The district where the Willows sits was know as Kapa’akea. It was originally known as Kapa’akea Springs and was the property of Kamamalu (sister of Kamehameha IV and V). She loved fun and parties. Her two brothers dearly loved the pretty picnic spot. Hawaiian royalty were very fond of feasting outdoors. Splendid luaus were held under the hau trees. The grounds provided for enjoyment and merriment. Hawaiian royalty loved to come and swim in the ponds. The waters were reputed to have great healing powers. It is said that the district and springs were considered sacred. People would come to go into the water or to take the water home with them.
The site was located over lava tubes which formed natural caverns, bringing the fresh water springs from the mountains to the ocean that formed the property’s pools. Stories say that there was a secret passageway and that the guardian spirit Kane watched over the water sacred to him and gave the place the happy, restful atmosphere.
Because of these many reasons, the Hawaiians found it an ideal spot to grow their taro. In 1870, Chinese came and settled, planting rice and creating duck ponds. They were followed by Japanese who found the land ideal for truck farming.
The Willows became the home of Emma McGuire Hausten and her family in the 1920’s. It was the family’s garden home with beautiful tropical gardens of flora and fauna. “Ma” Hausten was an avid gardener and planted white ginger, water lilies, plumeria from the South Seas, willow trees, kukui trees, breadfruit and fruit trees as well as Hawaiian herbs and medical plants. The gardens thrived and people asked if they might use the tropical setting for weddings, luaus and parties. Finally, in the mid ‘30’s limited private parties were held. In the years to follow, authentic luaus put on by the family were given and visiting dignitaries and celebrities gathered to experience true Hawaiian hospitality in a home-like atmosphere.
During World War II , times were difficult. An offer was made for the property; but instead of selling, the family decided to serve light lunches and drinks. The original restaurant opened as a club on July 4, 1944 by Emma’s daughter, Kathleen Perry, along with husband Al – 30 year musical director of Hawaii Calls, her brothers Allan and Walter McGuire and other family members. Together, they presided over a gracious era of Hawaiian music and hospitality during the late 1940’s and 1950’s. The restaurant became a mecca for Kama’aina to gather in a private atmosphere. It was during that time that the Willows became known for its mile-high pies, curry, and Hawaiian cuisine.
The Willows re-opened its doors on the threshold of a new millennium in 1999, after six years of being closed. In 1998, the historical site was purchased and carefully and respectfully restored as a gathering place of hospitality and aloha to all. The Willows is run as a consortium by several different businesses which make up the Willows.
The re-opening of the Willows is a significant and nostalgic, historical and cultural marker, as well as a strong on-going commitment to the re-awakening and renaissance of our culturally rich and ethnically diverse lineage and tradition-filled lifestyle. It pays tribute to the gentler, beautiful times of yesteryear, honoring one of Hawaii’s signature restaurants for generations.