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Remembering Kaka‘ako: 1910–1950

Four men, one holding a baby, stand by row of cars in open garage.

Kaka‘ako Taxi Stand, ca. 1920. (Photo courtesy Yuri Ishibashi.)

Kaka‘ako, a 600-acre waterfront district located next to Downtown Honolulu, has undergone much change over the past century. Few traces of its former residential existence remain. In the early 1950s, rezoning led to the conversion of the primarily residential and small business district into an urban industrial area.

Shortly after the turn of the century, Kaka‘ako was a community of small stores, churches, schools, parks, and clusters of residences in ethnic “camps” or neighborhoods.

“Life was simple . . . very close-knit in the sense of community groups, eh? Because everything is centered around the neighborhood . . . And you grew up together. Death . . . or birth in another man’s family would be known to everybody because you living right in the camp.” —Wallace Amioka

Ethnic groups tended to live together in neighborhood pockets of Hawaiians, Japanese, or Portuguese, although there were no hard and fast boundary lines. Chinese and Filipinos were fewer in number and scattered throughout the district.

Sports activities drew the community together. The city, churches and other groups organized team sports—football, baseball, basketball, boxing, swimming, diving, and gymnastics.

“Barefoot (football) league . . . was organized . . . There were gangs roving around . . . robbing and doing everything else . . . so they had to organize some sports.” —Tai Loy Ho.

As late as 1940, Kaka‘ako’s population numbered more than 5,000 residents. But after World War II, community buildings, wood-frame camp houses, language schools, temples, and churches were razed to make way for auto-body repair shops, warehouses, and other small industrial businesses.

“Well, the sad story is that we had to evacuate Kaka‘ako. All the people had to move out . . . everybody had to go out because (they were) changing the zone.” —Keisuke Masuda.

Decades after the transition from residential to industrial, Kaka‘ako is slated for redevelopment. Plans call for the re-establishment of a mixed residential and business community.

“There’s no way, but I’d love to go back there and live in Kaka‘ako . . . (When) I pass (there), I have that feeling that this is where I belong.” —Gloria Felix

 

Link to audioVirginia Mansinon remembers the closeness of the Kaka‘ako community (.au sound file, 182K).

 

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