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Places On Oahu: Barack Obama’s Makiki Neighborhood

Basic Information

  • Name: Punahou
  • Where: Honolulu, HI
  • Cost: Free to walk around
  • Time: ~1 hour to complete
  • More Information: ObamasNeighborhood.com

Walking Tour Map Obama’s Makiki Neighborhood

Makiki Neighborhood Walking Tour

Narrative

Many Americans know that former United States President Barack Obama was born and grew up in Hawaii.  However, what many people don’t know is where he exactly grew up at.  To learn a little more about the former US President I decided to do a self guided walking tour around the Makiki neighborhood of Honolulu where the former President lived as a young boy and teenager.  The easiest way to access this neighborhood is by taking the Punahou exit off of the H1 highway then drive south on Punahou Street and take the immediate left on to Beretania Street to find street parking.  Due to the lack of parking I recommend taking this walking tour on a Sunday where there is plenty of parking on the side of Beretania Street.

After parking on Beretania Street walk back towards the intersection with Punahou Street.  On this corner is where the Punahou Circle Apartment building is located:

Picture from Punahou

This is where Obama lived with his grandparents in a two bedroom apartment.  Obama’s grandma Madelyn Dunham worked for the Bank of Hawaii and would go on to become the bank’s first female Vice President in 1970.  His grandfather Stanley Dunham worked at a furniture store.  Obama moved in with his grandparents at the age of 10 to go to school in Hawaii while his mom Ann Dunham lived in Indonesia with his stepfather Lolo Soetoro.  From the outside, the Punahou Circle Apartments appear to be one of the nicer apartments in Makiki which is known as a working class area of downtown Honolulu:

Picture from Punahou

Across the street from this apartment is the beautiful Central Union Church:

Picture from Punahou

The Central Union Church was founded after the 1886 Great Chinatown Fire destroyed the Seamen’s Bethel.  This caused the Bethel Union Church and the Fort Street Church to merge their congregations and become the Central Union Church.  The combining of the congregations caused some of the most influential families in Hawaii, the Dillingham, Judd, and Castle families, to be in one congregation.  The congregation built their church at the corner of Beretania and Richards Street across from Washington Place, the residence of the Governor of Hawaii.  This shows the influence the church had in Hawaii at the time.  By 1920 a larger church was needed thus the congregation bought land from the now widowed Mrs. Dillingham to build the church they call the “Sanctuary Building” in 1924.

Next to the Sanctuary Building is the Atherton Chapel which was built in 1949 as a smaller location to allow more intimate worship:

Picture from Punahou

It is pretty amazing that in this little corner of Makiki some of the most powerful families in Oahu attended the Central Union Church and right across the street from them, the boy that would go on to become the most powerful person in the world, the President of the United States was growing up.  Continuing my tour of Makiki I walked south down Punahou Street to locate the Baskin Robbins the teenage Barack Obama worked at.  It was easy to find after I made a left on to King Street and a short distance later it was right in front of me:

Picture from Punahou

From the Baskin Robbins I then turned around and retraced by steps back to the Punahou Circle Apartments.  Just a block north up Punahou St. from the Punahou Circle Apartments is the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children:

Picture from Punahou

The hospital is the first thing motorists see when they exit from the H-1 highway to Punahou Street to access the Makiki neighborhood.  This is where Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961.  The medical center is a very large building and at least from the outside looks quite nice:

Picture from Punahou

Just think somewhere in the innards of this large hospital complex is where Barack Obama’s infamous birth certificate sits filed away much to the chagrin of the conspiracy theorists.  From Kapiolani Medical Center I continued to walk north up Punahou St.  and crossed over the busy H-1 highway:

Picture from Punahou

As I walked up Punahou St. I passed the First Church-Christ Scientists:

Picture from Punahou

It seemed like an odd name for a church, but after some Internet research I found the church was founded in 1879 in Boston.  Apparently one of the main faiths of the Church-Christ Scientists is in healing through Christian Science treatments.  Something else I found of interest is that the church publishes the Pulitzer Prize winning publication the Christian Science Monitor known for quality journalism.  Just a block away from the First Church-Christ Scientists is the Punahou School:

Picture from Punahou

The Punahou School was founded in 1841 and is one of the most elite private schools in all of Hawaii:

Picture from Punahou

Barack Obama attended Punahou from 5th-12th grade between 1971-1979:

Picture from Punahou

Going to Punahou is not cheap.  I know someone who graduated from Punahou back in 2006 and it cost $16,000 a year.  I hear it is approaching $25,000 a year due to the fame it received from President Obama.  It was easy to tell where the money was going because its grounds and athletic facilities looked fantastic:

Picture from Punahou

After checking out the Punahou School I then walked about a block over to where his mom once lived. Obama’s mom returned to Hawaii after separating from Soetoro in 1973.  At the time she was attending the University of Hawaii and studying anthropology.  She lived in a modest apartment with Obama’s 3-year old half-sister Maya Soetoro at 1839 Poki Street until 1975 when she returned to Indonesia to do field work:

Picture from Punahou

Obama’s sister Maya later returned to Hawaii and graduated from Punahou School as well in 1988.  To this day she still lives in Hawaii and works as a professor at the University of Hawaii.

Conclusion

After walking around the Makiki neighborhood that Barack Obama grew up at I couldn’t help, but be amazed how compact his life was at the time.  Where he was born, lived, worked, and went to school at were all within 10 minutes walking distance of each other. I also found it interesting how every day Obama walked to school he passed a church the city’s elite worshipped at and the hospital he was born at.  He then passed another church filled with faith healers who happened to publish a well respected internationally recognized newspaper before getting to a school that is an elite institution attended by mostly the rich kids of Honolulu.  But that is just a microcosm of Hawaii that seems to have a little bit of everything in it and yet everyone for the most part get along and move on with their lives or in the case of Barack Obama go on to become the President of the United States.

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