Utulei Beach and Utulei Village are the center of most of what happens in American Samoa. This is where you will find the center of Government, Samoana High School, Feleti Barstow Public Library, KVZK television studios, Governor’s House, Sadie’s By the Sea Hotel, the Centennial Office Building, Lee Auditorium, the Convention Center and several small businesses.
Utulei Beach is arguably the best swimming beach on the island and really just about the only public beach. There are several beautiful fales (Samoan style houses) built along the beach, originally for the Arts Festival, in 2008.
Most American Samoa Government (ASG) offices, including the Governor’s office, are housed in the A. P. Lutali Executive Office Building. This is a beautiful building that is, quite unfortunately, very poorly maintained. Poor maintenance is a hallmark of ASG as is evidenced throughout most of the island.
Samoana High School is one of four high schools in the territory. It was once the only high school and is now only the second largest. The picture on the left shows parts of Samoana High School along with Feleti Barstow Public Library, the EOB, tank farm and the roof of the Centennial Office Building. Although this picture is not taken from the same spot as the 1940 picture, it covers most of the same ground.
Feleti Barstow Public Library is a very well run library and a great asset to the territory. In addition to books, they have a computer center, meeting rooms and often host art shows and other small events. The picture on the left shows the entrance to the library. You can learn more about the library here.
KVZK Television studios were originally built for the educational television system in 1964. The building was a beautiful modern structure and the only building, on the island, with central air conditioning. The building was once teeming with television producers, directors, teachers, artists, camera operators, technical people and the director of education offices. Now the building houses only the television studios, offices for the local news team, a few camera operators and technical support people. See the building as it is now.
The Governor’s Mansion is a beautiful building in the absolute best location. It is, in sharp contrast to the normally poor maintenance, completely refurbished and beautifully kept, including the grounds.
Sadie’s By The Sea Hotel is the premier hotel in American Samoa. It utilizes two winds of the otherwise dilapidated old Rainmaker Hotel, with the addition of a new swimming pool, restaurant and banquet facilities. The hotel beach has been restored to pristine condition and is well maintained.
The Centennial Office Building was built, as an investment, by the American Samoa Employees Retirement Fund. It presently houses Bank of Hawaii, the retirement fund executive offices and other offices.
Lee Auditorium, named for Governor H. Rex Lee was refurbished, in 2008, in preparation for the Arts Festival. Gov. Lee was the most productive governor the island has ever seen. He started the educational television project, built the international airport, built roads nearly everywhere, very substantially cleaned up the island and restored pride in the U. S. administration of American Samoa. There were two Reader’s Digest articles written on this subject – I call them Shame and Showplace – click to read them.
Rainmaker Mountain is located at the entrance to the harbor at Pago Pago, American Samoa on Tutuila Island. The average annual rainfall on the mountain is around 200 inches (5 m). The mountain is a National Natural Landmark designated in 1972. It is among the most visible sites to all tourists and cruise ship passengers. Standing on Utulei Beach or from most locations in the bay area, you can see the silhouette of a man lying on his back. This becomes more visible on a moonlit night. Climbing Rainmaker Mountain is a serious challenge for the casual hiker and should not be attempted without a knowledgeable guide. But when you get to the top, the view is breathtaking and you well feel a sense of accomplishment. I have done the climb twice but all my pictures are lost. If anyone has pictures taken from the top of Rainmaker, please contact me.
Solo Hill was once the best place from which to see the wondrous views of Pago Pago Harbor and Utulei village. I had not been up the Solo Hill road for many years and I was curious to see what it looked like in 2009. I remembered the view of Pago Pago harbor, from the spot just down from the cable car landing area, to be one of the most magnificent sights in the world. I was disappointed to find the jungle now blocks any view of the harbor and there really is no practical way to push through the jungle to find a clear view. In fact, the jungle blocks almost all the beauty of the trip up the road. I managed to get some pictures along the road by getting out of my car and pushing through the jungle until I could poke my camera through the weeds to get a clear shot of the Utulei area, but not of the harbor.
There is a monument in memory of the 1980 crash of a U.S. Navy plane into the Rainmaker Hotel, killing the six servicemen aboard and two tourists at the hotel. The crash occurred during Flag Day celebrations when the plane attempted to fly under the cable car cables spanning the harbor and caught the vertical stabilizer on the cable. At that point, the plane was flipped sideways and thrown into the hotel. The original intent was to drop paratroopers over the Flag Day celebration area but it was too windy and the updrafts in the harbor area made parachuting inadvisable.
Up Solo Hill a little further is the cable car landing, or what’s left of it. A rusted out old cable car now sits not so proudly reminding us of the great days when this was the world’s longest single-span cable car and the ride was among the most magnificent experiences in the world. The cable car system was built, in 1964, to transport equipment and personnel to the top of Mt. Alava where the television transmitters were to provide the signal to all the schools in American Samoa in support of the educational television project known as ETV.
Strangely, the little fale (house) at the top of the road and the garden around it were quite nicely kept. There still wasn’t much of a view but there was a very nice feeling of peace and beauty around the little house. This could be a world-class tourist attraction if those maintaining it had a real interest in the tourism aspects of the location.
My overall impression of Solo Hill was bleak and it was depressing to see what one of the most beautiful spots in the world has become.
The Guns at Blunts Point are among the must-see attractions but few people even know where they are and little is done to promote a tour. These guns were part of a defense mechanism to protect Pago Pago Harbor. A second set of guns are positioned across the bay at Breakers Point. One of the guns at Blunts Point had been beautifully refurbished and I had not seen it.
I was driving a fairly rugged jeep-style vehicle and hoped it would be able to carry me up the road to the first gun. The road was rougher than I had hoped and a broken chain lay across it serving as a warning to me that maybe I shouldn’t chance taking my car up the road. So, I walked through what turned out to be a beautiful, albeit overgrown path to the first gun. I pushed through the overgrowth a couple of times to take pictures and wished the jungle was maintained in a way that would allow unfettered views of the magnificence below.
The refurbishing work on the first gun was quite impressive. It looked almost like a new emplacement. Here is a nice article on the restoration. There was a small monument with two flags behind the gun. The area looked reasonably well kept. But, a little further up, things deteriorated rapidly.
The stairway to the second gun was so dilapidated as to render it unsafe. But, I took a chance and carefully found my way up. Here again, the stairway up to the second gun could be a fabulous tourist attraction if only it were properly maintained and if the jungle was not blocking the view. The second gun was just a sad sight…poor thing. However, it is my understanding that as of this writing the second gun and the stairs to it have been beautifully restored. I would love to hear from anyone with pictures of the refurbished second gun.
To see more pictures of Utulei and the guns, click here. When the gallery opens, click on any picture to enlarge and click on the || to start the slide show. Enjoy!