This is a story about family, love, and history, with a light touch of scandal.
The story happened at the Eva Parker Woods Cottage Museum, a wooden structure that rises above fishponds to face the sea. But the story isn’t about Eva. It’s about Francis Hyde I`i Brown, a public man who lived a secluded private life and left a legacy of global achievement.
Brown’s family history spans the history of Hawai`i. His grandfather was John Papa I`i, an ali`i who served Hawai`i’s high chiefs, converted to Christianity, and wrote Fragments of Hawaiian History, an eyewitness foundational work for anyone interested in pre-contact Hawai`i.
Brown’s mother, Irene Kahalelaukoa I`i married Charles A. Brown in 1886. In 1898, she divorced Brown to marry Carl S. Holloway. Irene built a reputation as a philanthropist, which I’m sure she was. Undoubtedly she was also a strong-minded woman, divorcing at a time when such events were rare. Mr. Brown is remembered as a “retired capitalist,” if anyone thinks of him at all.
Francis Hyde I`i Brown, Irene’s second son, was born in Honolulu on September 16, 1892. With other boys of his class and time, Francis attended Punahou School before transferring to Fessenden School in West Newton, Mass. As a young man, Francis enlisted in the Army and was an ambulance driver during World War I.
After the war, Francis returned to Hawai`i. On January 30, 1919, Francis married Stephanie Wichman, but he didn’t settle down. Not unlike other young men of Hawai`i, Francis became an athlete. He excelled at golf, traveled extensively and owned fourteen cars. In 1925, Francis was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives. Two years later, he became a Territorial Senator and served almost continuously until 1947.
Though he was a strong swimmer and renowned surfer, golf was Brown’s premier sport. In 1924 Brown set a course record at the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland with a score of 67. Three years later, he set the record at Pebble Beach Golf Links. And between 1920 and 1930, Brown reigned as Amateur Champion in Hawai`i, Japan, and California. Pretty heady stuff, yet Brown kept things in perspective. Brown’s nephew, Kenny Brown, later recalled his uncle
“was the only man to drive the 12th green at Waialae (432 yards) and to carry over the 18th green at Pebble Beach (548 yards) in two shots . . . but in response to my awe he told me, ‘Remember nephew, in those days they didn’t water so heavily, so the fairways were hard as rock. And the ball was smaller too.’”
In 1936, Brown paid $6000 to purchase the small cottage James Frank Wood built for his bride Eva Parker with the surrounding 1,359 acres at Kalahuipua`a. Brown wanted to spend time there with the woman known as the love of his life, Winona Love. Half Hawaiian and half-English, Winona was known for her beauty and graceful hula. The dapper athlete and fluid dancer met at the opening of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1927, and stayed together the rest of their lives.
If you want to see what the youthful couple looked like, follow these links to individual pictures of Brown and Love in their prime.
In describing the cottage at Kalahuipua`a, Kenny Brown remembered
“a tiny bedroom set out in the middle of one of the fishponds where he slept with his lady friend Auntie Winona Love…(There was) a small house for cooking and eating. Near that he built a large screened, tin roof structure where 15 to 20 guests could sleep in one room.”
And a spring fed swimming pool Brown built at the back where he and Love “went for cool dips in the crystal waters on hot sultry afternoons.”
The couple were known for ho`okipa (hospitality). An attentive host, Brown often asked guests what they wanted for dinner – and then caught it, either diving or throwing his fishing net.
Who says life can’t be like a movie? Speaking of which, Winona Love became Hollywood’s ideal island beauty. She featured in travelogues Aloha Hawaii (1929) and Blond Captive (1931). Director David O. Selznick hired Love to teach Dolores del Rio how to do the hula in the RKO film The Bird of Paradise (1932).
At this point you may be wondering how the Eva Parker Wood Cottage became part of Mauna Lani Resort. Look no further for the answer. In 1964 Brown attended the Tokyo Olympics and became friends with Noboru Gotoh, chairman of the Tokyu Corporation. Brown invited Gotoh to visit him at Kalahuipua`a. At the time, access was by foot or boat. But the men envisioned, according to Kenny Brown,
“an international resort where affluent people could come together to relax and play golf in a atmosphere of total harmony.”
To get things started, in 1972 Brown sold the property to Mauna Lani Resort which changed the name Kalahuipua`a to Mauna Lani (Mountains Reaching Heaven) in reference to the five volcanic mountains surrounding the area.
Francis I`i Brown didn’t live to see his dream become a reality. He died in August 1976 at his home in Pebble Beach. He was 83 years old.
All Photos by Author.
Featured Image: Eva Parker Woods Cottage Museum. Photo by Author.
Kalahuipua`a. Coffee Times. Here.
Obituary: Kenneth Francis Kamuokalani Brown. Posted Feb 12, 2014. Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Here.
Mauna Lani Golf. Here.
Hawai`i Sports Hall of Fame. Here.
George F. Nellist, Editor. Hawaii and Its Buildings. Honolulu Star Bulletin. 1925. Here.
Renee Wright. Mementos of a Royal Hawaiian Love Story. Worthpoint. Here.
John Papa I`i. Fragments of Hawaiian History. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum Special Publication. 1959.
The Bird of Paradise. 1932. Here.
Winona Love. Square One. Here.
Sandra’s latest book, Saxon Heroines: A Northumbrian Novel, is available in eBook and print editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Google Play and Kobo. Her previous books Two Coins: A Biographical Novel and Rama’s Labyrinth: A Biographical Novel are available in print and eBook editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Google Play and Kobo, and in audiobook editions at Amazon, Nook, Audible, Apple Books, and Kobo. Two Coins is narrated by Deepti Gupta and Noah Michael Levine. Rama’s Labyrinth is narrated by Deepti Gupta.
Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.
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6 thoughts on “Francis Hyde I’i Brown: “The Last Ali`i””
Hi Sandra. Great article. I’m an extremely distant relative of Stephanie Wicham and have been tracing my family tree. Can you tell me what happened to her?
I’m sorry to say I wasn’t able to find anything on Stephanie Wicham. Thanks for asking.
Hi my name is James I\’i and I\’m trying to find out more about my family do you know of any leads to help me.
Hi, my name is Stephanie, and Stephanie Wichman was my great Aunt. I believe there must have been a divorce, as she retired, remained single, and lived with her cat Nina in a beautiful little cottage in Holualoa.
I didn’t see anything about a divorce, but I think you’re correct. Thanks for adding to the story.
When a I was a young man living in the Bay Area I remember reading about the arrival in town of Brown and Love in Herb Caen’s column in the SF Chronicle. I noted how admiring, even respectful, Caen was with the couple. A picture of the two was published in the Social Pages. It pleased me to know that a hapa-haole couple, even though unmarried, but rich, could be held in such esteem in the City by the Bay.