Known as the “Hilo Walk of Fame ” or “The Crown Jewel of Hilo”, the Banyan Tree Scenic Drive is the result of a collaborative effort. Previous to the planting of these beautiful trees, the area was known for the Hilo Yacht Club and being the location of several homes. However, throughout the 1930s, a virtual who’s who list of celebrities including politicians, sports stars, musicians, and more planted a banyan tree on the Waiakea Peninsula during their visit to the islands, with the final number amounting to 50 planted banyan trees. Today, this effort provides a magnificent canopy of shade for those who drive or stroll down Banyan Drive.
Author of The Trees of Banyan Drive Jane Lasswell Hoff who is also a forensic anthropologist stated that these majestic beauties are in essence a picture of the past. She once stated, “the trees are a window into the history of Hilo.” Her guidebook is a good read if you would like to expound upon your walk or drive through the area. However, many of the trees do have markers that communicate who planted said tree and when the planting took place.
Banyan trees are actually considered fig trees. Worldwide, there are over 150 species of this tree. Along the famed Banyan Tree Scenic Drive, you can see examples of several varieties. The first celebrity to plant a tree was Cecil B. DeMille who was in Hilo filming a movie in 1933. Other actors and actresses also planted trees on that day. A week after those first trees were placed in the ground the fabulous Babe Ruth was in town playing an exhibition game. He found time to add to his legend and plant his own banyan tree. Interestingly enough, the tree planted by Babe Ruth still stands today in front of the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel.
This process became more concerted and organized after it became known that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would be visiting soon. The President himself even aided in planting one tree through his paralysis made the process a bit difficult. He was able to throw some dirt on the base of “his tree” from the car in 1934. A great deal of the Banyan Drive trees were planted between 1933 and 1935, and it was all made possible by a beautification grant given for the trees. Another interesting anecdote that surrounds this unique drive is the fact that Amelia Earhart planted a tree just a mere five days before she set the world record by flying from Honolulu to Oakland.
In addition to notable politicians, celebrities, and sports figures that had a hand in making Banyan Tree Scenic Drive what it is today, there were also other trees planted in honor of various people who made a notable and lasting impression on Hawaii. Consequently, it’s worth noting that not everyone who has a tree planted in their honor actually planted the tree. Other trees are of unknown origin meaning the “who did it” behind the planting has been lost throughout the passage of time. Other trees, such as the one planted by Louis Armstrong have gone missing and no one seems to know what happened to it.
Guests who have explored the Banyan Tree Scenic Drive area say looking at who planted the trees is nearly as impressive as looking at the beautiful trees themselves. Getting out to see the immense size of the trees leaves many visitors impressed as one stated that a family of 10 could fit in front of one specimen with no issue. These trees which are now aged between 80 and 90 years old are very much worth a visit when in the area.
-The historic town of Hilo is worth visiting as is the area that contains the Banyan Tree Scenic Drive.
-The Banyan trees offer the ideal environment for a variety of wildlife such as vibrant birds and coqui frogs.
-The sidewalk is nice and wide around the area to give you a chance to look at the markers indicating who planted each of these enormous beauties.