Tiare Finnely greets you at her front gate, along with four dogs, two goats, four laying hens and a smattering of wild ducks. You’re there to talk about the 100-year-old two-story Nu‘uanu house she lives in with her husband, John Finney, but it’s hard to divert attention from unique personality of its owner.
She has spent most of her life living in this house, a stately, white Colonial Revival constructed in in 1918 on a barren area off Pali Highway once known as Dowsett Tract. The neighborhood today is filled with large homes, lush foliage and shade trees that would be the envy of many public parks. But Tiare has a photograph of a time when hers was one of only about five homes. There were no trees in the area filled with buffalo grass.
The home’s architects, Walter Emory and Marshall Webb, worked in the islands for over 20 years designing residences, theaters and commercial buildings such as the Hawaii Theatre, the Honolulu Advertiser building and the Cooke home on Manoa Road.
Her parents, Dr. Tom Richert and his wife, Loretta, or “Tetta” as she was better known, rented the place in 1941 and purchased it in 1945 from Samuel and Edith Wilcox. Tiare grew up in the house and remembers her first prom and first kiss there. When she and John Finney married, she walked down the staircase at the center of the home to become his wife. In 1988, after the death of her father, Tiare and John purchased the home and built a cottage next door for her mother.
Tetta herself was a legend in the neighborhood. An avid outdoorsman, she loved adventure, racing speed motorboats, winning stacks of silver trophies that still line the home’s study. Tetta and Tom loved diving and collected shells from around the world, which she made into beautiful works of art. Many of which ended up in Waikiki hotels such as the Hale Koa. The couple moved to Hawai‘i in the 1930s when Tom became a plantation doctor on the island of Kaua‘i and moved back to O‘ahu shortly after that.
The house filled with people Tetta thought needed help. “She always brought home those down on their luck and kept them until they could get on their feet again,” says Tiare.
During the Vietnam War, she remembers her mother bringing home soldiers returning from the war zone for hot showers and home-cooked meals. They would be there for just a day, sleeping all over the house on every soft surface.
Tiare is no slouch herself. As active as her parents, she’s paddled outrigger canoes long distance from Moloka‘i making changes in rough water, raced dirt bikes, owned a Harley Davidson and sport fishes with the best of them. She especially loves fishing on Queen Charlotte Island above Vancouver B.C. where she and a group of friends became aware of the desperate plight of the Haida Gwaii Indians. Together they formed the Scholarship Foundation of the Pacific to bring Haida Gwaii students to Hawai‘i to attend Hawai‘i Pacific University.
This year Tiare and John, to com- memorate the home’s centennial, invited a kahu to formally bless the house and give it a name—Hale O Ka‘ana, or “the house that shares.” It is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
Over the years the home has been altered only a little. A fireplace to ward off Nu‘uanu dampness replaced a picture window in the 1930s. Then in 1992, a new kitchen was installed in what was once a mudroom. The Niniko ‘auwai, part of a 19th-century system for irrigating taro patches, still runs through the front lawn of the property, but in the 1930s it was enlarged by the owners for a series of lily ponds.
The interior feels light and airy, the belongings, many of them from Tom and Tetta, mingle with Tiare and John’s, giving everything a sense of continuity. This may be why it was chosen as a location for the film, The Descendants, based on Kaui Hart Hemmings book of the same name. “They didn’t change a thing in the house,“ says Tiare, who has memories of actor George Clooney between takes lounging on their bed while she folded clothes. Clooney exclaimed when he saw a small painting in the hallway of Lake Como. The painting belonged to Tetta who had raced there many years ago and showed the town on a curve in the lake. Clooney was sure he could see his own home.
In the dining room, the rosewood dining table belonged to Tiare’s grand- father. There are Chinese scrolls, a wire mobile, macramé wall hangings and a vintage rattan lounge chair pur- chased for Tetta at a long-ago World’s Fair. In the back room with views of Nu‘uanu stream stands an upright player piano her mother found discarded. Above a well-worn punee stuffed with pillows is a painting by island artist Russell Lowrey. The hodgepodge of the past helps create a supremely warm and liveable space.
In a contemporary city of multi- million dollar high rises, restaurants with celebrity chefs and the scent of new money and influence all racing to a different future, it’s a pleasure to encounter this home filled with people with an unequalled zest for life and a long 100-year history.