This oral history interview is a project of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The legal right to this material remains with the Outrigger Canoe Club. Anyone wishing to reproduce it or quote at length from it should contact the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions that are not factual.
An interview by Don Machado
March 8, 1981
DM: My name is Don Machado (DM). I am a member of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. Today is the eight of March 1981 and I have the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Herbert M. Taylor (HMT), also known as “Yabo” Taylor at his home in Honolulu, Hawaii. “Yabo”, could you tell me when and where you were born?
HMT: I was born in Honolulu July 31, 1902 – which is a long time ago. (chuckle)
DM: And where were you raised? What part of the island?
HMT: I’ve spent most of my in Honolulu. I have travelled quite a bit – early on my own and then as head of the international banking department of the First Hawaiian Bank. I travelled considerably for the Bank. But other than that I have spent all of my life in Honolulu and the Islands.
DM: I see. Where did your family originally come from? And when did they get to the Islands?
HMT: Well, I don’t have the dates on when they arrived – but both of my grandfathers were captains of whaling vessels. In those days the whaling field was between Hawaii and Alaska. My grandfather on my mother’s side was Captain Albert Christensen and he came originally from Copenhagen, Denmark as a youngster and gradually worked up to be captain of a vessel of his own. My father’s father, my grandfather on that side, came from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Both of them brought their families out here. In those days they would stay over in Lahaina, Maui during the off season, so my mother’s side of the family grew up in Honolulu and my father’s side, on Maui –
DM: But then you were born in Honolulu. So how did they get from Maui?
HMT: After my father graduated from Lahainaluna School he did leave Maui as a young man and came to Honolulu to work. He met his wife, Eva Christonech, and they were married here in Honolulu.
DM: I see.
HMT: They remained in Honolulu.
DM: So your background is Danish and English.
HMT: Yes, Well, the rest is a mixture. It is hard to say. They go back to the people in New England, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, who were mostly English and Scots.
DM: I see. Now, I understand that you went to McKinley High School.
DM: When did you graduate?
HMT: In 1921.
DM: And who was in your class? Anybody that we might knows?
HMT: Famous people like Willie Wise, Bill Wise, I’ve always felt, was one of the greatest football players that ever developed in Hawaii.
HMT: Oh – and at the same time or a little bit later there was Johnny Traut, and the Whittle brothers, Willie Whittle and Jimmy Whittle. I speak of those fellows mostly because they are all good athletes.
DM: Um-hm. It was the only high school right in Honolulu at that time.
HMT: Then Roosevelt came along and, of course, Punahou.
DM: The only public high school. Right –
HMT: Yes. There were a lot of old timers then –
DM: Now I understand that Mrs. Taylor’s maiden name was Jeanne Elizabeth Reichard and you were married on 14 May 1948 at Central Union Church. Is that correct?
HMT: Yes, That’s right.
DM: Well, tell me about your children. How many children do you have? And when were they born?
HMT: We have two. Dean, who is now 33, having graduated from Cal Poly at Luis Obispo, is an electronic engineer, and at the present time is working at McClelland Air Force Base in the computer division on the robot fighter planes.
HMT: And Gregory is two years younger. He’s 31 and he’s been married for four years. After receiving a degree from the University of Hawaii in Business Administration he started to work for the First Hawaiian Bank in their management training program. But he got a little bit restless and on December 16 of 1980 he decided – he and his wife, and they picked up and went to Florida. I just received a letter from him the other day saying he had accepted a position in a bank in St. Petersburg, Florida, and he’s happy about getting started there.
DM: Well, that’s probably Florida’s gain and Hawaii’s loss.
HMT: Well, I hope so.
DM: Now you were in banking. I noticed in reading over some papers that you gave me that you retired after 45 years and the article said that you retired from the First National Bank. Of course, that goes back to the Bishop Bank – and now the First Hawaiian Bank. Can you tell me about your banking experience.
HMT: When I started at the bank in December, 1922, it was the First National Bank on the corner of Fort and King Streets. Now that location has been eliminated because of the Fort Street Mall.
DM: Right. Was it First National or Bishop Bank?
HMT: It was First National. Then, a few years later in 1929 it merged with the Bishop Bank to become the Bishop First National Bank of Hawaii. After that the name changed several times, for many reasons. It is now the First Hawaiian Bank and is a subsidiary of the First Hawaiian, Inc.
DM: I see.
HMT: It’s been a long story – With a long record. As I said, for 45 years I was with that bank.
DM: Your field was international banking? Is that what . . .
HMT: Yes. It was varied. I went through most of the steps – as did many of the others. In the old days you sort of stood in line. When the fellow at the end moved then you moved up a little bit – so it was receiving teller or collection clerk and then paying teller and finally I got into what was then the Exchange Department. Almost from then on, with a few interruptions, I stayed there until I took over from George Low, a Scotsman who was a very fine bank. Then, after George was incapacitated because of illness I took over in 1949 and changed the name of the department to International Banking and I went on from there. Seven years before I retired – I was appointed manager of the main branch of the bank and in addition kept the International Banking Department. Then it went on from there until about five years before I retired. I became Corporate Secretary, but still kept the International Banking Department. As head of the International Banking Department, I did a lot of travelling, to the Far East, Australia, and to the mainland and Canada. (At the time of his retirement March 5, 1968, Taylor was Vice President and Corporate Secretary of First Hawaiian Bank.)
DM: Now, what is your first recollection of your connection with the Outrigger Canoe Club? How far back does that go?
HMT: That goes back to my high school days. We’d take the streetcar from Makiki, where we lived, and we’d just sort of sneak in on the Club, you know, because I wasn’t a member and couldn’t afford to be one at that time. Then it was just a pavilion near the beach with a kitchen, so to speak, where you could prepare your own lunches and also there was a place to put the surfboards.
DM: What year, approximately?
HMT: So one of the first things I did when I started to work for the bank was to join the Outrigger Canoe Club. The initiation fee was $10 then.
DM: And what year was that? 1920?
HMT: And have been a member ever since. Last year I was very happy when the Board of Directors recommended to the membership that I be awarded a Life Membership.
DM: That’s great. Now, what was the Outrigger Canoe Club like in those days? What was the physical plant like and what kind of facilities did they have?
HMT: The facilities were very little, if anything. It was just a place to hang your clothes and change into your bathing trunks and have a sort of a picnic type lunch in the area that was available. It was quite a family deal, though, and on weekends particularly the families would come with their basket lunch and it was a very informal crowd. No social activities at that time, just a bunch of people getting together. After I first joined the Club it really grew. And that’s when they put up the building close to the street which had lockers underneath and a nice big pavilion type area on the second floor. It continued to grow from then on.
DM: What was there before they put up the building – what type of facility did thy have?
HMT: You mean the Club?
DM: Right. In 1920 when you first joined.
HMT: Oh, just nothing but lockers. There was a volleyball court, too – a double volleyball court and lockers and a hau area which was available for lunches – and, as I said, there was a kitchen and surfboard lockers – and, of course, the canoes as well. And that was about it.
DM: Now you were president of the Club in 1953 – in about March.
HMT: Yes, that’s right.
DM: I understand that Judge Wilford Godbold was your predecessor.
HMT: Wilford was president of the Club for about seven years.
DM: And at that time the Club was about 48 years old, I understand. What were some of the highlights during your term as president?
HMT: Well, I think one of the nicest things about my tenure as president was having Ted Magill as manager of the Club. Ted was a very experienced club manager and very akamai about running a club. He helped to make my year and others around that time a comparatively easy job. He was a very intelligent individual. I was sorry when Ted had to leave us. It was quite an experience – being president of the Club. One aspect of it was meeting visitors from our associated clubs on the mainland and Australia as well as England and Canada. And famous athletes to greet and entertain. Famous athletes like Joe DiMaggio, who was outstanding – whom we all know. I enjoyed it very much.
DM: I understand that during that period there was consideration of having a branch club over at Kalama Beach. You know that’s something that’s being considered by the Club even today.
HMT: Yes, that came up. There was a fee simple piece of land that became available for sale over at the Kailua side of the island, and it was a nice piece of property right on the beach. It had many aspects of being a fine club site. However, after much investigation the Board recommended to the membership that we not acquire that property. Either we would have to have two clubs – one in Honolulu at Waikiki – or one in Kailua and we just didn’t feel that we could support that type of operation. The idea of giving up Waikiki and going over there entirely didn’t appeal to any of us. So finally after a good six or eight months of study and recommendations the idea was given up.
DM: And I know that today we have a problem with parking, particularly on weekends, and I understand you had a problem at that time because the lease was expiring with Matson Navigation Company?
HMT: Well, we had (parking) for some time in the area that is now occupied by the Outrigger Hotel – part of it in that area between the Moana Hotel and our Club. We used that for parking for many years. Then we were able to use the area across the street where the International Market Place is now.
DM: Hmm –
HMT: We used that area for a while, but it was on a temporary basis. As Waikiki grew as fast as it did – and so that the idea of us staying where we were at Waikiki next to the Royal was a big problem, as we knew we needed to have adequate parking.
DM: Hmm –
HMT: So there were many things that came up. It was recommended that we stay with the operation at Waikiki and have a parking building – have access to a parking building, but all in all we decided that half of the Elks Club property, where we are now at was probably the best bet. The membership and the Board unanimously agreed to go on a lease proposition at the Elks Club site.
DM: Hmm – Tell me about that property. You must have taken a look at it. What did you find on the land area that the Elks agreed to lease?
HMT: Well, at that time the Elks Club property was not fully developed. They had purchased the land and building which had been the old (J.B.) Castle home and that old building was there at the time we were negotiating with them. The Elks Club wanted to develop their property and we finally entered into a lease deal with them. And I want to say at this time that Wilford Godbold was the chairman of our committee and he did an outstanding job in negotiating the terms of the lease with the Elks Club. I was very happy to learn that at the last annual meeting of the Club that Wilford’s widow, Virginia, was given a Life Membership because I felt that she deserved to have the recognition that Wilford surely earned in negotiating the lease that we now have at the present Club site.
DM: Which is a very favorable lease.
HMT: It is very favorable to us and to our future. The lease is written for 99 years with the first 50 years without opening, and then at the end of 50 years it will be open for negotiating based on Club use of the property. And that, we feel, and I know, is a good point when the time comes in negotiating the new term.
DM: How would you compare the old Club, you know, with the Club that we have now? As far as facilities, food, management?
HMT: If we go back to when I first joined the Club, some sixty years ago, there is no basis for comparison; values and services have changed so much.
DM: Well, I was doing some research before your interview. In 1953, when you become president, you could have a roast leg of lamb dinner for $1.90. That was the whole dinner, you know, with the salad and the etcetera came along with it, you know.
HMT: And now it would be $6!
DM: Or more than that, I’m sure. (chuckle)
HMT: So everything has changed. The dollar is only worth ten cents of when I first started. When I first started at the bank the head teller made $150 a month and he had a home which he was purchasing on a mortgage, and had a wife a daughter who was going to school. He had an automobile and he was living quite nicely, we would say, on $150 a month. So I think in all and all our Club has come along very, very beautifully.
DM: Now, I understand that you were a coxswain – I hope I am pronouncing that correctly even as it is spelled c-o-x-s-w-a-i-n – for the Myrtle Boat Club. Tell me about those days, you know, because I think that this is something that has passed, unfortunately, out of Honolulu.
HMT: Back in those days – I think that I started in about 1920, or was it 1918, with the Myrtle Boat Club. And as I was not a big person – but still rather athletic and active, I qualified as a coxswain.
DM: Is that the “brains” – the quarterback? Is that what the coxswain is?
HMT: A coxswain has to be rather on the light side. Not to weigh too much because the other fellows have to row him around. In those days the clubs participating were the Myrtle Boat Club, the Healani Boat Club – two girl rowing clubs – the Honolulu Girls and the Kaiulani Girls and the Hilo Yacht Club. Regatta Day in Honolulu was quite an important event. It was a Territorial holiday held in September. The harbor was closed at nine o’clock in the morning and wasn’t re-opened until after the races were finished. Any ships coming in or wanting to leave would have to wait until the races were finished and adjust themselves to those hours. It was really a city holiday here, and as I say, I started a bit early. As a youngster I went to the boat club quite a bit and I learned to steer the boats and then became, I would say, the main coxswain for the Myrtle crews for quite some years. 1918 to 1928 or somewhere around there. I have a whole bunch of medals to show for it. Lots of cups as well.
DM: What were these boats like? They weren’t outriggers? They were just actually shells like they would have on the mainland?
HMT: Well, because of the course that we had to row which was from the inner harbor of Honolulu Harbor and out beyond the reef to Buoy 4 which was there, and make a turn and come back – retrace us back to the starting line – we couldn’t use what was known as a “shell”. Because a shell is very narrow and can’t be used in rough water. So they devised a type of boat called a “barge” which had staggered seats of six oarsmen and the coxswain in the rear. It was quite a bit broader than a shell and could travel in rough water and make a turn. The turning part could be very important. You could lose a race on the turn – on the method of turning. That’s why the barge – because of our short course, so to speak, in rough water – was the type of boat that was developed for it.
DM: Was it developed just for Hawaii, or was it something that was designed on the mainland?
HMT: I don’t know – But as far as I know, just for Hawaii. A man by the name of Tolbert – T-O-L-B-E-R-T – of Washington, the state of Washington, developed the boat first.
DM: Now my understanding is that this was a very big event in Honolulu. The boat races were just about the biggest thing that would happen. When they did happen – Is that true?
HMT: Yes, it was a holiday. Merchants cooperated very well by – The windows of their department stores were decorated in red and white or blue and white and the town closed down so people could go to the docks – On both sides of the harbor there were bleachers and whatnot – And there were bands and everything so it was really a big holiday for the people of Honolulu. And then when we would go over to Hilo – the same boat races – closed up the town –
DM: Now, who were the other clubs besides the Myrtle Boat Club? Who were the others that participated in the regattas?
HMT: Well, the others –
DM: They were regattas, I guess. That’s what they called them.
HMT: Well, the Navy for some years entered a crew. And then the Police Department, under David Trask, when he was sheriff – The Police Department organized crews for some period – not as long as the Myrtles or the Healanis but for some time – And then the Kauai Athletic Club participated for a few years. So we were spread over the islands.
DM: Now, actually you were a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club – but the Outrigger Canoe Club did not actually have a team – or crew or –
HMT: No, the Outrigger only participated in canoe races. They didn’t go in for rowing.
DM: I see. I see. Now, I understand that there were several football players – in particular a “Doc” (Paul) Withington and a — Atherton Gilman, Johnny Hollinger – and that the Outrigger Canoe Club actually had a football team at one time. Is that true?
HMT: Oh, yes. That’s true. To go back a little bit – “Doc” Withington stroked the Myrtle Senior Crew for several years, with Atherton Gilman rowing Number Four.
DM: When you say “stroked” – What does that mean?
HMT: That’s Number Six oarsman who sets the stroke for the rest of the crew. He was a tremendous athlete. And at that time he and Gilman and others played on the Outrigger Canoe Club football team.
DM: Hmm –
HMT: And then “Doc” Withington and Atherton Gilman, Tom Singlehurst, Johnny Hollinger, Bill Hollinger, all played on the Outrigger football team.
DM: Hmm –
HMT: And then “Doc” Withington and Atherton Gilman, Tom Singlehurst, Johnny Holinger, Bill Hollinger, all played on the Outrigger football team.
DM: The League that the Outrigger Canoe Club was a part of – you know – Who were the other teams? The other football teams that played against the Outrigger Canoe Club?
HMT: Well, there were several. There was what was called the Town Team. It was backed by “Scotty” (Gustav) Schuman who most people will know.
DM: Um-hmm –
HMT: The University of Hawaii played against these teams, but also with other college teams. And there was like – the Kamehameha Alumni, the McKinley Alumni. That group sort of made up a League in which the Outrigger Canoe Club played – against and with.
DM: Was this the old Stadium that they played at?
HMT: Oh, yeah –
DM: How did they do? How did the Outrigger Canoe Club do?
HMT: Oh, they did very well. Because they had a lot of good athletes from colleges from the mainland – fellows who had come back here to work and live who had had football experience, you know, as Withington and Gilman.
DM: Um-hm. Wasn’t Gilman actually an All American at Harvard?
HMT: Yes, He was picked by Walter Camp – on Walter Camp’s All American team –
DM: Now I imagine it must have been quite a soul-search for the members of the Outrigger Canoe Club to decide whether they wanted to leave the old location of Kalakaua where they had been for so many years and move out to the Elks Club. What actually did you find at the location where we are now? What was there? You know – what –
HMT: The Elks Club had purchased this piece of property of about 90,000 square feet which was the Castle home, the estate of (James B.) Castle, with a three or possibly four story residence on it.
HMT: And then we came along and looked at a lot of property all the way to Diamond Head for a piece of property for us to expand in and so when we came to the Elks Club we started to talk with them. They had resident members at that time, not only in the main building but also in cottages spread out over the property and we finally negotiated a lease with them.
DM: Now the old building was the old Castle home?
HMT: Yes. It was a beautiful place – but, as I said, the Elks Club wanted to develop this property. When we finally negotiated the lease we didn’t move up there for three years. The part of the property that we leased still had cottages on it that were rented out to Elks Club members. So we, for a while, collected the rent on them, but that petered out and we decided that that wasn’t a good idea so we tore down the cottages – in preparation for our move up there. So that was it.
DM: Well, it is my understanding that there were many members opposed to the move from the old location to the new location. Did that cause a lot of problems within the Club?
HMT: Well, I don’t think you could say it was a lot. There was a group, surely, and I don’t blame them one bit – who wanted to stay there, but none of them were willing to pay the price.
DM: What was the price?
HMT: Oh, I don’t recall – To stay there and to work in to a complex – Where we would be right out to the street where the Outrigger Hotel is. We’d be part of a building – that is, we would occupy part of a building with limited parking. It was a sad move and I didn’t blame the people at that time that wanted to stay – but they wouldn’t have been able to pay the price. We just wouldn’t have been as happy – we would have been mixed up with a bunch of other operations and what not – and so actually it was the best move. Although there were many things we lost. We lost our canoe surfing – to a great extent – and even our board surfing, but at the same time we have overcome most of that.
DM: Is this because of the reef that is right in front of the present location?
HMT: Oh, yes. There is nothing like the surf that is directly out – straight out from the Moana Hotel. That’s beautiful surf. And beautiful for both boards and canoes and all of that.
HMT: That’s treacherous surf out beyond the reef where we are. It’s little bit far to go over to the left for a board surfer. This isn’t just quite as good but –
DM: Now tell me how you met your wife. So then I was in the front and Jeanne in the middle and Duke was steering. We went out and caught another wave like the first one – a great big one, 16—footer probably – and in the same way we came back and in the same spot the wave broke on us and under we went. (Chuckle) Duke couldn’t hold it either. So he often said, as big and husky as he was, that damn wave was just that much stronger. (Chuckle)
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This concludes the interview with Herbert “Yabo” Taylor a former president of the Outrigger Canoe Club, and a member of the Club for about the past 60 years.