This oral history interview is a project of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The legal rights of this material remain 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. A full transcript is available below the video.
An Interview by Barbara Del Piano
February 17, 2016
BDP: Good morning! I’m Barbara Del Piano (BDP), I am a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club Historical Committee, and one of our major projects is to do oral histories of long-time members, and today it is my pleasure to interview Wendell Brooks (WB). Hi, Wendell.
WB: Good morning, Barbara.
BDP: Wendell, I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about your family background when they first came to Hawaii and how it came about?
WB: Well that’s a challenging question, because they … You may know that I’m part Tahitian, and of course, the Tahitians were the progenitors of the Hawaiians – part of the progenitors of the Hawaiians, after the Marquesans, and I’ve fantasized that perhaps some of my early relatives were on the canoes that came from Tahiti to Hawaii. That has yet to be proven.
In any event, my great-great-grandfather arrived in Honolulu with his family in 1869. They were merchants down on Fort Street. Family lived upstairs and the store was on the ground floor. And my great-grandfather also was a merchant here in Honolulu, and my grandmother was born here in 1881. Now, interesting . . . father and my grandfather on my father’s side, my father was born in Shanghai. So in terms of being born here, we skipped a generation, and then yours truly was born here in 1935. So that’s a brief history of that.
BDP: What kind of a store was it they had on Fort Street?
WB: They had a shoe store across from May’s Market.
BDP: Oh, for heaven’s sake. And where did you go to school?
WB: Well, in the younger years, I was here on December 7th, on 1941. My mother and I were shipped out to Southern California in January of ’42, so I went to school there until 1947, when I came back to Hawaii after the war was over. And then entered Punahou, graduated from Punahou, went on to Oregon State College, and then to University of California. So that’s my schooling.
BDP: Oh! Very interesting! And how did you happen to join the Outrigger?
WB: Well, when you go to school at Punahou, you have a lot of friends who are Punahou members, and so I would spend time here with them. I didn’t join the Club until the ’60s, but I would visit with friends and my stepmother. Jane Brooks was a member, and so the family would come here, so I’ve been coming to the Outrigger for many years, and then finally joined in the mid ’60s.
BDP: And were you involved in any of the water sports?
WB: Not in the traditional Outrigger sense. I did surf. I was never as good as Paul Dolan or Tommy Schroeder, or my buddy Peter Balding, who all excelled at the sport. My main activities in the water were, first of all, sailing. I was a wharf rat down at the Waikiki Yacht Club for much of my early teens, and then later went on, I was on the University of California sailing team when I was in Berkeley. And Tommy Balding, Peter Balding and I owned a multi-purpose runabout, which we used for water skiing – mostly for water skiing, but also for some deep sea fishing off of Diamond Head, and those were really my water sports of choice.
BDP: Did you water ski off Waikiki?
WB: Generally we water skied at Keehi Lagoon. Particularly, this was in the time before they opened the second entrance to the harbor through Keehi Lagoon, and there was a cove there right where the bridge is now, and it was very well suited for both water skiing, and a little partying on the side. But we did once in a while go out in the ocean and ski, but mostly it was in the Lagoon. We had a slalom course that was set up there and we’d do that, and just have a good time.
BDP: And you never paddled on an Outrigger canoe team?
WB: Well that is an interesting story, because I was sitting on the beach one day during a race on a Sunday, and I wasn’t a member at the time. I was, I don’t know, maybe my early teens, and somebody didn’t show up to paddle in a six man canoe in the race, so I was recruited off the beach ’cause I knew all these people anyway and they said, “Come on, Wendell, fill in,” and so I go, “Why not?” So I hopped in the boat and we finished second. However, the crew that won – I forget who it was – hit the flag at the turn and were disqualified, so we were number one. That’s the only canoe race I’ve ever been in, so I am undefeated in canoe racing! And by the way, we got medals and I still have that medal!
BDP: Oh, I bet you’re very proud of it!
BDP: Oh, great! And I understand that you had a very successful career in real estate! How did all that come about?
WB: Well, I don’t know if it’s genetic, but it turns out that my grandfather on my mother’s side was in the real estate business. Then my father, after World War II, he’d been the deputy public prosecutor when the war started, and then was immediately … He was reserviced and immediately activated on December 8th in another reserve and served all during the war. But after the war, he came back, and went into the real estate business and when I grew up, I didn’t know there was any other business that people got into.
So when I was in Cal, one of the reasons for going to Cal, was that in the business school, they had a major field of emphasis in real estate, which I enrolled in. And, actually, I had my real estate license prior to finishing up at Cal and coming home, and so just right out of school, I went right into the real estate business, and shortly after that I went to work for Bishop Trust Company, and that was the start of a … What has been a wonderful, wonderful experience in the industry.
I’ve been at it long enough that I’ve had multiple careers, if you will. I’ve been in sales, I’ve been in property management, I’ve been in development, and I’m, today, still active as a real estate consultant, and I do things such as trusteeships and receiverships and so forth, so it’s just … It’s been rewarding, it’s been enjoyable, and I’m still doing it.
BDP: Still doing it! Well, how did you get involved with the Club operations? You joined a committee?
WB: Yes. I think, if you want to be specific, I can’t be, which … How that exactly started. You’ll, I’m sure know, and most people know, that Peter Balding was very active in the Club, having been president twice, and served on the Board many years. And I think he was on the Nominating Committee, and he tossed my name into the hat, and so from there, I was elected to the Board, and in that capacity served as a liaison to a committee, and I eventually held some of the other offices, and ultimately I was president. I was on the Board for … You can be on the Board for three consecutive, two-year terms. So I was on for the six years, and then a hiatus, and then six more years. In doing that second phase. I was elected president of the Club for a year.
BDP: And what year was that?
WB: You know, we’d have to look over here on the … I see my smiley face on the wall over there, we could go over and look and see. I don’t remember exactly.
BDP: Okay. What were some of the big events that took place when you were on the board?
WB: Well, people who know me probably would not be surprised to hear me say that the things that I considered big events, were not particularly splashy activities. Whenever I’ve been in that sort of a role, I’ve always looked pretty much to the fundamentals of the operation, so I think that the major events of my time on the Board and as president were tied to ensuring the financial stability of the Club, and I think I might’ve not been particularly popular for part of my term in service, ’cause at one point we really needed to face a major leap in our dues – not talking about the ground rent, but the fact that our dues had been kept down and that was good for the members, but it wasn’t necessarily good for the strength of the Club. And I was able to convince the fellow Board members that we needed to put in a substantial increase to get us to a proper place.
One other event is, and I don’t want to name any names but, we had a former manager that had been with the Club for many, many years, and-
BDP: Who was that?
BDP: Who was-
WB: Oh, I’d just soon not mention names, but as time went on, that person’s performance was constantly being questioned. That manager was on probation year after year after year. When I became president, I said, “Well, are we just going to keep doing the same thing, or are we going to do something about it?” And we, the Board, agreed that we should make a change and I think that also started us on a new path. So, not particularly splashy, but I think very important contributions to the Club.
BDP: Yes. How did you feel about moving the Club from Waikiki to Diamond Head?
WB: Well, I have a couple of thoughts on that. First of all, you have to remember, at the time, I wasn’t a member, but I, of course, very much aware of it. Even though I wasn’t a member, I really loved the old Club, I loved the quaintness of it, of course, the location was wonderful. The move … It really wasn’t my decision to make, but in reflecting on the decision to move, there’s no question, it was the right thing to do. With the economics, in hindsight, it’s just clear – we could have never afforded to stay in that location, and moving here was … A lot of people, I think, believed that the Club was moving to the country or out of reach, but as it turned out, it’s been a very convenient location.
The other reflection I’ve had is, and I’m not absolutely sure of the details, but it’s my understanding that the Club had the opportunity to purchase the fee/title to this parcel of land, and the number is something like two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, or maybe a half a million dollars – I’m not sure of the exact number, but that’s a token value compared to what some people think is a thirty to forty million dollar value today. So in hindsight, it would’ve been a great deal if we could’ve acquired the fee at that time – would’ve solved a lot of problems today.
The deal that was cut was for a long-term lease, and sitting there right around 1960, a 99-year lease probably seemed like forever. Here we are, past the halfway point today, so it doesn’t seem quite as long. The lease rent for the first 50 years was thirty thousand dollars a year, which the Elks often thought was highway robbery. However, I think they should be grateful that we had that lease, because if they had sold it to us for three hundred and fifty, or five hundred thousand dollars, they would’ve foregone the difference of many millions of dollars – whatever value you ascribe to it.
So I think moving was essential. It’s too bad we didn’t buy the fee. I’m glad we’re here. I hope we get to stay forever.
BDP: Yeah, what do you think about the future when the lease does expire?
WB: Well, we have a couple of issues. It’s always been my hope that as the membership of the Elks Club evolves, that they will come to understand, or believe – maybe believe is a better word – that it’s a good thing to have us as tenants, paying them substantial rent. As time goes on, the development of this property to a higher and better use, in my mind, without putting on my real estate hat, the development of this property becomes less and less believable. And hopefully they will understand that and extend the lease.
If they don’t, we’re going to have to go through a transformation of sorts. An example of a problem we might face is, when there’s, say, 10 years left to go on the lease, if we haven’t resolved it, then there’s a question of, “Why would somebody join the Club and pay a large entry fee to only have it expire very shortly?” So we need a different business model as we get into the short years of the lease, and that is a concern because it will probably change the nature of the Club. I probably won’t be here when that happens, but it’s still worrisome.
BDP: Yeah, it is something to think about.
How about your family? Do you have a family – children that belong to the Club?
WB: Yes, two of my three children belong to the Club, and my … Well, I have three grandchildren – one biological, and two others – all three of them belong to the Club. Gloria Brooks, who was my wife, and passed away in 2014, was an associate member. Jane Brooks, my stepmother, was a member.
One of the interesting things about this site is, of course that it is owned by the Elks Club. My grandfather – my father’s father, was one of the founding members of the Elks Club next door. He had come from Montana, where he had been an Elk. He was a lawyer, and came here to practice law, later became a judge. . . Because he was an Elk from the mainland, he was interested in getting a club started here, and he and five other gentlemen – I assume they were gentlemen – started the Elks Club next door, and I have pictures of my father and I swimming in front of the old Castle home. It was already the Elks Club, but in front of the old Castle home, and so I’ve been coming here since I was maybe three, or four, or five years old.
BDP: Oh, interesting! Do you spend much time here anymore?
WB: I do! We have a Sunday morning breakfast group that’s here religiously. I would bet we’re here 40 or 45 Sundays out of the year. I enjoy entertaining here when I have mainland friends and family, or business associates here. Mainland people, as we all know, just love the setting and enjoy coming here.
BDP: Who do you have these Sunday breakfasts with?
WB: Well, I’ve talked in the past about Peter, Peter and May Balding are part of our regular group. Leslie Mattice, Jack used to be, but Leslie is a regular. Then we have just an assortment of people who drop in at the large table on a weekly basis, and so we have a lot of fun getting together every week.
BDP: Well, you’ve certainly had an interesting career here. Do you have anything else you’d like to share with us?
WB: Well, I hope that the … Let me go back and say I am on the Long Range Planning Committee, and I have been, and of course we’re coming up to the end of a term pretty quickly. But I’ve been on that for many years now, and I hope that we continue our long range planning to maintain the physical plant, and upgrade to the extent that it makes sense, and from time to time that it makes sense based on the remaining term of the lease. I think that long range planning has some good ideas about upgrades, and I hope that some of those things, like the long-overdue Fitness Center … Finally get to a point where we can do something about it. And I plan to keep coming here on Sunday.
BDP: Good! Well thank you very much, Wendell, it was a pleasure to talk to you here. And I know this information you’ve given us will be a great asset to our archives.
WB: Well . . . thank you for having me and I hope it contributes something to the future. Aloha.
2016 Life Membership