story by Ashley Stepanek
photo by Chris McDonough
The hillside town of Waikapu is a blink-and-you-miss-it hamlet above Highway 30—not a place you’d expect to find a creation by America’s finest architect … but then Maui is full of surprises. And the clubhouse of the King Kamehameha Golf Club is definitely one of them. It sits in among rambling greens and sandy bunkers, a 70,000-square-foot edifice developed from drafts by the Frank Lloyd Wright, father of modern architecture.
How did the building get to Maui? The story has as many curves as a typical Wright design. It was first conceived in 1949 as a home for a Texan couple but was never built. Three years later Wright adapted the house for a Mexican official in Acapulco, but the project stalled again. In 1957 Marilyn Monroe entered the picture when she and her then-husband, playwright Arthur Miller, asked the architect to design a home for their Connecticut estate. Wright pulled out the plans and reworked them—but when the couple separated, the project stalled for a third time.
It was four decades later when three Hawai‘i big wheels—Howard Hamamoto, Pundy Yokouchi and Takeshi Sekiguchi—visited Taliesin West, Wright’s architectural school in Arizona, looking for a design that might work for their clubhouse. The archives produced the blueprints, modifications were made, and building began. Today the finished structure calls to mind Wright’s masterpieces: Manhattan’s Guggenheim Museum and Wisconsin’s Johnson Wax Building. The clubhouse is a curvy, mollusk-like creation, painted in pinkish coral and trimmed with mineral blue patina. Large mahogany doors embedded with Wright’s signature leaded-glass panes open into a foyer further detailed with earthen-toned geometry. The domed roof and massive skylight at the heart of the building radiate out through barrel-vaulted hallways, all of it testament to Wright’s famed understanding of harmony and balance.
And speaking of harmony and balance: The great artist unknowingly created a home for his Polynesian colleagues. The clubhouse has also become a museum of sorts, filled with the work of Hawai‘i’s best contemporary Native Hawaiian artists: There’s a mural by painter Herb Kawainui Kane, kapa by Pua van Dorpe, feather work by Jo-Anne Kahanamoku Sterling and more.
King Kamehameha Golf Club