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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fort Barrette Road's name becoming a heated issue

 •  Kapolei fort defended coast
Photo gallery: Historic Photos of Fort Barrette

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Coastal artillery emplacements, designed to defend against invasion from the sea, remain at old Fort Barrette. The military reservation, completed in 1935, was the second site on O'ahu to receive a pair of 16-inch seacoast guns.

Photos by RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The observation tower and plotting room for the coastal artillery emplacements still stand.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The military reservation was named for Brig. Gen. John D. Barrette, who died the year before its completion.

U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii photo

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KAPOLEI What's now Fort Barrette Road has been around at least since 1943, when it was likely just a U.S. military access road from Barbers Point to the coastal defense gun emplacement named after Brig. Gen. John D. Barrette, historians say.

Long before that perhaps a thousand years or more Kualaka'i Trail preceded Barrette and the fort named for him, according to Hawaiian oral history.

Those two histories ancient and 20th century clashed recently in the state Legislature, in the form of a resolution seeking to change the name of Fort Barrette Road to Kualaka'i Road.

The resolution passed in the House, but was deferred in a Senate committee, leaving impassioned feelings simmering over Hawai'i's identity and the impact of American military influence on it since the early 1800s.

The proposal to change the name of a 1.38-mile stretch of state road showed just how much so.

Lance Holden, president of 'Ahahui Siwila Hawai'i O Kapolei, a Hawaiian civic club, said in written testimony on the resolution that the "cycles of evolution" are moving Hawai'i back to original sources.

"Much was lost when the Hawaiian names were discarded to accommodate the new arrivals," Holden said, "but the 'ahahui believes that the time has come to return to our roots or they will be forever lost."

The topic already had heightened sensitivity with the previous name change of the former Naval Air Station Barbers Point to Kalaeloa, and an unsuccessful drive in 1999 to give the base's military-themed roads Hawaiian names.

A city law has required since 1979 that all new streets receive Hawaiian names, but the requirement was found to be not applicable to Barbers Point.

The state Office of Veterans Services and O'ahu Veterans Council opposed the Fort Barrette Road name change at last week's transportation committee hearing.

Forty-five organizations and individuals including 33 Kapolei High School students submitted testimony in favor of the resolution. Twenty individuals and organizations opposed it.

The massive concrete remnants of fortified Fort Barrette, now owned by the city, dominate the hilltop next to the road.


The name-change issue came to a head with charges that Hawaiian groups were trying to rewrite history. Some Hawaiians said they were trying to restore history with the name change.

Jack Miller of Kailua said the "Fort Barrette historical role in the protection of O'ahu by the American military is an important fact that deserves historical notice."

Cpl. Joseph A. Medlen, with the Coast Artillery Corps, was killed at Fort Barrette in the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

"Why have an acrimonious, divisive debate and start changing names?" Miller said in written testimony. "Is Judd Street, Fort Shafter, Nimitz, King Street, Saddle City Road next to be renamed?"

Shad Kane, with the Royal Order of Kamehameha 'Ekahi, said the place name Kualaka'i was changed by the Navy to Nimitz Beach at Barbers Point Naval Air Station.

A trail connected Pu'uokapolei, the hill upon which Fort Barrette was built, with Kualaka'i, he said.

"This (the road name change) is an effort to restore a history ... it is a history that is inclusive of the plantation era and military past," said Kane, who's a U.S. combat veteran.

State Sen. J. Kalani English, D-6th (E. Maui, Moloka'i, Lana'i), chairman of the Transportation, International and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, last week deferred the resolution seeking the name change, and asked the state Department of Hawaiian Homelands and Office of Veterans Services to try to resolve the matter.

"Basically, what I said was, there are two histories there's a Hawaiian history and it's all part of our history, and there's a military history," English said. "So why don't they work together to come back with something next year."


Mark Moses, director of Veterans Services, yesterday said, "I'm always willing to sit down and talk." But he also noted there are some fundamental differences of opinion.

"It's between change the name, and don't change the name," Moses said. "There doesn't seem to be much room to compromise."

He said he had heard there also might already be a street on O'ahu named Kualaka'i the name desired for Fort Barrette Road.

The Department of Transportation said it is willing to rename Fort Barrette Road provided the Legislature requests the name change through the concurrent resolution and the community supports the move.

The 'Ewa Neighborhood Board voted against changing the name.

According to O'ahu resident John Bennett with the Coast Defense Study Group, Kapolei Military Reservation was built on and adjacent to the 166-foot-elevation volcanic cone that is still dominated by the relics of what was Fort Barrette.

Construction was started in 1931 and completed in 1935, and the military reservation was the second site on O'ahu to receive a pair of massive 16-inch seacoast guns.

Along with other forts and big guns ringing O'ahu, the emplacement was designed to defend against invasion from the sea.

The reservation was named Fort Barrette in 1934 in honor of Brig. Gen. John D. Barrette, who commanded the Hawai'i Separate Coast Artillery Brigade and the Hawaiian Division on a temporary basis, Bennett said. Barrette died in 1934.

The main gate for Fort Barrette was on Wai'anae Road, which later became Farrington Highway. Bennett said on a 1934 map of the military reservation, what became Fort Barrette Road doesn't appear. It does appear on a 1943 map.

The state DOT said Fort Barrette Road originally was known as Barbers Point Access Road. A portion of the road became Fort Barrette Road in the late 1980s to early '90s, and in 1995, the entire road was renamed Fort Barrette Road, according to the Department of Transportation.

No attempt is being made to change the name of Fort Barrette itself.


Micah Kane, chairman of the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, said the DHHL has "been attempting to re-establish a sense of place prior to contact."

"The region of Kapolei is a very sacred area," he said. "Throughout Hawaiian history, Kapolei was a gathering place. It was one of two places that Hawaiians would begin their migration to and from Kahiki (Tahiti)."

Kane said as traffic has increased on Fort Barrette Road, parallels can be seen to Kualaka'i, one of the primary trails to the ocean for ancient Hawaiians.

There is some dispute as to how close Kualaka'i Trail came to Fort Barrette Road.

State Rep. Kymberly Pine, R-43rd ('Ewa Beach, Iroquois Point, Pu'uloa), said new streets are being built all the time in Kapolei and 'Ewa "and it seems reasonable to name one of those streets after the trail."

"It's a really cruel thing to take away the name that has been thought out and honored by veterans," Pine said. She added that Fort Barrette Road "symbolizes a whole era of Americans fighting for our country."

Opponents of the name change worry the Fort Barrette Road issue won't be the last for military place names.

But the DHHL's Kane said: "I don't think you can do a carte blanche on this. I think you do it where it is appropriate."

Right now, he's seeking reconciliation.

"I think it's important for the two parties to come together and understand both sides and perhaps there's a way for us to work together on how to go forward," Kane said.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.