Q. C. Lum

Q.C. Lum was one of Oahu’s most prolific builders in the postwar era.  Lum built over 7,000 homes in a two-decade span, many of which were put up at a rate of one every two days. Although Lum found great success as a developer in his adult life, he was born into poverty and dropped out of high school to support his widowed mother, working as both a shoeshine boy and delivering newspapers.

But 20 years later, Lum became a man of extreme wealth, involved in multiple million-dollar real estate ventures in the United States, Canada and Oahu. Though he lacked formal training as an architect, Lum designed his own homes, including their layouts and mechanical systems. He also held several patents, including Lum-I-Line lighting, which involved reflector technology and a transformer, and a battery that could run cars without gasoline.  Involved in an assortment of civic and charitable organizations, Lum also served as the president of the Republican 29th Precinct Fifth District, directed a Chinese language school and sat on the governor’s territorial executive legislative building committee.

By 1962 Lum’s reputation as the largest and fastest home builder on Oahu was firmly established. But convinced he could improve upon this, Lum patented a revolutionary building method using 3-1/2 inch thick pre-stressed concrete blocks measuring roughly 3 by 8 feet in diameter.  Lum had lofty plans for this new material, boasting it could be used not only locally, but internationally, and its attendant benefits were many. It was termite and bug resistant, could meet global building codes, and its low cost would cut construction costs dramatically. No longer would any foreign country need public housing, said Lum, and a three-bedroom house could be constructed by only two men in less than five hours.

However, by the fall of 1966, Lum’s fortunes reversed themselves. Hired that year to construct 36 portable concrete classrooms for eleven different public schools, Lum first fell behind schedule and missed contractual deadlines, facing daily fines by the state. Lum’s modular concrete designs also proved problematic, with inspectors questioning their structural safety. There were flaws in areas where the wall connected to the roof and floor, which made the buildings susceptible to high rates of moisture exposure. Officials worried this could cause the walls and roof to collapse inward.

In October of 1966, Lum’s bad luck continued.  After purchasing two motels in California, he defaulted on the loan payments and was promptly sued.  In turn, he filed for bankruptcy in a federal court.  Lum explained he had relied too much on attorneys and real estate agents, resulting in bad business decisions.  The following year, several of Lum’s Oahu properties were auctioned off to satisfy creditors.  Following this, Lum seemingly slipped out of the public eye, and was no longer covered in newspaper stories.

Ella Chun, “Q.C. Lum, Fabulous Builder, Got Start Delivering Advertiser, Shining Shoes: Owned his First Pair of Shoes at 18,” The Honolulu Advertiser, Jul. 24, 1955, A1.

Jack Teehan, “Lum Says New Plan Cuts Home Cost in Half,” The Honolulu Advertiser, Jun. 2, 1962, A1m , and “Lum to Produce Concrete Homes,” Hawaii Business, June 1962, 41.

“Classrooms Contractor Faces Crackdown,” The Honolulu Advertiser, Nov. 17 1966, E1.

Drew McKillips, “$2.3 Million Judgment against Lum,” The Honolulu Advertiser, Feb. 7, 1967, A13.

“Lum Calls Self ‘Stupid Fellow,’” The Honolulu Advertiser, Oct. 15, 1966, B7.

“Builder Lum’s properties to be auctioned,” The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Mar. 17, 1967, C5, “13 Lum Properties sold at auction,” The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Apr. 3, 1967, A12, and “19 Q.C. Lum Lots Auctioned,” The Honolulu Advertiser, Apr. 4, 1967, A10.