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The History of the Haʻikū Stairs

Updated: Jul 10, 2019

Part 1: The role of World War II in the Stairs

Construction of the top secret US Naval Radio Station in Haʻikū Valley began in 1942. The Naval Radio Station was built in the horseshoe-shaped valley, using the topography of the surrounding cliffs, the most innovative technology of the time, and sheer determination to create an antenna system that reached almost 3,000 feet. The groundbreaking design and construction of the Naval Radio Station are testament to the courage and ingenuity of both military and civilian personnel under the pressure of war.

US Naval Radio Station Haiku
Image courtesy of David Jessup

The radio station at Haʻikū Valley satisfied two requirements of the war. It allowed for long range transmission and was built in a position that allowed for excellent natural protection. “The Haiku Radio project was completed in December of 1943 and over the 200 KW Alexanderson Alternator at Haiku messages to merchant ships, weather reports to naval ships and dispatches to submarines were broadcast” (Honolulu Nav Comm Sta, 1960:5).

Alexanderson with his revolutionary 200 kilowatt Alexanderson Alternator. Originally housed in the Omega Station (above) the historic alternator was left to rust and vandals have since destroyed much of it. Community groups, including the Friends of Haʻikū Stairs, hope one day to turn the Omega Station into a museum and cultural center.

Historic images courtesy of Dave Jessup.

There were few places in America that felt the harsh reality and understood the urgency of the war more than Hawaii. The U.S. Navy had begun preparations in Hawaiʻi for the war in 1939. Prior to that time there were no separate Atlantic and Pacific fleets and Pearl Harbor was a small unit with little significance. After the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 President Roosevelt declared a state of National Emergency and the Navy began to send part of its fleet to Pearl Harbor for the purpose of deterring the Japanese’ movement in the Dutch East Indies (Allen, 1950:227).

Cables were strung across Ha'iku Valley using the winches housed in the upper hoist house, pictured here.
Cables were strung across Ha'iku Valley using the winches housed in the upper hoist house, pictured here.

The positioning of Naval forces to Hawaiʻi began as a temporary movement but by the summer of 1940 the chief of Naval Operations determined the fleet would remain indefinitely. On December 7, 1941, the Naval fleet at Pearl Harbor fell under attack. Overnight the islands of Hawaii were transformed. The people were fearful of future attacks, the military struggled to repair the damage from the Dec. 7th bomb raid, and rapidly began to prepare itself as the base center of America’s World War II Pacific military efforts. The construction was rapid and widespread on the island of Oahu. By the time the Japanese government surrendered to the allied forces in 1945, the affiliated Naval bases in Hawaiʻi comprised the most extensive defense installation in the world.

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