Sunday, June 27, 2010

Haleiwa Hotel

More than a year before Waikiki built its first grand hotel, visionary businessman Benjamin Dillingham opened a luxury resort hotel on a strip of land on Oahu’s North Shore. He called it “Haleiwa,” which had been the name of a girls’ dormitory built by Protestant missionaries in Waialua in the 1830s. But it's not hard to see the image of the ‘iwa bird itself — noted for its enormous, angular wingspan — reflected in the design of the hotel itself, with its elongated roofline, perched on a gentle mound.

Whereas the Moana and, later, the Alexander Young Hotel in downtown Honolulu served the traditional function of accommodating visitors, Dillingham’s hotel was conceived as part of a larger concept. Having built the Oahu Railway & Land Company, whose primary purpose was to provide a means of transporting sugar from western Honolulu and the North Shore to Honolulu Harbor, Dillingham hoped to capitalize on his investment by encouraging passenger travel as well, and his new hotel was a means to this end.

To entice passengers to take the three-hour, fifty-six mile rail journey from Honolulu to Haleiwa, Dillingham planned to develop luxurious accommodations situated in a deluxe country club setting as an end-of-line attraction. Leasing forty acres of land along the ocean and the Anahulu stream from Bishop Estate, the railroad magnate hired O. G. Traphagan, who was to design the Moana Hotel in 1901, to realize his grand scheme. As at the Moana, the architect responded with an elaborate Victorian layout, masterfully combining a sense of privileged grandeur and country informality.

When the hotel opened on August 5, 1899, guests were conveyed from the railway terminal over the Anahulu stream to fourteen luxurious guestrooms. Each room had a private bath, hot-and-cold running water, and telephone connection with the front desk. The resort offered a myriad of recreational activities including tennis, canoeing, ocean fishing, and golfing. There was an ocean-front nine-hole golf course, the second to be constructed in the islands, as well as a large concrete swimming pool of soft fresh water filled from the property’s springs.

The weekend getaway from Honolulu to the Haleiwa Hotel became hugely popular with the Island’s affluent. At the turn of the century, a round-trip, two-day excursion by train cost $10. It included an overnight stay at the hotel and a tour of the Waialua Sugar Mill (Dillingham was director of the Waialua Sugar Company). From there, visitors took a carriage ride to Wahiawa to view the pineapple plantations (Dillingham founded Hawaiian Pineapple in 1901). In effect, it was a trip through “Dillingham World.”

Ultimately however, even Dillingham could not resist the gravitational pull of Waikiki as the focus of the tourist industry. This was due in part to the newly aggressive promotion of tourism by the Honolulu Merchants’ Association and the opening in 1927 of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which instantly provided Waikiki with a hotel of worldwide distinction.

The territorial government then stepped in with two critical projects which led to private sector capital investments. The first was the construction of the Ala Wai Canal (1920-1928). The government also upgraded the harbor’s visitor reception facilities — piers 8, 9 and 10 were rebuilt between 1920 and 1924 and construction of the Aloha Tower was completed in 1926.

The Matson Navigation Company also advanced the government’s tourist agenda with the launching of the 17,000-ton Malolo in 1925. The 650-passenger luxury oceanliner was the fastest ship on the Pacific at the time, reducing the six-and-a-half day journey from San Francisco to four-and-a-half.

During the height of its popularity, the Haleiwa Hotel had made the name Haleiwa famous, and when its doors closed in 1943, its name was adopted by the surrounding community. About 1953, the aged, termite-ridden structure was torn down. Haleiwa Joe’s restaurant now stands on the site where the ‘iwa once soared.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Leonard’s Bakery Sign

Leonard’s on Kapahulu Avenue has been the go-to place for malasadas since the bakery was started by Leonard DoRego in 1952. These crusty confections, brought to Hawaii by Portuguese settlers from the Azores and Madeira, once had a religious connection — they were made to use up all the lard and sugar in the house before the beginning of Lent. Malasadas were especially popular on Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Fortunately, in this heathen age we can observe Mardi Gras all year round.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

“Bird of Paradise” (1932)

The first screen version. This excerpt shows one of the dramatic high points of the film. Warning: the dance sequence is not exactly hula kahiko. And watch for the cool outboard-powered outrigger at the very end of the clip.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

“Bird of Paradise” (1951)

A publicity still with Debra Paget and Louis Jourdan.

This was the second cinematic rendering of the “Bird” story, following a version with Dolores del Rio and Joel McCrae from 1932, but the plot’s antecedents reach further back to a more remote era on Broadway, to a hit 1912 play of the same name by Richard Tully that starred Laurette Taylor.

Its plot only slightly resembles that of the later screenplays but is equally as melodramatic: Luana, a Hawaiian princess, redeems the soul of her lover, a beachcomber doctor who saves her people by isolating the germ that causes leprosey, and then sacrifices herself to the volcano god to save her people (again).

Despite the ludricrous story, “Bird of Paradise” brought a whiff of the erotic and the exotic, including a simulated volcano for the third act and real Hawaiian music. Though its success was limited in New York, the play was hugely popular throughout North America for over a decade between 1912 and 1924 and was revived twice in the West End of London. It made both its author and producer a fortune, which they lost and partially regained in the course of a protracted plagiarism lawsuit.

The play was also a major influence in popularizing Hawaiian performance culture throughout the US and beyond. While “Bird” was a drama, it included in the production what was purportedly authentic Hawaiian music. As only Hawaiian musicians could play in the style, Tully imported a band from the Islands known as the Hawaiian Quintette, which included the famous steel guitarist Walter Kolomoku (seen at right). Their performances led them to become so successful in their own right that they recorded the play’s incidental music for the Victor phonograph company, a recording that sold well into the 1920s.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jacques Arago

Vue of the King’s Heiau at Kealakekua.

Jacques Arago (1790-1855), the French writer, artist and explorer, was a major player in the documenting of Hawaiian life in the early nineteenth century. He arrived in the Islands in 1819 aboard the corvette Uranie, in the crew of the renown navigator Louis de Freycinet, who had been commissioned by the French government to collect data about the geography, meteorology, ethnology, and indigenous flora and fauna of the southern hemisphere.

Although the Uranie was in Hawaiian waters for only three weeks, it was at a critical point in history. Kamehameha I had died just three months earlier and the people were still in mourning. The culture was in turmoil for other reasons — the kapu system was disintegrating and there were disputes about the succession.

Ooro, One of the Principal Officers of Kamehameha II.

Arago seems to have been well received by the Hawaiians. In addition to sketching them, he often entertained them with juggling and magic tricks. He chronicled not only the lifestyles of the elite, but ordinary things such as the beating of tapa, the clothing, hairstyles and headdresses of the period — even the manner of criminal executions — and he was particularly fascinated by the Hawaiian art of tattooing.

Verbally witty and observant as well, Arago made acerbic comments about pompous chiefs and certain resident foreigners. He also made trenchant social observations, such as the following on the role of women: “The condition of women here is truly wretched ... they are treated like beings perfectly useless, except to propagate the species....”

The Manner in Which the Natives Tattoo Themselves.

The Houses of Kalaimoku, Prime Minister of the King.

The fate of the Uranie after it left Hawaii was also remarkable. Having visited such ports as Australia, Guam and the Marianas Islands, it ran aground in the Falkland Islands and Arago did not return to France until 1821.

Back in Paris, he published a comprehensive illustrated account of his experiences entitled Narrative of a Voyage Round the World. It was a great success and was reprinted countless times and translated into several languages.

Despite losing his sight in his later years, Arago continued to travel and even wrote for the theater. He died in Rio de Janeiro, leaving behind an invaluable record of Island life — over forty of his drawings can be seen at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Perhaps the most fortuitous aspect of Arago’s visit was its timing — in 1819 the Hawaiian culture, though transitioning, was still fundamentally intact. It would be another two years before the arrival of the minions of religion and the social devastation that followed.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kalakaua Avenue, 1944

Marquee Notes: “Lady in the Dark” was released in February, 1944. The coming attraction, “Girl Crazy,” was released in November, 1943. Hawaii got everything late in those days, so I’m guessing this shot was taken in front of the Waikiki Theater in late 1944 or perhaps early 1945.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Fort Street/Punahou Streetcar, 1910

Heading down Fort Street toward Honolulu Harbor in tropical whites.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Streetwise: Kalaimoku Street

The short, block-and-a-half stretch between the Ala Wai Canal and Kalakaua Avenue in the western part of Waikiki was named for the High Chief William Pitt Kalaimoku (c. 1768–1827), who was prime minister of the Hawaiian Kingdom during the reigns of Kamehameha I, Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III. He was a descendant of the King of Maui and a cousin of Elizabeth Kaʻahumanu, wife of Kamehameha I.

He adopted the name William Pitt after the Prime Minister of Great Britain, William Pitt the Younger, and liked being addressed as Billy Pitt. He was a warrior as well as a diplomat; in the battle of Kuamoʻo he defeated Kekuaokalani, a son of Kamehameha’s who led a rebellion against the succession of Liholiho, another of Kamehameha’s sons. He died in Kailua Kona, on Hawaii, in 1827.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

SS Lurline

From her maiden voyage in 1933 until 1962 (with a break as a troop carrier during WW2) she plied the Pacific while plying her passengers with cognac and kümmel. It was pure luxury and pure pleasure all the way.

Matson Cocktail

1/3 shot kümmel
1/2 shot cognac
1 sugar cube
Chilled champagne
1 lemon peel
Chilled 6-oz martini glass

Pour kümmel and cognac over crushed ice in a shaker and shake gently. Place the sugar cube in the glass. Strain kümmel and cognac into glass. Add champagne to fill. Float lemon peel over the top. Sip slowly and stay away from the ship’s rail.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Na Kane Pupule: Matson Lines, 1949

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Mystery of the Hawaii Clipper

On July 29, 1938, Pan American Flight #229 — the Hawaii Clipper — carrying nine crew members and six passengers from San Francisco to Manila, disappeared over the Pacific. The loss of the aircraft led to one of the most extensive sea and air searches in Asiatic waters. After twelve days of intense effort by Army and Navy teams, only a large oil slick was discovered, which analysis proved to be unrelated to the Clipper. Finally, on August 10, the search was called off. To this day, nothing of the plane or its passengers has been found. Nor have investigators ever been able to determine the cause of the crash.

Some reasonable theories.

The Clipper was a Martin M-130. Trim and seaworthy, she could ride out rough weather as easily as a yacht. She was equipped with state-of-the-art navigation systems and carried a comprehensive stock of safety and emergency equipment. But not all the gadgets in the world could save her if she hit the water hard enough to crack her hull or if she caught fire while dumping fuel.

Some flakey theories.

The Hearst press suggested that since one of the passengers, a New Jersey restaurant owner named Wah Sun Choy, president of the Chinese War Relief Committee, was carrying $3,000,000 in US gold-backed certificates (about $45,000,000 today) intended for the Kuomintang, there might be a motive for Japanese sabotage.

Another theory involved passenger Fred C. Meier, a pathologist from Harvard who was investigating a theory that plant spores carrying bacteria and borne by the wind played a major role in the international spread of disease. This research might also have been of interest to the Japanese, who were engaged in developing bacterial warfare in the years leading up to WW2.

Another passenger was Edward E. Wyman, Vice President of Export Sales for Curtiss-Wright Corporation, a company that provided the engines for the Hawk 75 pursuit planes used in China. Since air superiority was clearly an issue, Wyman was also presumed to be of interest to the Japanese.

The flakiest theory.

In 1938, a retired US Air Force officer and rabid Amelia Earhart hunter went to investigate Truk Atoll in Micronesia. He failed to find information on Earhart but came back with a grisly tale. He had encountered two Micronesian contractors who were building a Japanese Naval Hospital on Dublon Island (part of Truk Atoll) and had witnessed the literal entombment of 15 Americans in a slab of poured concrete. Their description of the individuals and their clothing left little doubt in the officer’s mind that they were the crew and passengers of the Hawaii Clipper.

This story was resurrected in a 2000 book, Fix on the Rising Sun, by Charles Hill, who theorized that the Hawaii Clipper was hijacked to Truk Atoll by radical officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy. He describes the scenario in minute detail:

Empty crates had been shipped to the Hawaii Clipper by Japanese operatives working in San Francisco. During the stopover in Guam, the plane was boarded by two Japanese, who hid themselves in the prepared crates. One and a half hours into the flight the two Japanese emerged, took control of the Clipper and flew it to Dublon Island, where the fifteen Americans were taken ashore and buried in concrete.

The Hawaii Clipper was then painted in the colors of a flying boat of the Imperial Japanese Navy and flown to Japan. Years later, in 1945, she was sighted in Yokosuka by American military intelligence personnel, though for unknown reasons this was revealed to only a few senior officers of the US Pacific Command. The tale concludes with the revelation that the newly-developed Japanese fighter plane, the Zero, was powered by engines developed from the design of the Hawaii Clipper.

Lastly, for those who have been waiting for a conspiracy theory, Hill notes that so many having pursued the elusive Clipper with such limited success, one has to speculate why everyone eventually abandoned their search. “Perhaps it had became apparent to them that there are forces not only interested in, but actually intent upon, preventing this story from being told.” He ends on a hopeful note, however, predicting that “Truth will not suffer silently for long, or lie buried forever.”

The Hawaii Clipper at its dock at Pearl Harbor.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Na Kane Pupule: Pan American Airways

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Temple of Chop Suey

Back in the day, before the 1960s, when a new influx of Chinese and other Asian immigrants arrived in Hawaii — and pretty much transformed the local dining experience — there was chop suey. This was essentially an invention of the early Chinese settlers who opened restaurants featuring the dishes of their home provinces, adjusted to the tastes and resources of their host communities.

In the case of Hawaii, this generally meant rural Cantonese food from the Chung Shan District (Zhongshan County) in Guandong Province — Zhongshan people constituting the majority of the plantation workers and traders who came to Hawaii in the nineteenth century. Pre-war examples of some of their dishes were frog leg noodles, duck leg noodles, lobster noodles, and cake noodles.

The high altar of this unique local cuisine was undoubtedly Wo Fat Chop Sui Restaurant, the temple-like structure at the corner of Hotel and Maunakea Streets in Honolulu’s Chinatown. Even its interior, a forest of massive red pillars, contributed to the feeling of a joss house, where the dining ritual was reinforced by the sacramental chaser — the shot of whiskey you drank between courses (you brought your own bottle though the restaurant provided the glasses).

A look at the menu for their seven- or nine-course banquets reveals concoctions that became standard fare at Hawaiian-Chinese restaurants: lemon chicken or crispy skin chicken, red-dyed roast pork, and taro duck. It was haute chop suey — and in this post-dim sum age, it’s fast becoming an endangered cuisine.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

“Charlie Chan in Honolulu” (1938)

This was the first Charlie Chan movie with Sidney Toler as Chan. You can watch it online at:

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Makee Island

Before the Ala Wai Canal, Kapiolani Park was a watery region of swamps and ponds dotted with islands and islets. The largest of these man-made islands is labeled “Makee’s Island” on a 1883 map. It was a rectangle measuring roughly 100 x 700 feet, in the northwest (ewa-mauka) corner of the park where Makee Road joined Kapahulu Road to become Kapahulu Avenue.

The island was forested with ironwood trees, date and coconut palms, and kiawe. It was the site of the first Kapiolani Park bandstand, where the Royal Hawaiian Band performed on Sunday afternoons. To get to there you either rowed or walked one of several narrow wooden plank bridges. Picnickers, strollers and people with romance on their minds frequented the secluded spot.

The Makee for whom the island was named was James Makee, a Scottish whaling ship captain, one of King Kalakaua’s poker buddies and the Kapiolani Park Association’s first president. He came to Hawaii in 1843. After being wounded in a Honolulu waterfront brawl he moved to Maui and bought the Ulupalakua Ranch. He renamed it Rose Ranch, planted sugar as a cash crop, and died rich in 1879. He was a colorful and well-like local figure — in addition to the island, there is a hula named for him, “Hula O Makee”; he is also recalled in the popular song “Makee ‘Ailana.”

Makee's Island had a lifespan of less than 50 years. Its history coincides with the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893 and the failed counter-revolution of 1895. At the time of the 1898 annexation, the US Army used Kapiolani Park as a staging ground for military action in the Philippines during the Spanish American War. The Army made repeated complaints about the park’s mosquito-infested lagoons.

Similar complaints were also directed at the “foul and stagnant” Makee Island waterways. As a result, the legislature of 1918 appropriated $100,000 for the excavation of a drainage canal that would render Waikiki dry, healthy — and ripe for development.

This proposal evolved into the Ala Wai Canal project, the first stage of which was completed in 1924. The dredgings from the canal were used to fill the ponds and low-lying adjacent areas, including the islands and waterways of Kapiolani Park. So the wooded retreat created out of the fertile mud of Waikiki had been obliterated by 1924 — but its name lingers on.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

“Die Blume von Hawaii”

Die Blume von Hawaii is an operetta by the Hungarian composer Paul Abraham. It premiered at Leipzig in 1931, in the period immediately before the Nazi takeover of Germany. The work was allegedly inspired by the story of Liliʻuokalani.

Brief synopsis:
  • After the US Army has deposed the Hawaiian Queen, Princess Laya returns from Paris to her homeland, where she must choose between a native prince and an American marine officer — while at the same time fighting off a ruthless governor who is plotting to make her renounce her claim to the throne.

Born in 1892, Abraham was educated at the Budapest Academy of Music and upon completing his studies establish himself as a composer of serious art music. His works were heard at major European music festivals, and he gained a reputation as a conductor of Hungarian liturgical music. In 1927, Abraham assumed the post of conductor of the Budapest Operetta Theater.

With the advent of sound film in 1929 Abraham began scoring German and Hungarian musical films. He had four successive hits between 1930 and 1932. For the second of these, Abraham joined forces with the librettist Alfred Grünwald. The result was Die Blume von Hawaii, a huge success, with its mix of South Seas exotica and Continental chic — it was praised as a groundbreaking work for its depiction of characters with a new, edgier realism. But it soon attracted unfavorable attention from the emerging National Socialist regime. Two years later the Nazis banned it as “Degenerate Art.”

The following excerpt is from the 1953 film version of Die Blume von Hawaii directed by Géza von Cziffra. The featured singer is William Stelling.

A Jew, Abraham had to flee Germany when the Nazis seized power and eventually landed in New York, where he failed to establish himself in musical circles and was committed to a hospital in 1946 after a mental breakdown. When word reached Germany about his plight, a foundation was established, which enabled him to live out the remaining years of his life in Hamburg. He died in 1960.

Despite its vicissitudes, Die Blume von Hawaii has managed to maintain its place in the repertoire of German-speaking opera houses. George Barati, former conductor of the Honolulu Symphony, knew the music and composer well. It was filmed twice — once in 1933 before the Nazi takeover and again in 1953. There was also an adaptation made for television in 1971. It continues to be revived with success, most recently in Cologne in 2009 and this past February at the Vienna Volksopera.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Crossroads of the Pacific Sign

This sign which stood outside Kau Kau Korner at the intersection of Kapiolani and Kalakaua Avenues, was a popular spot for WW2 servicemen to take souvenir snapshots of their stay in Hawaii.

Kau Kau Korner, a 24-hour drive-in — with its short-skirted car hop waitresses — was a favorite hangout from 1935 to 1960. A radio DJ named Don-in-the-Fishbowl used to broadcast live from a glass enclosure in the parking lot.

The site was then occupied by the equally popular Coco’s Coffee House until 1986, when it in turn made way for the Hard Rock Cafe.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Really Old Hawaii, Vintage 1916

Amazing video by a Dutch film crew working in Hawaii in 1916, with footage of a Hawaii Consolidated Railway train on the Hamakua coast, Hilo Bay and Makee Island in Kapiolani Park. The soundtrack is a hoot!

Translations of the title cards:
  1. Bird’s-eye view of the Hawaiian Islands.
  2. The islands belong to the Sandwich Isles. The landscape is very mountainous.
  3. A ride on the Hilo track.
  4. The natives fish in the surf with the help of nets.
  5. Characters from Hawaii.
  6. With a speed of 20 mph through the surf.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Archibald Cleghorn and Ainahau

Roadway at Ainahau.

In 1851, when Archibald Cleghorn arrived in the islands with his Scottish parents, he was 16. His father Thomas died shortly afterwards, leaving Archibald to run the small dry goods store he had started in Honolulu. Four years later, he was on his way to becoming a powerhouse in the mercantile industry, with stores not only on Oahu but on the neighboring islands as well. By the time he was in this 30s, he had married a Hawaiian lady named Elizabeth with whom he had three daughters and shared a house on Queen Emma Street in downtown Honolulu. If Cleghorn had a knack for business, his knack for things botanical turned out to be equally as great, for the Queen Emma Street home could boast of some of the most beautiful gardens in town.

At 35, Cleghorn married Miriam Likelike, the 19-year-old sister of Kalakaua, soon to be elected king of Hawaii. When their daughter Kaiulani was christened, her godmother Princess Ruth Ke‘elikolani presented her with a ten-acre estate in the middle of Waikiki, which was called Ainahau. With this land, Cleghorn was given an opportunity to indulge his passion for horticulture on an orgiastic scale. Its broad acres were laid out in a maze of dense foliage, date palms, bananas, breadfruit, kukui, kiawe and bamboo, with here and there banks of coral-red hibiscus.

Ainahau quickly became a rendezvous of island society and the scene of frequent parties and entertainments befitting a man of his prominence. When Kalakaua became king in 1874, he appointed Cleghorn to the House of Nobles and upon the death of the Prince Consort John Dominis in 1891, Queen Lili‘uokalani made him governor of Oahu.
 After Kaiulani’s death in 1899, Cleghorn led a less active life, although he became the first parks commissioner for the City & County of Honolulu in 1900 and remained involved in the affairs of Queen’s Hospital. He died of a heart attack in 1910 and was buried in the Royal Mausoleum.

Cleghorn’s will left Ainahau to the Territory of Hawaii, with the stipulation that it become a park in Kaiulani’s memory. The territorial legislature refused this gift, due to the strenuous efforts of Rep. Archibald S. Robertson, a Cleghorn heir who subsequently inherited the estate. The royal residence, after a brief career as a hotel, passed into the hands of a film producer and was destroyed by fire in 1921. In 1955, Matson Navigation Company tore up the Ainahau lands for the development of the Princess Kaiulani Hotel.

Unfortunate though it was to lose Cleghorn’s grand opus, examples of his horticultural skill survive elsewhere in Honolulu. Cleghorn played an instrumental role in the founding of Kapiolani Park in 1877. He served as president of the Kapiolani Park Association and planned the landscaping of the park. And the stately ironwood trees that line Kalakaua Avenue through the park were planted under his supervision, as were the great banyans at Thomas Square.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

The Waikiki Jungle

Kalakaua Avenue near Kuhio Beach, 1957.

From the late 1950s through the 70s there was a small bohemian enclave at the Diamond Head end of Waikiki known as the “jungle.” In marked contrast to the manicured shops and hotels further to the west, it was a low-rent area of one- and two-story studio cottages, small hotels, and old homes converted into rooming houses and apartments. Its denizens were a constantly shifting group of mostly young men and women from the mainland, here temporarily — as though on hiatus from another life — who adopted a carefree lifestyle and lived together in relative harmony.

They have been characterized as part of the “now” generation, influenced by the Viet Nam war, among other things, who were suspicious of government and opted for experiential knowledge over received, establishment-disseminated truths. There was sex and dope, of course, and booze to fuel their lifestyle. They suffered the inconveniences of improvised living — inconstant alliances with changing casts of roommates and lovers in tiny, ramshakle digs and unwholesome diets of velveeta and bread or saimin and beer — while avidly pursuing the next beach, the next party, or the next bar. Still, they managed to maintain a genuine feeling of shared adventure until, in the 70s, came the inevitable push by city officials and developers to renovate the area and replace their homes with high-rises.

Most of the expatriate jungle dwellers returned to the mainland after their island interludes to lead normal, conventional lives, though on-line posts from middle-aged “now”-ers suggest their days in the jungle still exert a strong emotional pull and evoke fond memories of a carefree, golden time.

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Friday, June 4, 2010

The Ala Wai Canal, c. 1925 and Today

Prior to the dredging of the Ala Wai Canal (1920-1928), Waikiki and its environs were a diverse wetlands of fresh water springs, taro fields, rice paddies, duck ponds and fishing areas. Fed by streams running down from Manoa and Palolo Valleys, they provided rich subsistence for the area’s inhabitants — until the canal diverted the water from these streams and channeled it into the ocean at its west end, radically shifting land-use patterns and initiating the urbanization of Waikiki.

By today's greener standards the Ala Wai Canal would be considered a major environmental blot, leaving admirers of modern Waikiki feeling a little conflicted about this pleasant and familiar waterway. Perhaps nothing underscores this better than the irony that it remains seriously polluted.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lau Yee Chai

Back in the 40s and 50s Lau Yee Chai, at the corner of Kalakaua and Kuhio Avenues, was one of the premier restaurants and nightspots in Waikiki. The brainchild of legendary chef and entrepreneur P. Y. Chong, it projected a glamorous Hollywood-inflected China with its ornate moon gate, red-gated carp pool and enormous rock garden and waterfall. Unusually for a Waikiki establishment Lau Yee Chai was popular with tourists and servicemen as well as locals, who remember it fondly as a spot for “special occasions,” meaning you wore shoes there.

Like all good things Lau Yee Chai eventually went into decline; the restaurant was sold and moved to the Waikiki Shopping Plaza on Kalakaua Avenue in 1963 and after serving as a venue for band concerts the faded chop suey palace was razed in 1968.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

VJ Day in Waikiki, August 14, 1945

Historic color footage of VJ celebrations in Honolulu, with glimpses of Waikiki Beach, the Moana Hotel and Waikiki Theater.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hollywood and Waikiki

Joan Crawford on the beach in a 1940s publicity shot. Look closely and you'll see the foot of the guy holding up the surfboard.

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The Barefoot Bar at Queen’s Surf

During the 1950s and 60s the Barefoot Bar on the beach across from Kapiolani Park was the hottest nightspot in Waikiki. The star attraction was Sterling Mossman whose songs and comic patter caught the antic mood of post-war Hawaii. The fun stopped in 1969 when, despite public outcry, the mayor of Honolulu shuttered the club in order to advance his pet project for beach improvement.

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