Christmas at Palm Circle on Fort Shafter
Photos by Leah Friel
*For this week’s MidWeek style, we celebrate the holiday season with a tour of the Christmas decor at Palm Circle on Fort Shafter, home to the U.S. Army-Pacific Commanding Genera,l Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, and wife Jeannine.
BY LIANNE BIDAL THOMPSON
The 9-foot Christmas tree stands grandly, decked out in gold, greeting guests as they step into Quarters 5, one of the beautiful homes lining Fort Shafter’s historic Palm Circle.
“The tree comes with the home,” says Jeannine Wiercinski, wife of U.S. Army-Pacific Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski. The tree twinkles brightly, bedecked with thousands of lights reflecting against the gold ornaments and garlands chosen by Jeannine. “For my husband, there’s no such thing as too many white lights,” she says with a hearty laugh. Lt. Gen. Wiercinski always makes a point of placing the lights himself.
Like the tree, much of what’s visible at the house is part of Quarters 5, no matter who its occupants. There’s a dining table that’s played host to FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Secretary of War William Howard Taft (who later became president), Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adm. Chester Nimitz. Other items, such as the home’s chandeliers and a grand piano at which Irving Berlin tickled the ivories, are also part of what makes Quarters 5 so special.
Army historian Kenneth Hays points out the home’s neutral colors. “Interior ochres were popular at the time,” he says. “It goes with everything.” It’s Hays’ job to ensure that all of the quarters on Palm Circle fit with their original time period. The area that is now known as Fort Shafter was part of the Kahuiki ahupua’a. The first land grant for Fort Shafter was given to the U.S. Army in 1899. Palm Circle was designed by the Army Quartermaster, and the namesake palms are from Cuba, trophies from the Spanish-American War.
This is the Wiercinski’s second Christmas in Quarters 5, but not their first in Hawai’i. Originally from Pennsylvania, the high school sweethearts spent their first Christmas as a married couple at Schofield in the late 1970s, Lt. Gen. Wiercinski’s first assignment. “My first ornaments were from Pay ‘n’ Save,” says Jeannine.
In fact, as much as Quarters 5 tells the history of its station as a grand home on Palm Circle, the Wiercinski’s own history is equally reflected in their own touches. “Our tree is always live,” Jeannine points out, drawing a distinction between the home’s “official” tree and theirs that sits in another, more casual (yet equally beautiful) room. It is this tree on which the couple hangs their own ornaments (maybe even some of those from Pay ‘n’ Save?) from their travels throughout the years. She also displays her own Hummel figurines, a Santa collection and a nativity scene created by a relative.
A festive garland lines the entrance to the home’s library that’s filled with the Wiercinski’s own impressive collection of books. As for that long dining table? They joke with friends that they dine there each night, but in truth, it’s the home’s cozier corners that hold their hearts. Jeannine’s favorite spots include a southern-facing window at which she starts her day.