William Hyde Rice’s (1846-1924) beautifully landscaped Lihu‘e estate, Hale Nani, famed as a center of hospitality for many years, was situated on what is today Rice Street from Wa‘a Street to Kalena Street. Its entrance lane began where the west entrance into today’s Ewalu Street is located.
When Rice married Mary Waterhouse in 1872, they moved into a cottage at Hale Nani and later, Rice built the spacious house that served as the Rice family home for several decades.
Queen Liliuokalani was treated royally by Rice during her brief residence at Hale Nani in January 1891. She was so favorably impressed that upon her return to Honolulu she appointed Rice governor of Kaua‘i. Princess Ruth Keelikolani often stayed at Hale Nani. The Rice’s daughter, Mary, was Ruth’s godchild.
Mrs. Juliet Rice Wichman (1901-1987), granddaughter of William Hyde Rice, once recalled that “Hale Nani was famous for its breakfasts. Guests coming from Honolulu on the overnight boat trip were brought ashore in whaling boats in Nawiliwili Harbor and taken immediately to grandfather’s house where lavish breakfasts were served. We grew our own coffee, and grandfather imported Asian cows which he kept on the tract where Kress Store (on the corner of Rice and Kress streets) now stands. There were no commercial dairies so grandfather gave milk to the community. He put up a building like a post office where people came to get their milk out of boxes. Milk and cream were free to all.”
During World War II, from 1942 to 1945, the house was utilized as a plotting center for a radar station. Mitchell Ota, the owner of the Tip Top Cafe, bought the house in 1947, but sold it that same year. It was later razed to make room for the present business area.