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Reinventing Hawaii’s Round Top

For decades, Puu Ualakaa State Wayside was cared for by one man. Now, its management is changing hands, to a commercial tour company. What the shift means for one of Oahu’s most scenic parks.


(page 4 of 4)

The Making of Hawaii's Nutridge

Left: Nutridge as it appeared in its early days as a macadamia nut farm. Right: Nutridge today.

Historical photo: Courtesy Rick Ralston, Photo: David Croxford

Today, Nutridge Faces the open and vast view of Aiea, the airport, Pearl Harbor and beyond. Although the vista was dramatically less developed when architect Hart Wood designed the place, the residence remains a modest gem that sits in harmony with the abundant forest around it—neither Nutridge nor its environment stands in front of the other.

Nutridge got its name from Ernest Shelton Van Tassel, who established a farm on the property to introduce macadamia nuts as a commercial industry to the world.

Macadamia nuts are an Australian crop; Van Tassel reportedly got a taste of the nut at a party and loved it so much that he saw commercial viability in it and went to the government to see if he could lease land on the slopes between Puu Ualakaa and Puu Kakea for an orchard. Aside from a few trees that people used for shade or as windbreaks, Van Tassel’s were the first to be planted for the purpose of industry, and Nutridge was Hawaii’s first-ever macadamia nut plantation.

Van Tassel moved quickly—Lillian Jonsrud, his friend and 15-year-long nursemaid who would care for him until his death, said, “He always wanted things done by yesterday.” By 1925, he had planted 692 trees, or the entirety of the 75-acre plot of land in Puu Ualakaa that he signed on a 50-year lease from the Territorial Governor, Wallace Farrington.

Nuts from Van Tassel’s Hawaii Macadamia Nut Co. went from the farm on Round Top down through the flumes into trucks to his processing warehouse in Kakaako, where they were then sold as Van’s Macadamia Nuts, giving many Hawaii residents their first taste of the nuts without having to go to all the trouble of cracking through its hard shell themselves. It caught on. But due to the shade, rain, and wind typical for the leeward side of Tantalus, the sun-loving trees would eventually fail to produce as much as Van Tassel’s much bigger orchard at Keauhou, on the Big Island, where there were 7,000 trees. Although Van Tassel would decommission the farm at Round Top, he remained in his home at Nutridge until his death in 1947.

When Van Tassel commissioned architect Hart Wood to design his Puu Ualakaa farmhouse, Wood was already juggling a few high profile projects. It was the 1920s, the decade that saw the construction of the Hawaii Theatre, Aloha Tower, the Natatorium, the Honolulu Advertiser Building, the Alexander and Baldwin Building, Honolulu Hale, and the First Church of Christ Science—the latter three designed in part or fully by Wood. The experiments of Wood and his sometimes-partner C.W. Dickey would create the Hawaiian style of architecture: a blending of Polynesian, Asian, and western influences with how they relate to Hawaii’s natural elements. This was the beginning era of the Dickey roof, that double-pitched hipped roof that we see on so many buildings, including Wood’s Nutridge.

The First Church of Christ Science, on Punahou Street, is one of Wood’s most renowned buildings. Its long side lanai and double doorways influenced the designs in many houses of worship for decades to follow.

Don Hibbard, who nominated Nutridge for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places (it was accepted in 1981), also wrote a few books on Hawaii architecture and one in particular about Hart Wood. He told us that, upon arriving in Hawaii in 1919, Wood was interested in “trying to figure out an appropriate regional style in Hawaii. From 1924 on, he worked really closely with mixing different forms—Spanish mission with colonial—or adding Asian influences to buildings. So in that time period you can see the regional influence in the way he laid out the Nutridge building. The lanai accesses all the bedrooms; essentially the lanai was the hallway.”

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Honolulu Magazine July 2019
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