When I first moved to Maui from Barcelona, Spain, I could see this enormous Mediterranean house on the top of a hill outside my bathroom window. A Spanish family? Seeing it I didn’t feel quite so homesick for my adopted country. I glared up at this beauty each morning as I got ready for work. Who lives there? Certainly, this is not your typical Hawaiian Home. A feeling, you know, that feeling, told me one day I would meet the owner. In the meantime, I was once again late for work and scrambling to find hair brushes, mascara, and clothes. The menial quickly replaces curiosity.
Years before my curiosity got the better of me, Bill and Leona R. Wilson moved to Maui. He had grown up in Southern California but moved to New York where he purchased Vogue Butterick. The company sold patterns for ladies’ dressmaking. Coincidentally, Leona also moved to New York after her time in the Army to pursue her dreams while attending F.I.T. (Fashion Institute of Technology).
Leona Rocha grew up with her brothers and sisters in a plantation camp on Maui. As she likes to say, “Only in America could someone go from a plantation camp to a company owner.” While at F.I.T. she designed and developed a professional measuring ruler which could change the size of any dress pattern to fit a new size. By using this ruler, many family members could use the same pattern. Fashionetics, her company, sold the ruler at first to home sewing ladies and later through mail orders.
When Bill Met Leona
As with any new product, new consumers were excited to use the fashion ruler but needed instruction beforehand. Leona started talking and demonstrating it to a flood of attentive new customers. She soon became the President of the American Home Sewing Association, TV spokesperson for Simplicity patterns, and finally spokesperson for Vogue Butterick. Ok, I can tell you want to know, how did they meet? Bill and Leona met at a Vogue Butterick conference, later married, and spent time between New York, California, and Maui. Bill’s dream had always been to live in Hawaii, but it wasn’t until he spent time with Leona’s amazing family on Maui that he turned his interests to the Valley Isle.
I can attest to this amazing family as I finally met Leona and her wonderful family at Lona Ridge. Every Monday at lunchtime, Lona Ridge becomes host to a pot luck meal of family, characters and great food. We stop for a while, breathe in the warm winds coming down from Pu’u Kukui, meet new friends, take in the spectacular views, and talk story. Here I experience the aloha spirit of the islands. You know, the one talked about in the travel guides, movies, and TV shows. The one that tourists try to put in their pockets and take back home for uncertain days.
Finding the Right Home
In 2006, the Wilsons began to look for a location for the new home that they intended to build. Searching the Maui News daily, Leona found an advertisement for 5.7 acres of land for sale above Wailuku Heights. Listing agents arranged a site view, but when all arrived the only area visible was a ridge. Not to be detoured, Leona climbed up a small 3-foot wide path to the top of the ridge. Hiking alone, she climbed over fallen trees, brush, and uncleared timber. At the summit, she could see the entire valley below, the Pacific Ocean lapping both sides of the island, and the peaks of Haleakala. She was home.
Preparing the site for building took almost two years to complete as 3,700 truckloads of dirt were removed to ready the land for building. Clayton Nishikawa of Nishikawa Architects was contracted to begin the design process of their 8,000-square foot home. Leona and Bill wanted a home that would be a bit more traditional yet fit into the local surroundings. Both were influenced by the work of Charles Dickey who designed the Wailuku School and Makawao Union Church. Morgan Gerdel at Nishikawa Architects delivered the final design of the Wilson’s new home. Leona’s bucket list of items wanted in the home before the construction included; a huge walk-in refrigerator and wine cellar. However, in the end, she settled for three refrigerators, an enormous pantry, and a swimming pool. Not a bad trade-off.
Construction started in 2009 but sadly, in 2010, Bill passed away from complications of a routine surgery. The house was only halfway through construction. I asked Leona if she had ever thought about just selling the house “as is.” Her immediate answer was a definitive, “No, I have never walked away from anything in my life.” She further explains that the love from her family and friends here on Maui has carried her through difficult times.
A Healing Place
Today the Home that Love Built is for sale as an exclusive listing at HawaiiLife.com/LindaMcCormick. When I asked Leona where she might go after the house sells, her answer came with the same conviction as she has lived her life. “Life is an evolution and it will always lead me to the right place,” Leona Rocha Wilson confirms.
Legend has it that during King Kamehameha’s Battle of Waikapu, his warriors rested on the lands where the Wilsons built their home. It was known to be a healing place. It still is.