The Outdoor Circle Celebrates 100 Years Beautifying Honolulu

A Green Century: The Outdoor Circle has been beautifying Honolulu for 100 years now.

photos: courtesy the outdoor circle, bob loy

Yay Trees!

  • In 1909, Honolulu was dusty and undeveloped. Cherilla Lowery (pictured right) wanted to improve it. She and six other women formed the Outdoor Circle in 1912 with the aim of lining Honolulu’s streets with shady trees and transforming its parks.
  • These were no lunching ladies. The women scattered kukui nuts from horseback on Round Top Drive and Tantalus, and watered the bougainvillea in the area with water barrels carried up the hill by horse and buggy.
  • Mahogany and coconut trees on Kalakaua Avenue. Banyan trees at Ala Moana Beach Park. Golden shower trees down Pensacola. You have the women of the Outdoor Circle to thank today. “We are the go-to tree organization,” says Bob Loy, the Circle’s director of environmental programs.
  • In 1975, the Circle was instrumental in getting the Exceptional Tree Act passed, which protects old, rare, historical and culturally significant trees. Areas include UH, Ala Moana Beach Park, the Honolulu Zoo and more.

Mr. Mynah Bird teaches kids not to litter. Susan Spangler, Circle president from 1992 to 1995 used to don the costume, even dancing with former Mayor Eileen Anderson in it during a parade. 

Boo to Billboards

  • Trees are great, but they shouldn’t have to compete for space with giant signs, thought the Circle founders. So they decided to take on the corporations putting them up. “It was a 15-year battle,” says Loy.
  • The women even had the help of Lorrin Thurston, owner/publisher of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser. Thurston let the Circle publish an anti-billboard edition in 1913.
  • In 1926, the Outdoor Circle purchased the Honolulu Poster Service—the last local billboard company—for $4,000, ($52,000 in today’s dollars) and shuttered it. The following year, a billboard ban was signed into law.
  • After lobbying by the Circle, the state created the Diamond Head State Monument in 1978. Without that, says former Outdoor Circle president Susan Spangler, “it would have been built up with all kinds of things.”
  • The Circle hates hotdogs. Well, giant, hotdog-shaped vehicles. The Oscar Mayer vehicle visited Hawaii in 2009, much to the chagrin of the Circle, which considered it a violation of the 2006 law against mobile advertising. “The Wiener-mobile was a perfect example of a billboard truck,” says Loy.

Current Missions

  • The Circle’s members continue to police local advertising. This summer, First Hawaiian Bank put up a large sign along Kalaniana‘ole Highway. The Circle immediately got calls. “We asked [the bank] if they’d do the right thing,” says Bob Loy, “They took down the billboard that week.”
  • This January, the Outdoor Circle officially became a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit to stop the rail project. Their objections are simple: It’ll impact around 900 trees and ruin the view planes. “It’ll be so ugly,” says Spangler.