At the request of the area’s residents, Mason Architects prepared the papers nominating Tantalus/Round Top Drive for inclusion in the Hawai‘i Register of Historic Places. The road was built between 1892 and 1917 to provide access to residential lots in the Honolulu watershed area and has retained its original alignment, width (14-30 feet), lava rock guard walls, and lookouts. Beginning and ending in sharp hairpin turns, the narrow roadway unrolls beneath the forest canopy yet offers many sweeping views of the city nearly a thousand feet below.
The road’s ten-mile route starts near Punchbowl Crater, ascends the Kalāwahine ridge between Pauoa and Makiki Valleys, and descends along the ridge linking Pu‘u Ōhi‘a (Mount Tantalus), Pu‘u Kākea (Sugarloaf), and Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a (Round Top) into Makiki.
In 1892, the Kingdom of Hawai‘i began construction on the Tantalus Road in response to a petition from sixty of Honolulu’s prominent citizens to provide access to several hundred acres of land above the city, which they purchased for summer homes.
As construction continued, so developed the Tantalus suburb, “incomparable to any neighborhood in Honolulu as far as climate and scenery is concerned.”
In 1913 construction of the Makiki-Round Top Road began using prison trusties as labor; it was linked to the Tantalus road in 1917 and soon became a great tourist attraction.
During World War II, Admiral Chester Nimitz held weekly meetings with his staff of five or six while walking the 10-mile route, which offered both exercise and privacy.
This road is the first on O‘ahu to be designated as a historic district; only Kuhio Highway on Kaua‘i and Hana Highway on Maui share this distinction.
The Hawai‘i Historic Places Review Board accepted Tantalus/Round Top Drive for listing on the Historic Register in March, 2007.
Now that it is listed, measures to repair and maintain it will be reviewed by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the City and County of Honolulu can be more flexible in its interpretation of highway design standards to ensure safety yet preserve the road’s historic features.
Award: Historic Preservation Commendation Award from the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation in 2008.
Photos: MAI, Google, Hawai‘i State Archives
View of Pearl Harbor from Tantalus Drive.