PRINCEVILLE — Harry Trueblood, the pioneer developer of Princeville, died in Denver on Sept. 14 at the age of 92.
He left behind a lasting legacy.
The entrepreneur started as an oil and natural gas industry executive before getting involved in resort real estate in the mountains of Vail, Colorado.
He became a developer on Kauai’s North Shore in 1968 when he saw the potential for urban development of an 11,500-acre working ranch on Kauai’s North Shore, Princeville Ranch.
“He adored the Hawaiians, and they adored him,” said his son, John Trueblood. “He was a big white chief, so to speak. They thought the world of him. He was very fair with them and had a great relationship.”
As chief executive officer of Princeville Development Corporation, he partnered with two large companies to start developing 2,500 acres of the land with a golf course, condominiums and luxury homes.
After he obtained equipment and began breaking dirt, the two partners backed out. He was determined to make it work and spent a lot of time on site putting the infrastructure in place, planning roads and sewers, and, finally, finishing the golf course.
When finished in 1972, a real estate recession made it hard to sell lots that were practically being given away for $20,000. He sold several lots at a discounted, kamaaina rate, to keep the golf course operating.
Soon he was able to build a clubhouse and focus on getting the food and beverage amenity functional to promote sales and allow financing for homes.
Although there was debate about development and other anti-growth movements, the Princeville project ended up creating a tremendous amount of employment, skill development and wealth for local laborers, his son said.
“He just pioneered through it and just did it with tenacity,” John Trueblood said. “But the footprint was put in place, and it took 20 years. It was a very challenging business venture.”
Trueblood designated some agricultural lots and tried to keep the land’s rural feeling. He entered a partnership and was able to complete a hotel around 1980.
He preserved a majority of the land in Hanalei Valley by donating it as a state wetlands park. He also gifted several Hawaiian fishponds to indefinite preservation as open spaces.
“My father’s goal was to build something that was of multiple benefits for many people,” John Trueblood said. “He spent hours and hours at that time seeing it through as well as promoting golf there.”
Lack of infrastructure limited accessibility in the rural area, but he always had a vision for the land to become a full-time resort community. He proposed building a mass-transit electric train at his cost from Lihue to the North Shore and gift it to the county.
“The kind of visionary things he saw and his willingness to take the risk and do the capitalization himself was real methodical,” John Trueblood said.
He had been involved in the airline business in the ’60s and even financed the Princeville Airport, out of which Island Air operated flights for nearly a decade.
“Father’s gestalt was to go out and create something for somebody other than yourself,” John Trueblood said. “I think that was the big drive for him. He was a businessman, so obviously you have to turn it into a profitable venture or your backers are all going to leave. But it wasn’t all about him.”