short as 620 feet to as long as 1200, and at varying widths as well [e.g., New York Times, NYT 11/18/1908; Pacific Commercial Advertiser, PCA 12/7/1908; Hawaiian Star, HS 12/6/1911].

Regarding the bidding for the three-year channel-enlarging project, the EB of Nov. 11 said “E. J. Lord, the local dredging magnate, will leave for the States on the Mongolia... He will be one of the prime movers in a new company which is being organized, the Dillingham interests being among those concerned, for the purpose of submitting a bid for the dredging work that will be done at Pearl Harbor.”

With a bid amounting to $3.56 million for the dredging component, the newly formed concern, The Hawaiian Dredging Company, “was found to have made the lowest figure of the six bidders, which included two Honolulu concerns and four mainland companies [EB 12/1/1908].” The new enterprise, however, had an established partner: “ The contract for the dredging of the Pearl Harbor channel... will be handled in a combination with the San Francisco Bridge Company, a concern well known in this city and which handled large contracts for the Territorial government here [PCA 12/18/1908].”  As for ownership, “the report that the Hawaiian Dredging Company is now owned entirely by the Dillingham interests is confirmed by news brought by the Hiltonian last night, E. J. Lord having sold his interest to them for one hundred thousand dollars [PCA 12/22/1908].”

By Feb. 1, 1909 the firm was ready to establish its construction camp by clearing “about three or four acres of land on the Honolulu side of the channel, about opposite the shark-pen at Puuloa... The company has just leased six acres of land from the Bishop Estate, and the camp will be located about between the naval and military [read, Army] reservations [PCA 2/1/1909].” Specifically, “Watertown, the camp of the Hawaiian Dredging Company on the Waikiki or Honolulu shore of the channel, is just below Bishop Point, and mauka of Queen Emma Point, where the two 57-ton guns are to be located for the first defense battery of Fort Upton,” as the Army reservation was briefly called. On Dec. 13, 1909, it was renamed Fort Kamehameha. Eventually, in 1991, it was absorbed in what is now the Hickam Air Force Base.

The particular shark-pen described above is also shown on early maps; it was said to have been the abode of an `aumakua, that is, a protective family deity or deified ancestor.

Water for Watertown was secured from an artesian well dug by the McCandless Brothers firm on the Damon Estate located five miles away in Moanalua Valley [EB 2/9/1909]. Until the pipeline from Moanalua was completed, “water was conveyed in water barges from Pearl Harbor peninsula to the camp [PCA 2/27/1909].”

Rail and roadway links were also necessary to facilitate the construction and eventual occupancy of the naval base, including the drydock.

In a story from Associated Press Cablegrams, the Sunday Advertiser confirmed, “it has been definitely decided to amend the plans for the drydock to be constructed at Pearl Harbor and to increase the length of the drydock to 1195 feet. This will make [it] the largest ever constructed by any government [SA 12/20/1908].”

According the EB, “the Engineering News of December 5 prints the advertisement of the Navy Department for bids for the construction of the dock,” with plans and specifications being available in Washington and, on December 14, in Honolulu [EB 12/21/1908]. However, it was not until December 29 that “the belated documents have arrived and any contractor can secure copies by making the required deposit of $100 [EB 12/29/1908].

The initial round of bids was opened in February 1909, but this only marked the onset of pilikia!

June 2008:  Drydock Bids are Rejected
By: C. S. Papacostas

In April, I received an e-message from Carolyn Brewster saying in part, “I’ve read some of your columns and find them interesting. I currently work at the Shipyard and have been involved in putting together a book of the Shipyard’s first 100 years.”

Six days later, another e-message arrived from Kendrick Settsu that included, “Dr. Papacostas, I guess it’s been about 26 years since you mentored me at the University of Hawaii. You helped me intern at DTS [that is, Dept. of Transportation Services, City & County of Honolulu] where I met Peter Ho, Gordon Lum, Toru Hamayasu, Denis Fukumoto. I have been working as a Nuclear Engineer at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard... “

Considering Ken’s current affiliation, I told him about my recent columns that Ms. Brewster had mentioned. His response two days later contained, “Wow,that was very interesting. Was it in support of our centennial celebration, when family came to visit our restricted offices? Although it may be too late, could I pass on the notes to be included in all the research that has been done for our centennial celebration? I don’t remember seeing any articles that went all the way back to construction of dry dock #1! I’ve spent many hours, days, weeks, months, and years servicing submarines in dry dock #1, including the USS GREENEVILLE after it hit the Ehime-Maru. Then in November 2006, I was an assistant Coach who went to Ehime Prefecture in Japan to play a Goodwill Series between Hawaii and Japanese 11 and 12-year-old baseball players. We visited the Ehime-Maru memorial at the Ehime fisheries school in Japan as well as the memorial at Kakaako Park.”

The tragic collision between the Navy submarine and the Japanese training fishing-boat occurred on Feb. 9, 2001 about 9 nautical miles south of O`ahu and caused the death of nine fishing crew members, including four high school students. I told Ken that, during a walk at the park several months ago, I chanced upon the Kaka`ako memorial that he mentioned and that, for me, it was a moving, evocative experience. As for his request to send my not to those documenting the Shipyard’s centennial, I, of course, had no objection. Let us now return to the history of dry dock #1.

In one of the few Pacific Commercial Advertiser (PCA) news stories of those times to carry a “by” line, reporter Ernest G. Walker announced that the contract for dredging the channel to Pearl Harbor had been signed by the Acting Secretary of the Navy Herbert L. Satterlee for the Bureau of Yards and Docks (BY&D), and by George F. Denison and Walter F. Dillingham for the Hawaiian Dredging Company [PCA 1/9/1909]. “The bids for the drydock,” the Dec. 28 “mail special” from Washington continued, “are to be opened February 13.”

Walker then enfolded a detailed design memorandum prepared by the BY&D. According to these plans, the drydock was to be “the largest ever constructed by the Navy” with an overall length of 1195 feet, overall width of 140 feet and a “draft over sill at mean high water of thirty five feet.” It was to have two sets of caissons (that is, floated gates) that could divide it into two independent compartments with the requisite unique pumping and drainage systems, and a special innovative design of bilge block and docking keel block bearers to make the working floor “absolutely level from end to end.” Bids were to be called for three alternate shapes of head, trapezoidal in addition to the more common arched and V-shaped. Attesting to the facility’s great size was the inclusion of 16 flights of stairs, each taking “sixty-five steps to go rom the floor to the coping.” Also, a track for a 40-ton crane was to encircle the structure “with the inner rail close to the edge of the coping!” Concrete was considered suitable “on account of the equable climate and absence of frost.”

After solicitation of bids, contractor Edmund J. Lord who, as we saw last month (May 2008), had severed his association with the Hawaiian Dredging Co., led the creation of a new local stock company, intending to compete for the job [PCA 1/7/1909]. The petition for the incorporation of the “E. J. Lord Construction Company” reflected that, as company President, Lord held 9996 shares, whereas Vice Pres. Louis M. Whitehouse, Secretary Charles F. Clemons, Treasurer Frank E. Thompson, and Director Charles L. Seybolt held but one share each [PCA 1/19/1909]. Whitehouse, a Stanford engineering graduate, had originally come to Hawai`i with his classmate Johnny Wilson to build the then “new” Pali Road (see my Nov. 2001 article).

Other potential bidders were also seen in Honolulu. For example, Charles McDermontt and engineer J. J. Overn of the McDermott Contracting Company of Philadelphia arrived here on the Nippon Maru “to see what Pearl Harbor looks like, size up the situation and the specifications and bid in all we can get,” according to the engineer [PCA 1/9/1909].

On Feb. 13, the Evening Bulletin [EB] described a cablegram E. J. Lord, who along with L. M. Whitehouse was present at bid opening, sent to Frank Thompson that same day: “Two million, three hundred and seventy one thousand dollars was the low bid put in for the construction of the Pearl Harbor drydock, and the successful bidder was the Pacific Coast Contracting Company, of which Captain Matson is a large stockholder. A cablegram from the Associated Press correspondent at Washington tells a different story, however.”

Next day’s Sunday Advertiser (SA) printed the contents of three cablegrams on its front page: The one from Lord to Thompson as described above and that their own bid was second; another from reporter Walker saying that the Pacific Construction Company made the lowest responsible bid; and the third from the Associated Press indicating that among the eight bidders that submitted bids “under six items of varying specifications, the lowest in all particulars” was by C. M. Leech of Boston with $1,886,885 for a dock 795 feet long [SA 2/14/1909].

Surprisingly, six days later, a PCA headline declared that PEARL HARBOR DRYDOCK BIDS ARE REJECTED. The situation became clearer in a Feb. 27 “Mail Special to the Advertiser” from Walker carrying the dateline “WASHINGTON, Feb. 14.-” and by other news fragments in the local dailies.

A total of twenty concerns (listed by Walker) submitted inquiries for plans and specifications, but only eight bids were received. These were for a main design designated as “Item No. 1” and consisting of a drydock 1195 feet long “having a V-shaped head and octagonal pump well.” Quotations for eleven variations in length and other attributes were also solicited. The lowest bids were indeed submitted by C. M. Leech of Boston “who gave his address as care of the navy yard, that city.” However, “his bid was not accompanied by a bond and therefore will not be considered.” This left the Pacific Construction Company as the lowest responsible bidder.

​Nevertheless, all bids exceeded the $2,000,000 ceiling placed on the facility by the enabling legislation that was enacted by the US Congress on May 13, 1908. As a result, all bids were rejected, a smaller graving drydock was considered for new bids to be opened in May 1909.

July 2008:  The World's Largest Drydock
By: C. S. Papacostas

Considering the significant role that Hawaiian Dredging Co. played in the development of Pearl Harbor, I should not have been surprised to hear from Kirt Pruyn of that company last February, after I began my latest series on Drydock #1: “We enjoyed reading your article on the origins of Pearl Harbor in the recent Wiliki o Hawaii. Mahalo for your research and writing,” he wrote, “We have some great photos of this historic drydock, and have attached a few to this email.”

“In the upcoming March article,” I responded in part, “I mention the 1908 Honolulu Harbor widening job by the company, including the use of the “Reclamation” and “Governor” dredges.” After an exchange of additional e-messages on the subject, we arranged for a lunch meeting, following my return from a conference in Beijing where I chaired a session organized by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Chinese Academy of Transportation Sciences. Allan Lock, company VP, joined us on May 8 in a very enjoyable get-together where we exchanged information about the early days of the naval station and adjacent developments.

On May 13, Kirt sent me copies of several valuable documents, including a 20-page speech given on July 11, 1951 by Walter Dillingham to the Propeller Club of the Port of Honolulu. The club’s president, Ernest C. Gray, introduced the founder of Hawaiian Dredging whose speech included a description of some modest attempts by the Hawaiian Monarchy to work a clamshell dredge at Honolulu Harbor up to 1874, the establishment of the company in 1902 and all the subsequent dredging that added 4,280 acres to the island of O`ahu. As he put it himself, when approached by a Captain John R. Parker to start the company, “I didn’t know a hydraulic dredge from a sugar mill.” He also described how they put together the dredger “Reclamation” out of salvaged parts and a new pump. I suspect that I will find occasion to return to many of these firsthand accounts in the future. But now I must return to our main theme, the construction of Drydock #1.

Last month (June 2008) we discovered that none of the responsible bids opened in Feb. 1909 met the ceiling of $2 million established by the U. S. Congress. As a result new tenders were called for a “620 foot dock, with conditions allowing the building of a double dock if Congress subsequently votes a larger authorization,” according to the Pacific Commercial Advertiser [PCA] of 6/8/1909. Following bid opening on May 22, the Hawaiian Star printed a short Associated Press cable informing that C. M. Leech of Boston was the lowest bidder with $1,295,321. The next higher bid was from the San Francisco Bridge Company [SFBC] at $1,760,000 [HS, 5/22/1909]. The Evening Bulletin [EB] of the same day gave consistent information, but indicated that bids were received for several design alternatives. For the second time, C. M. Leech failed to provide the necessary bond and was considered non-responsible, allowing the next higher bid to stand. According to the New York Times [6/16/1909], the “World’s Largest Dry Dock” at 620-foot length and 140-foot width was accepted by Navy Secretary George von L. Meyer. The losing bids were listed by PCA reporter Ernest G. Walker as Pacific Construction Co.($1,799,000), E. J. Lord of Honolulu $1,792,000),O’Malley $1,800,000), McCarthur Construction Co. ($1,905,000), Cotton Brothers ($1,961,000), and Pearson’s of England ($1,941,000). None of them exceeded the $2 million limit this time! Hawaiian Dredging went in with SFBC, with which it had also partnered for dredging the channel at the mouth of Pearl Harbor.


Announcing that the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks Rear-Admiral Richard C. Hollyday had returned on the Siberia the day before for a second inspection tour, the Aug. 31, 1909 PCA notified the public of the impending start of the job “in about a month” and its planned completion in 32 months: “F. B. Smith, representing the firm that was awarded the contract also arrived on the Siberia and the two were met by W. F. Dillingham, head of the Hawaiian Dredging Company.” A Congressional party was also on the ground for a visit of army and navy projects in the Territory [PCA, 9/30/1909].

As reprinted locally 10 months later, the “Army and Navy Register” reported that the current contract was “for a dock 589 feet long, 113 feet 4 inches wide at the entrance and with 32 feet 6 inches over the blocks at mean high water.” This was considered “barely sufficient to accommodate the largest vessels under construction and insufficient to accommodate the larger commercial vessels on the Pacific Coast flying the American flag [6/24/1910].”

The next day, Dillingham was quoted “the work on the channel and the drydock is progressing satisfactorily. The only thing hanging fire is the final passage of the naval bill embodying an appropriation for an increase in size of the proposed drydock from 620 to 814 feet.” He anticipated completion of the excavation for the drydock in two months, followed by concrete placement, utilizing an estimated 200,000 barrels of cement, and a project completion by the latter part of 1912. A second story in the same issue of the PCA announced that Alfred C. Lewerenz, principal civil engineer, would arrive on the Manchuria about July 17 “to take charge of engineering work on the drydock and other improvements.”

​In Dec. 1910, bids for furnishing the drydock caissons (that is, floating gates) were won by the Moran Company of Seattle for $110,000 and the first attempt to empty the lengthened drydock basin of water in preparation of concreting commenced in May, 1911.

​As the PCA described it, “they were anxious hours for the contractors, for this is the very crux of the entire work of building the drydock [PCA, 5/4/1911].”

August 2008:  A Pile Foundation Instead
By: C. S. Papacostas

Once again, I am indebted to Kirt Pruyn of Hawaiian Dredging, this time for sending me a copy of “Fit To Fight” the centennial ommemorative that was published this year by the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard Association. This magnificent volume, which was printed in Korea by the way, contains a brief coverage of our current subject, Drydock No. 1, along with several great pre, during, and post construction pictures from the Navy’s archives.

As we saw last month (July 2008), dewatering the drydock basin began in early May 1911 under the general supervision of engineer Francis B. Smith of the San Francisco Bridge Co., the prime contractor for the job. According to the Pacific Commercial Advertiser (PCA), the plan was to drain 200-foot long by 60-foot deep sections of the 840-foot long basin and to pour concrete in the dry hole for the planned 35-foot deep structure. Each section was coffer-dammed by tongue-and-groove wood sheet piling and supported by false crib work. Sawdust was placed in the water surrounding the compartment and forced into the small cracks to act as caulking material in the barrier by the pumping process. In addition, divers “used sailcloth against cracks [PCA, 5/4/1911].” The pumping assembly, the PCA continued, was “placed on platforms which are really elevators. The whole structure, pumps, pipes, dynamos and all, can be lowered or raised as required.” Duplicate sets of boilers were included in the powerhouses ashore to allow for continuous operation.

Aggregate for the concrete was “quarried in the canyon leading to Wahiawa” and transported to the site by the Oahu Railroad Co. in special steel dump cars at a rate of 1000 tons per day. As for the construction operations there were “railroad tracks everywhere, steam engines, scores of small cars; great and small cranes; toolhouses, carpenter shops, planing mills, lumber piles, and laborers by hundreds.”

Unfortunately, in about one week, “it was found that the natural bottom of the dock [was] not firm enough to stand the pressure from below [PCA, 5/9/1911].” At a water level of 18 feet below low tide, a displacement of the crib work upward began to be noticed. At 20 feet, it was “more apparent” or about 10 inches.

The upshot of this development was described by the PCA thus: “These indications satisfied the contractors and the government engineers that it would be necessary to build a foundation under the dock to offset this pressure and the work of driving piles all over the bottom of the dock will soon be proceeded with. While it would be quite possible to place the dock on a natural foundation, it is considered by those in a position to know that the surest method... is to place the dock on a pile foundation.”

The necessary redesign, procurement of wooden piles from the Northwest, and pile driving was expected to take several months and the next day’s Evening Bulletin, quoted Walter Dillingham, whose company was doing the dredging, “if the department wants the bottom laid on piles or any other way we will do the work, but nothing can be done now until we hear their decision [EB, 5/10/1911].”

A PCA story on May 14 explained that a stratum of clay under a layer of coral was possibly the culprit that caused the adoption of the new construction scheme, probably under a supplemental contract. Unfortunately for the contractors, however, when engineer Smith returned from Washington where he negotiated with the Navy, it was learned that “the additional cost... will fall upon the construction company, there being a clause in the contract which called for possible piling as might be needed [EB, 7/7/1911].” In business, as in life, one takes one’s chances! By early August, the EB announced that enormous amounts of materials had been accumulated at the station in preparation for “rush work” at the drydock site, including a concrete mixing plant, aggregate, cement, and 2500 timber piles as part of the first of three anticipated shipments.

The new construction sequence was that “as soon as the piledrivers have the piles driven on the land end of the dock, the concrete will be poured, forming an 8-foot floor. This floor will be laid under water by means of a tremie and will be allowed to set and hardened thoroughly before the water is pumped from the cribs. This first section of the floor when set will prevent the swelling up of the harbor bottom. After the water has been pumped out, about nine feet more of concrete will be laid on top of the other [EB, 8/3/1911].”

When concrete placement commenced, the EB reported that “while [the tremie method] was several years old and has been used successfully on some of the great engineering works in the Eastern States, it is the first time it has been used on such a large scale in naval shore construction, and the local engineers are watching every detail carefully [EB, 10/11/1911].”

But this was not the end of the story!

September 2008:  One of the Best
By: C. S. Papacostas

U.S. Navy Captain and Environmental Engineer Martin McMorrow, whom I often meet at the Friday luncheons of Engineers and Architects of Hawaii (EAH) at the Laniakea YWCA, explained to me that the title of the Pearl Harbor centennial volume I mentioned last month (August 2008) came from the shipyard’s motto:  “We keep them fit to fight.”

Also last month, we saw that an uplift tendency of the bottom of the basin being dug for Drydock No. 1 upon dewatering motivated a change in design. The new approach was to drive thousands of wooden piles into the cradle, tremie about 8 feet of concrete to ensure stability, and then pump out the water and finish the floor by dry laying an additional 9 feet of concrete. Three special pile drivers for underwater operations were procured and meticulous records of the piles were planned [Evening Bulletin, EB, 8/3/1911]. By early October, tons of concrete were being laid in 12x14 foot forms (or “pockets”) in four cribs of equal area under 52 feet of water. The caps of the piles extended 4 feet into the concrete layer [EB, 10/11/1911].

Only two months later, as a Special Correspondence from Washington to the Hawaiian Star by J. A. Breckons announced, the Secretary of the Navy recommended to the President that the “dry dock at Pearl Harbor be made not less than one thousand feet in length and one hundred and ten feet in width to conform to the size of the locks of the Panama Canal [HS, 12/6/1911]” then under construction. Secretary Meyer’s justification was because the naval forces of Britain, France and Germany had far superior facilities at their disposal [EB, 12/12/1911].

A respite from routine operations occurred on December 14, 1911 when the Pacific Fleet’s flagship, the California, with Admiral Chauncey Thomas at the helm, broke a ribbon stretched across the mouth of Pearl Harbor at about 11:00 in the morning. The event was organized by the Chamber of Commerce and attracted hundreds of notables and regular folks who arrived by boat, road and train. As far as the participants were concerned, this was the opening of Pearl Harbor, even though an official pronouncement clearly stated, “Pearl Harbor is not to be formally opened Thursday, in the official sense. The trip of the flagship California through the entrance channel will be an inspection only [EB, 12/12/1911].”

The following evocative scene was among the many notable happenings of the day as captured by the Pacific Commercial Advertiser: “Just beneath stood Judge Stanford B. Dole, former president of the Republic of Hawaii, during whose administration the Hawaiian Islands were ceded by treaty to the United States, and upon the quarter deck, surrounded by a number of her former subjects, sat Queen Liliuokalani, the former monarch of the Islands [PCA, 12/16/1911].” I wonder what these two protagonists were thinking as they gazed upon each other!

As for the progress of the California, this is part of what the same source said: “The [dredge] Gaylord blew three blasts of its whistle and the cruiser passed on swiftly. Then at eleven-eight, the cruiser passed Watertown, the little village which sprang up with the commencement of the dredging operation four years ago, and then passed the famous old Shark’s Pen, or what is left of it, for the dredgers sheared the outcrop entirely away.” The actual completion of the first major dredging project was in January 1912 [EB, 1/12/1912]. The original estimated duration was 36 months, the actual, a little less than 37!

At the drydock site about the same time, the underwater concrete slab in Section 1 had been completed and it came time to begin dewatering once again. However, when the water level reached 36.5 feet, a tendency of the bottom to risew as again detected. Navy Civil Engineer Ernest R. Gayler, who was in charge of the work, decided to provide an overburden of stone to weigh down the structure, and, at first, this appeared to be satisfactory [EB, 2/5/1912].

But then, it was discovered that it was “necessary to take out some of the concrete ‘pockets’ and substitute a richer mixture, as water seems to be leaking through [EB, 2/19/1912].” A chisel fitted with three sharp teeth and weighted with railroad iron was to be dropped from a height of 20 feet to chip away the hardened concrete. Explaining the resulting delay, the EB of 4/17/1912 quoted subcontractor Walter F. Dillingham saying “investigations are being carried on by the Navy department engineers with various materials and different combinations of material, to ascertain what mixture and what materials for such are available for making the most satisfactory concrete,” as “this is the first American dock to be built of under-water concrete.”

Admiral Homer R. Stanford, the newly appointed Chief of Yards and Docks, was scheduled to arrive in July to inspect and approve the concrete mix, to negotiate the change order and to help decide on whether the pending 200-foot extension of the facility would be on the land or the harbor side. The new concrete mix contained Puget Sound sand, but experimentation with Waianae crusher dust continued in search of a less costly design [Star-Bulletin, SB, 7/19/1912]. The original mix proportions were 1 part cement, 3 parts sand, and 6 parts crushed rock. The new design ended up being 1-2-3.5 with only one-third of the sand imported from the Coast [SB, 8/27/1912]. President S. G. Hindes of the San Francisco Bridge Co., the prime contractor, also arrived on the Sierra with the Admiral [SB, 7/22/1912; PCA, 7/23/1912].

Construction of the drydock’s 65-foot deep pump well on pile foundation was already under construction [PCA, 7/26/1912] and, at 750 tons and 125 by 75 feet, what was “believed to be the worlds largest pontoon” was being constructed of steel by the Union Iron Works of San Francisco to support a large crane for the facility. Incidentally, a cross-section of the then current version of the drydock appeared in the local press, for those interested in seeing it [PCA, 8/9/1912].

The Admiral departed on the Sonoma on Aug. 9 having declared, “my trip to Honolulu has told me more about the work here than any amount of statistical and descriptive reports and maps studied away from here.” Anticipating approval of the dock’s new dimensions, he concluded, “Pearl Harbor will be the largest drydock of the navy, I think, one of the best.”

October 2008:  Dry Dock Blows Up
By: C. S. Papacostas

Back in Aug. 1912, the U.S. Congress took up the issue of increasing the dimensions of Drydock No.1, which was under construction at the Pearl Harbor shipyard as recommended by the Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks and its Chief, Admiral Homer R. Stanford.

“If Congress as anticipated appropriates the funds for the extension of the dock to 1000 feet in length, the matter will be taken up by a board of government engineers who will fix the price for the additional work,” Walter Dillingham, subcontractor to the San Francisco Bridge Co., was quoted in the Star-Bulletin [SB, 8/12/1912].

Soon thereafter, owing to the general progress at various parts of the shipyard, it was “thought advisable to have the departments directly interested in and responsible for the construction right on the scene of operations. This morning it was decided to move the public works department and the paymaster’s office to the new yard, and by the first of the month the draughtsmen, clerks, and other employees of both departments [SB, 8/19/1912].”

And then, under the heading “Naval Officers Will Have Houses with Real Lanais,” it was also announced that “the Spalding construction Co. of Portland has landed another big building contract,” having underbid W. N. Concannon Co. of San Francisco, and local firms Lord-Young Engineering Co. and Honolulu Planing Mill. The lanai detail, designed by Hawaii-based Navy engineer Ernest R. Gayler who was in charge of all naval construction in the Territory, was “one instance where Uncle Sam will build houses suitable in every way to the climate
[SB, 8/21/1912].”

Once the appropriation bill was passed by Congress and signed by President William Howard Taft, Gayler, along with civil engineers Kirby Smith and C. A. Bostrom were asked by Rear Admiral Walter C. Cowles, Honolulu Commandant, to determine the cost of the 200-foot extension to the drydock length and the costlier concrete mix design I discussed last month (Sept. 2008). By the end of Sept., Gayler presented a progress report to the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce, indicating, among other developments at the yard, that Congress had raised the drydock’s cost ceiling from $2 million to a little less than $3.5 million, $3,486,500 to be exact.

The richer concrete mix design needed to ameliorate the leakage and uplift problems detected earlier required that some fines be imported from Puget Sound. At the Oct. 25 bid opening, both submittals to deliver 30,000 tons of sand to Honolulu were rejected in favor of employing naval colliers (including one named “Nero”). The reasons for this were that “one local firm bid $.50 per ton using foreign steamers, and another bid $4.73 per ton, using American steamers. The latter bid was considered too high and the former [was] rejected because foreign steamers are not considered desirable in delivering material for government fortification [Pacific Commercial Advertiser, PCA, 11/7/1912].” This, in other words, was the 1912 version of today’s “Buy American” policies.

In my Jan. 2008 article, I explained that when the navy, in 1907, first sought the support of Honolulu’s merchants for the opening of Pearl Harbor, it argued that the new facility would be used for both “naval and commercial purposes.” Subsequent developments, however, altered these plans and, by the end of 1912, instead of using one of the Territory’s harbor pilots, it opted “to keep a more careful watch by having its own... Boatswains Metters and Kenney of the navy have been commissioned as pilots to guide all vessels into the lochs.” Moreover, it “issued instructions concerning how and when the naval channel may be used by commercial vessels [PCA, 11/12/1912].”

On the same day, the other major daily proclaimed that at the drydock “the concrete troubles hung fire for months [but] work was finally progressing rapidly and the contractors are rushing things to make up for lost time. The second section is almost ready for pumping and no accidents are looked for when the water level is lowered. The first section, which contained the original faulty concrete, is being cleaned out preparatory to having the new mixture poured [SB,11/12/1912].”

On Saturday Feb. 1, 1913, the PCA declared “work on section two, Pearl Harbor Dock, completed” on Thursday, “pumps to start next week.” The Feb. 9 issue of the Sunday Adveriser kept the public informed that “tomorrow Engineer F. B. Smith proposes to start three big suction pumps to work and by Saturday next, the pumping will be in full swing.” The engineer, whose nickname was “Drydock,” by the way, “has perfect faith in the work.”

But alas, the SB EXTRA banner headline on Monday, Feb. 17 read “DRY DOCK BLOWS UP.”

November 2008:  Mass of Wreckage
By: C. S. Papacostas

A disastrous event occurred during the construction of Drydock No. 1 at Pearl Harbor and this is how this year’s Shipyard Centennial publication “Fit To Fight” described it:

“Then, on February 17, 1913, the drydock floor imploded upwards from hydrostatic pressure, due to faulty piling and foundation design. An entire new section of the drydock, 200 feet long, blew up caissons, iron work, and concrete. Rubble flew 15 feet in the air. Timbers, scores of pumps, derricks and locomotives were all wrecked. The disaster was followed by 22 months of investigation, political recrimination and legal battles.”

On the afternoon of the disaster, the Star Bulletin (SB) ran an extra edition saying, “Unable to stand the pressure from below, the bottom of the section of the gigantic dry dock at Pearl Harbor, which the construction engineers had pumped out, blew up this afternoon. The cribwork, placed in position to finish the work, was completely destroyed, but no one was injured, as the section was cleared in plenty of time... The first sign of the coming disaster was the sinking of the forward section of the dock, the section nearest the sea. This was followed in a few seconds by the upheaval of the concrete bottom of the pumped out section.”

The Pacific Commercial Advertiser (PCA) of the next day published a photograph of the site under the title “Disaster Overwhelms Pearl Harbor Project — Three Sections of Drydock Collapse in mass of wreckage.” It speculated that “Uncle Sam May Drop Task,” but not until underwater investigations were completed, perhaps overstating “Divers, groping in the dim green light that filters through a mass of broken timbers, twisted iron and uprooted pilings of a ruined drydock today determining the fate of Pearl Harbor. These submarine explorers are trying to deduce from conditions below the surface the real reason for the chaos that appears above.”

Attesting to the national gravity of the episode, the New York Times of Feb. 25 carried the special from Washington D.C. “$3,000,000 Sunk in Mud,” and also speculated that the project was in danger of being abandoned as “naval engineers say that the principal trouble with the dock is that it has been placed in a site where the mud is apparently unfathomable and, like the formations at the Culebra Cut, in Panama, will be continually shifting.”

As I explained earlier, the Panama Canal and Pearl Harbor were two critical components of the U.S. Naval global strategy.

Next month (Dec. 2008) we shall begin unraveling the rest of the story, particularly its technical and engineering aspects, but, for now, we attach for your contemplation a widely circulated picture of the devastation. It appears to me to be a cropped-off image of the original PCA image that was published on February 18, 1913.

December 2008:  The Drydock will be Completed
By: C. S. Papacostas

Louis Whitehouse had come to Honolulu in 1896 at the behest of his Stanford University classmate and future Honolulu mayor Johnny Wilson (see my Nov. 2001 article) and became one of the most influential civil engineers and contractors in the islands.

On Feb. 18, 1909, the Pacific Commercial Advertiser (PCA) printed a San Francisco Chronicle story quoting him while on a sojourn at the famed Hotel Stewart, “Anybody who does not understand the nature of the coral formation which lines the bottom of the Hawaiian harbors will stand to lose in making a bid on the contract to build drydocks in Pearl Harbor.”

“One of the greatest hindrances to construction in those harbors is the liability of artesian wells,” he continued and then went on to say that he would not be surprised if the successful bidder for the Pearl Harbor drydock construction contract would “find before it is over that he has a white elephant on his hands.”

Whitehouse was on his way to Washington, D.C., for the submittal of what turned out to be an unsuccessful bid for the drydock job that he had prepared with his then partner, E. J. Lord. Could it be that his comments about subsurface conditions wereinten ded to dissuade potential competitors from putting in their bids?

Understandably, when the partially completed facility “blew up” four years later to the day, the local newspapers sought Whitehouse out presuming that his prediction had come true, but he denied that he had the power to prophesy such an the event. To the Star-Bulletin (SB) he said, “Mr. Lord and I figured on the drydock work and the only difference I would have made in the operations would have been to put a steel sheeting instead of wood. But it would not have made a bit of difference in the result. The only opinion I expressed before the collapse was that the artesian water would prevent the piling from holding in the coral.” This opinion about artesian water was probably more recent than the one he had expressed in 1909, because a pile foundation had not been substituted for the original design until 1911 (see Aug. 2008).

As for the collapse mechanism, Whitehouse offered, “When the water was pumped out of the middle section down to thirty-seven feet, the suction from the outer sections forced the bottom of the middle one up.” These sections, by the way, were the first three compartments to which the basin was divided for the placement of concrete by the tremie method.

At that time, Rear Admiral Walter C. Cowles was the naval station’s commandant. He had “watched the drydock grow almost from its beginning” and was preparing to turn the local command over to Rear Admiral C. B. T. Moore in but a few of weeks [SB, 2/18/1913].” Ironically, around 3:00 p.m. on Feb. 17, Cowles “was conversing with an Advertiser representative at the local naval station on the apparent success of the work [and] Within fifteen minutes Civil Engineer E. R. Gayler, U. S. N., telephoned that the entire drydock had collapsed [PCA, 2/18/1913].” Cowles and Moore inspected the site the next morning and concluded “from all accounts it was not the concrete lining which gave way but the whole bottom of the section.”

Francis B. “Drydock” Smith, the contractor’s chief engineer on the project told SB “when the five-storyhigh false cribwork of Section 2 began to rise the fact was immediately noted by the men who were sighting along the section with levels.” He also said that the San Francisco Bridge Co. “immediately laid off its main force, keeping only a skeleton crew to clean up the wreckage [SB, 2/18/1913].”

Gayler’s assistant Navy engineer Kirby Smith was more animated with his description, “Imagine a structure like the Young Hotel, for instance, suddenly emerge from the ground, rise to its full height, and then collapse with a roar like an earthquake [PCA, 2/19.1913].”

During the next few days, the two major dailies interviewed anyone willing to talk to them, engineers, navy officers, laborers, divers and even Mr. and Mrs. F. P. Prichard, sightseeing visitors from Illinois, who happened to be at the scene, but often gave contradictory accounts of what exactly happened on that awful day. Even when quoting the same person, they gave disparate impressions of what was said. For example, one account had “Drydock” Smith saying, “There appears to be no bottom” at the site, whereas another offered a longer and quite different “there is apparently no bottom of the sort that will take a coffer dam system of construction.”

Technical conclusions, if not consensus, had to await several investigations and forensic analyses that I will summarize in a future article. For now, I’d like to turn my attention to the townspeople’s immediate reaction to the calamity. 

As the SB put it, “the wrecked drydock was a magnet that drew many persons from Honolulu to Pearl Harbor.” They arrived at the Pu`uloa train station and transferred to hacks for the final leg to the navy yard in a procession that “looked like a first class funeral.” They also came in “auto parties” on “the new road from Moanalua to Puuloa” that “was much appreciated by the gasoline fraternity.” At the site, “cameras were confiscated by the dozen, only press photographers and the favored few holding special permits were allowed to make pictures.” The town was abuzz with excitement!

And then appeared the Monday morning quarterbacks, as they always do, in the public square:  “Honolulu suddenly developed a battalion of men who know just how the dock should be built [PCA, 2/26/1913].” Specifically, “one has suggested a plan of lining the entire dock basin with iron or steel plates, riveted together like the hull of a ship and upon this lay the concrete. Another suggested that a tunnel be built to drain off the water from the basin which should be blocked up at the harbor end. Still another states the only way should be to fill the entire length with concrete, a solid mass and after it has settled [sic] to hew out the concrete that is unnecessary.”

​Based on their initial determinations, to a man, all the engineers on the job were of one voice about the future of the dock: “The drydock can and will be completed.” As far as I can tell, the first legitimate design option was offered by USN civil engineer Gayler, but it was not the one finally selected.



History & Heritage 2008

2014 Copyright ASCE Hawaii Section