50 Objects

Barwick Banyan Tree (early 20th century)

Barwick Banyan Tree (early 20th century)

Story by Lynne Gartley ’74 Meyer and Joyce Salmon

Situated on Barwick Playground, the Barwick banyan (ficus benghalensis) looms large in the memories of Punahou students. As the ultimate creative play structure, it has provided the setting for thousands of space trips, Tarzan yells, and hide-and-seek contests among its mazelike roots and branches. But while this Indian banyan has been a campus feature for almost 100 years, it achieved iconic play status when Barwick Playground was dedicated on April 1, 1952, a year that marked the midpoint of the 1950 – 1955 construction of the Mary Persis Winne Units. The playground’s namesake, Frank Barwick, came to the Islands from England in 1881 as the survivor of a shipwreck. He was hired by Punahou School in 1883 as a bus driver and eventually became the superintendent of buildings and grounds before retiring in 1921. Although the grades 2 – 5 facilities are currently being transformed, Barwick Playground and its beloved banyan will be very much a part of Punahou’s future as central elements of the new 2 – 5 neighborhood.

An Unusual Namesake

The banyan tree on the mauka playground was named for Frank Barwick, who served Punahou School from 1883 – 1921. His journey to Punahou is a fantastic tale.

Barwick came to the islands in 1881 from England, a survivor of the sinking of the Norval some 2,100 miles from Hilo. Four open boats were launched from this ship and three reached the Hamakua coast after three weeks; the fourth would be saved off California. This desperate sea journey would put an end to the 18-year-old Barwick’s nascent dream of adventure. He would not again be seen at sea for many years, but the sea’s loss was Punahou’s gain.
Frank Barwick’s bus pictured in front of the Bishop Hall of Science (1884 – 1959).
Punahou hired Barwick as the driver of the School’s horse-drawn bus. Winning favor for his worth, dependability, kindness and dry humor, Barwick quickly showed his value. Former Punahou elementary teacher, Miss Claire Uecke, noted that titles befitting him included: chief engineer, electrician, head dairyman, head farmer, stage manager, carpenter, scene shifter/painter, mushroom tester, chauffeur, chaperone, matrimonial bureau, landscape gardener, fire department head, night watchman, father confessor and “everything but being president, trustee, principal, or indoor teacher.”

Given his capabilities, Barwick soon became the supervisor of the “boys’ outdoor duties,” then master of dramatic stage presentations, then superintendent of buildings and grounds – a position that put his Kew Gardens training to good use.
Frank Barwick (c. 1921)
According to the book “Punahou 1841 – 1941” Barwick’s service was indispensable:

It seemed impossible to carry on any school affair without Frank’s aid. Whether it was the desire of the dramatic group to have on the stage a kettle that would really sing, or whether it was a frantic faculty mother whose child had tried to swallow a shiny white doorknob and was apparently fastened for life to the dining-room entrance, the cry was always: “Get Frank Barwick!”

Certainly the students valued Barwick’s work and dedicated the January 1915 Oahuan to him:

To the Superintendent of Our Grounds
Mr. Frank Barwick

Whose thirty-two years of earnest work has made the Punahou Campus one of the beauty spots of the City of Honolulu we, the Students of Punahou Academy dedicate this “Oahuan” as a token of our appreciation and esteem.

In looking at the pictures of old Punahou and contrasting them with the campus as it is today, one is impressed with the great changes. When we learn that practically all of these have taken place within the last thirty or forty years, we are reminded of the fact that somebody has been doing some good work. For the last thirty-two years this somebody has been Mr. Barwick. The grounds today represent the result of his extensive plans and active work.

After 38 years of service, interrupted only by two brief visits to England, Barwick announced his retirement. In a letter soliciting funds to recognize his service, his tenure was remembered.

Frank Barwick has served under five Presidents and has known more students than any other person ever connected with the school. Some remember him in the eighties, when, as a young man, he drove the bus that carried Punahou girls and boys to and from school. Others will think of the old days when Punahou boys were up before daylight to form their “chain gangs” that did the Campus chores of “Uku pau” with Frank Barwick directing their efforts. Still others knew him in the later days as Superintendent of Grounds and Buildings, whose quiet and thoughtful help was always in demand, whether it was an athletic field to be put in readiness or a Dramatic Club play to be staged. For thiry(sic)-eight years Mr. Barwick has given Punahou his best services and earned the friendship of Punahou students.

– Hester D. Hitchcock, J.B. Guard, Geo. S. Waterhouse
Committee appointed by the President of the Alumni Association

“Frank’s Bicentennial” was held on Feb. 12, 1921 in Charles R. Bishop Hall. D. Howard Hitchcock (1881), one of Barwick’s bus riders, opened the ceremony by speaking of the new school spirit that Barwick generated through his beautification of Punahou’s grounds, noting that, “Mr. Barwick had had a useful life in Punahou.”

Teachers, teachers, and alumni offered gifts of the heart in the ho‘okupu manner that included a lei of his beloved roses, an engraved resolution of thanks and a $1,500 bank check.

An album was also presented containing views of Punahou “and every illustrated thing about Punahou they could find so that Mr. Barwick … [could] still live beneath the beetling crags of Rocky Hill and gaze out on his beloved campus of Punahou.”

After wiping a tear from his eye, the gifts were acknowledged by what was perhaps Barwick’s longest public speech: “Trustees, teachers, alumni and friends, I thank you.”

“The Campus Was Our Playground”

The Barwick banyan is a perfect example of how Punahou’s beautiful campus provided the ideal landscape for children’s games – invented and improvised to fit their setting – to flourish. While man-made play structures have come and gone over the years, Punahou’s green, open-air expanses continue to set students’ imagination free in the timeless quest for recreation and play.

The opening of Punahou School on July 11, 1842 was viewed as the culmination of an effort “to make scholars, to form in the children habits of patient and vigorous study, to give them that mental discipline which enables its professor to think nothing but his book while it is before him. The object is to make them perfect in what they do study … ”

Financed by the meager funds of the Sandwich Islands Mission, scholastic training at Punahou was delivered with serious intent. William DeWitt Alexander (1849) wrote that the School’s

“devoted and indefatigable” matron, Miss Marcia Maria Smith, had an intense abhorrence of shiftlessness, and labored to impress upon us a sense of the inestimable value of time. Pains were also taken to eradicate any self-conceit or undue self-assertion on the part of the youngsters; some of them thought that this austere discipline was carried too far, though all will now acknowledge the debt of gratitude which they owe to her.

As a part of this training, student chores were scheduled throughout the day beginning at daybreak, as John Gulick (1853) attested in his diary, describing the boys’ work of hoeing, watering and planting “morning and evening.”

But, even in those early days, there was time for play. Recess was also a part of the daily curriculum, as Henry M. Lyman (1853) remembered well:

With the end of the first hour we were allowed a “short recess” of ten minutes – a joyous interval that was occupied with games of ball and foot-races on the playground in front of the schoolhouse. Released from toil by the coming of noon, we hastened to the bathing-pond, an artificial pool filled with living water from the spring. Here we enjoyed fifteen or twenty minutes of delight, splashing, swimming, and diving like porpoises, while our guardian teacher stood on the top of the adobe wall that screened us from public view, beaming with satisfaction, and enjoying the fun as much as the bathers themselves. Dinner was always served at half-past twelve … After dinner there was a period of play-time until half-past one, when the bell again called us together for an afternoon session that lasted till half-past four.
Ball game c. 1877. The lawn makai of the “E” Building served as Punahou's principal playing field for many years. Exactly what game is being played here is subject to conjecture – probably baseball, aipuni (a Hawaiian game similar to baseball), or wickets, a variant of cricket. (Photo: Hawaii Mission Children’s Society Library.)

Lyman noted that other distractions were allowed on Saturdays, but only after chores were completed:

During the forenoon hours we weeded and watered the little garden strip that bordered the verandas in the quadrangular courts. This task completed, we were allowed to pass the rest of the day with our young friends in Honolulu, or in rambling among the hills behind the schoolhouse. Many an excursion was thus performed, when the weather was dry and the sky was clear of clouds. Sometimes we struck out boldly over the smooth ascent in the blazing sunshine, until, drenched with perspiration, we reached the cool shade of the forest that clothed the sides of Mt. Tantalus.

For the children of Punahou’s first 110 years, there was no formal play space. As crystalized by Lucy Thurston (1922), “The campus was our playground.” For Punahou Preparatory School students from 1883 to 1901, that campus was located on the Armstrong lot at the head of Richards Street, the current site of Tenney Theatre at The Cathedral of Saint Andrew.

Children in grades 1 - 8 came to school on foot, on horseback, or in their parents’ carriages. Boarders came to campus from Ka Punahou in “the old bus driven by Frank Barwick. ‘Frank’ was the connecting link with Punahou before trolly or even tram-car was in existence.”

Boys and girls played together equally in those days, with particularly athletic girls among the first chosen for the popular football games. Their plain gingham dresses accommodated running and afforded participation in what was played as “genuine football”:

The ball was kicked by the leader of one of the sides and the advantage immediately followed up, the whole side running after the ball, ready to kick it whenever it could be seen. If the opponents received a few kicks in the conflict, no one minded it. There were no signals: Keep on your own side and kick the ball over the goal often in the midst of a cloud of dust and much excitement we were forced to stop just as we were making a goal, because the bell had rung and “long recess” was over.

The fountain of the Punahou Preparatory School. Classes were held in the building located to the rear of this photo. The fence to the right separated the property from Washington Place, the home of Queen Lili‘uokalani. The school was razed in 1902 when preparatory students were relocated to the main Punahou School campus. (Photo: Punahou Archives)
For less vigorous play, the fountain was both an attraction and a site for impromptu falls. One girl was remembered for having slipped into its deepest part and being sent home to change from her soaking wet clothes.

The play yard was shaded by tamarind (the fruit of “which were so good that they made you shiver!”) and mango trees. Near the mangoes was the Queen’s residence, Washington Place. Juliette May Fraser (1905) recalled the scene on the other side of the intervening fence:

We were, I remember, allowed if we promised to be very quiet and not make any disturbance whatever, and not to call attention to ourselves, to climb on the high board fence and watch them playing croquet. And Liliuokalani and her ladies-in-waiting in their black holokus were playing croquet on their lawn and I’m sure they knew that we were watching them and they paid no attention to us.

Margaret Sturgeon (1899) Cooke had a similar fascination, but with the Queen’s turtle: “… she had this enormous land turtle, a turtle large enough for children to ride on and we used to sit on the wall and look at the turtle and enjoy that.”

Punahou Games

With the opening of Charles R. Bishop Hall in September 1902, students in grades 1 – 8 moved back to the Punahou campus proper, where green grass grew, open fields beckoned and gentle slopes offered natural slides, as remembered by Francis Andrew Imaikalani Bowers (1920):

Another thing that we all did was to slide down the hill in front of Bishop Hall on the royal palm leaves. … Right on the corner there was the best place. You got the longest ride, and sometimes if everything was just right you’d land out in the road.

Released from the confines of the crowded city lot on Beretania Street, young students now had the space to discover unrestrained play and their imaginations soared. Peggy (Margaret) Hockley (1928) remembered playing “one base.” “That was our famous recreation – from the old kapok tree, which isn’t there any more in Middle Field – run like anything down to the road and there was another kiawe tree, so more thorns in your feet, oh very funny!” Dora Cooke (1924) Derby remembered that “We had a jacks contest, which was very big, and Margaret Pratt (1923) Derby and Ernest Ka‘ai (1923) were the champions.

Play acting was also popular, according to Marjory Atherton (1924) Wightman: “Fourth and fifth grades seem to have been taken up…with the fact that we all read and ate up King Arthur and his knights. So, every recess we played King Arthur and his court, under one of the big monkeypod trees near the lily pond.”

The Lily Pond was a lodestar for the young children. Eleanor Griffiths (1925) Shaw, daughter of President Griffiths (1902 – 1922), fondly remembered: “We used to play all over, especially in the trees – climb trees, many, many trees, fell in the lily pond, periodically and on purpose sometimes.”

For the elementary school boys in the 1930s, the Lily Pond was where spinning tops were played. Bill Morris ’41 enjoyed a game he called “suck pound” related to this game:

We’d get through with lunch and we’d go play tops. We brought our tops and they were cheap little tops that cost ten cents or something. They were made of soft wood. But Renown Sylvester ’40 had his tops made out of guava wood … And the top spins on a little metal thing, we called them coolies, and our little coolies were maybe a half inch long. His coolie was about two inches long and very sharp. He’d aim at our tops and, if he hit them and his coolie got stuck on a top, he’d say, “Okay, suck pound pound.” … so then he could pound his top in ours and split it. Oh, we hated him!

Fred Gartley ’48 remembered another top game called “Lily Pond Dunk”:

You’d throw [the top] down. … You’d whip it back and it would fly back … and you’d catch it in your hands. Then you’d take your hand and you’d hit the other guy’s top that was on the ground. You’d knock it as far towards the lily pond as you could. You didn’t want to miss. If you whipped it down and whipped it back and you’d miss, you’d go down and he’d come up and he’d have a chance to knock you into the lily pond. So then it was knock, knock, knock and pretty soon some guy’s top was in the middle of the lily pond.

When interviewed 65 years after graduation, Peter Nottage ’46 remembered another form of water play that is still played today:

The other game that we played, we played in the Waterhouse Pool: Minnow and Whale. We’d decide who was going to be the whale; everybody else was a minnow. On a 1-2-3, everybody would jump in the water and swim across the tank under water and the whale had to catch somebody. If you caught somebody and brought them to the surface, then he became a whale so that next time there were two whales and then there were four. … It was great fun.

We had two people, Ricky Larsen ’46, who … could hold his breath forever and was a good swimmer. And once you came up and took a breath you couldn’t go back down to catch someone. It was all done in one breath. And Ricky would go down and he would just elude people and just stay in the water until everyone had to give up. He was the perennial winner. And then there was Kenny Chaney ’44. … Kenny was tough. And what he couldn’t do in breath, he could do in fighting. He would get under that water and it’d be five guys coming for him and he would just start spinning, and flailing and spinning and flailing and you couldn’t grab him. So he would get across to the other side. He would always win. So Kenny Chaney and Ricky Larsen were the perennial winners. That was the Minnow and Whale game and we played, we played a lot of that.

Evolution of the Playground

While children have entertained themselves outdoors since time immemorial, it was not until the early 19th century that organized school play was first developed, with different approaches in different countries. Germans emphasized physical fitness, health and nationalistic motives. The English pursued lifestyle, habit and character development. In the United States, organized play often protected children from the physically dangerous streets of large cities.

The late 19th-century Child Saving Movement advocated for making play facilities more widely available. Spurred by the plight of children in city slums, the movement sought to weaken the roots of child delinquency. While much of this effort focused upon the development of the juvenile court system, it also worked to prevent misbehavior through education and training. Close supervision of a child’s recreation and leisure through structured play and playgrounds – most notably German-inspired “sand gardens” – were one outcome.

The first American sand garden appeared in 1886 at the Children’s Mission on Boston’s Parmenter Street. Additional sand gardens and model playgrounds would follow. These offered play structures and included spaces for organized games and sports.

In 1906 The Playground Association of America was founded with President Theodore Roosevelt as its honorary president. This association was instrumental in growing the number of playgrounds to 5,006 by 1924. Schools in even small towns were incorporating recess periods into the daily schedules of the youngest pupils. Play and playgrounds were essential components of a whole child approach that developed the physical, emotional, cognitive and social aspects of youth.

Honolulu’s first playground, Beretania Playground, opened in 1911 through the efforts of the Free Kindergarten and Children’s Aid Association. The playground was located at the corner of Beretania and Smith Streets, a thickly populated area of the city. It was open daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and designed for children under 10 years of age. The space featured a sand pile, a trapeze, tether ball, swings, slides, a play pavilion and an on-duty nurse.

The site was quickly crowded with children with a daily attendance of 350 cited in the KCAA’s 1913 report. Free open-air moving picture shows were also offered “to help educate the people along hygienic, civic, and moral lines.” These presentations were highly attended, with 1,200 people counted on average.

The success of the Beretania Playground led to KCAA’s establishment of the Kamamalu, Atkinson and A‘ala playgrounds. The association handed over management of the playgrounds to Honolulu’s Recreation Commission in 1922.

Punahou Playgrounds


Punahou’s first playgrounds were simple. Early pictures (c. 1915) show children playing in a sandbox and on swings. This equipment was located on Middle Field near Bishop Hall and later Rice Hall, close to the youngest students. The economic challenges of the Great Depression and the School’s use of the University of Hawai‘i facilities during World War II would delay the development and expansion of its formal play spaces
Punahou students c. 1915 play in a sandbox on what is known today as Rice Field. (Photo: Punahou Archives)
With the post-war return to the School campus in 1945, a facilities boom commenced. Young baby boomers and a growing Honolulu population resulted in unprecedented demand for Punahou admission. Writing for the “Punahou Bulletin,” President Fox noted that school enrollment grew from 1,100 to 2,888 during his first 15 years (1944 – 1959).

This growth was accompanied by major investments that increased the school’s physical plant value from $1,800,064 to $4,660,073 and the number of buildings from 16 to 30. Fox noted that “because our worst campus facilities were considered to be those provided [to] grades one through eight … most of the school’s building funds between 1945 and 1953 were devoted to improving these areas.” The construction of the Mary Persis Winne Units was included in this growth.

The Winne Units

Designed by Vladimar Ossipoff, the Winne Units were constructed in three increments that opened in 1950, 1953 and 1955. The facilities were described as “deluxe,” “ultra modern” and “spacious,” and were featured in architectural and educational journals both nationally and worldwide. Their design was considered as “conforming to the best thinking in modern educational planning.”

Elementary School Principal Donald D. Reber described the experience of teaching in the new facilities: “An atmosphere was created, not of confusion, the result of crowded uncomfortable conditions and surroundings, that enabled teacher and pupils to accomplish considerably more than in the past.”

Included in this project was “a playground for small children” that was dedicated on Monday, April 21, 1952. The school’s newly formed Memorials Committee recommended a name for it: “That [it] … be named for Frank Barwick who came to Punahou when he was 18 years old as a bus driver and remained for 39 years as Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds.”

While the school’s historic record documents the efforts that went into the planning of the Units’ administrative, classroom and support services, it is largely silent on the design of this playground. Certainly there was a need:

Miss Storey (elementary teacher 1934 – 1967) mentioned two major problems. The first is the lack of outdoor play equipment for this particular division. Next year with 250 children in this unit it would seem advisable that this playground equipment be secured prior to the opening of school.

Outdoor play was considered a “special activity” and included in the daily schedule:

Primary children had free and organized play activity under the guidance of the classroom teacher. Kindergartners had at least one hour daily for such activity while grades one and two had one-half hour per day of playground activity. Much of this activity included use of various equipment such as jungle-gym, slides, etc.
In addition to their classroom duties, sixth-grade teachers Bill Knowlton and Tom Metcalf lead a physical education class on lower field. (Photo: Punahou Archives c. 1950)
Children in grades 3 – 6 also enjoyed the services of a full-time specialist who offered training in group games, rumbling and pyramid building, rhythmics, softball, swimming, soccer and relays. Dedicated space for these activities would not come until the 1951 – 1952 school year, when two facilities were completed.

The first was a 100 by 80-foot hard-surface play area on Chamberlain Field. It was large enough for two basketball or volleyball courts, “also roller skating, top spinning or what-have-you. This will fill a long felt need – namely, a suitable play area for Junior School students for use before, during and after school, and lunch-time hours.”

The second facility was Barwick Playground.

The Playground for Small Children

Barwick Playground was located behind Rice Hall. After the removal of two faculty houses, the area was re-graded, planted with new grass, and enclosed with a seven-foot cyclone fence. The grounds were equipped with swings, trapeze bars, see-saws and slide poles. The “Punahou Lokahian” announced the completion of Barwick by writing that “the children are in favor – the enclosed area has all the ingredients necessary for fun and play, including a superb tree made to order for everything from hide and seek to cowboys and Indians!” In 1955, with the removal of additional faculty homes, the grounds were expanded to 2.2 acres.
The picture of Principal Victor L. Johnson that accompanied his 1953 Na Opio message: Na Opio is a kind of family album. It is a very big family and there are many picture showing members of this family doing a great variety of things.
The playground was immediately loved and praised. The 1953 “Na Opio” included class photos of children posing on Barwick equipment and Principal Victor Johnson (1946 – 1974) mentioned in his 1952 annual report that, “as I write this report, I can hear the happy yells of children in the banyan tree of Barwick Field. The utilization of this area for chapels, assemblies, and recreational play was a fine fulfillment for this land. It is a beautiful and practical addition to Punahou Campus.”

Two years later, Kimo Doole ’68 would play on Barwick Playground. He recalled that “Barwick was like my backyard … baseball games with all the campus kids… ocean view back then!! If you hit a ball into Dr. Johnson’s orchids you probably didn’t get it back.”

A Superb Tree

The banyan tree was a Ficus benghalensis, a tree more commmonly known as the Indian banyan. The species was first planted in Hawai‘i at Lahaina in 1873. That specimen is now considered to be the largest in the country. Other notable Hawai‘i banyans include those found at ‘Iolani Palace, the Moana Hotel and the Honolulu Zoo. While the date of the planting of Punahou’s banyan tree is lost to history, the tree is believed to be over one hundred years of age.
Members of Miss Storey's first-grade class as pictured in the 1953 Na Opio. All are members of the class of 1964.
Despite its longevity, it was not until the creation of Barwick Playground that the tree became a part of campus lore. In the 63 years since, memories of play beneath its storied canopy flow easily from alumni minds:

I have the most wonderful memories running around freely at Barwick with Wendy Doole ’71! We acted like monkeys climbing through the famous banyan tree for hours after school with no fear of being injured … priceless!
– Suzette Bolster ’71

In the good old days ’56 to ’59 you could climb as high as you wanted. It was more who could climb the highest. Periodically one of the teachers would come running and yelling for us to get down … that we were too high. If any of us fell it would have been much more than a broken arm. Great memories.
– John Dawrs ’67

I remember climbing above the white lines on weekends and swinging out of the banyan tree then – lots of fun but it could be kind of scary flying out of the tree especially if it was a drop instead of a smooth arc swing. Never got stuck. Never got hurt. Never fell out of the tree, which for anyone who knows me, is actually kind of amazing!
– Kristen Caldwell ’79

Back