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Waikiki, 1900–1985: Oral Histories

Dressed in a bathing costume, a boy stands in shallow stream with a surfboard

Interviewee Minoru Aoki stands in Hamohamo Stream (no longer in existence) with surfboard, Waikiki, ca. 1920s. (Photo courtesy Minoru Aoki.)

COH’s Waikiki, 1900–1985: Oral Histories attempts to capture and share with readers “Waikiki the way it used to be.” The study focuses on the changes experienced and observed by the area’s long-time residents, workers, and business operators.

“It was just a beautiful place. See, Hamohamo Road used to end right at Paoakalani Avenue, and it was picked up again on ‘Ohua Avenue side. So there’s that big block that was blocked off. We used to use that as a playground, more or less, because we’d play baseball over there.” —Esther Jackson Bader

Spanning the years 1900 to 1985, the interviews examine the community’s transformation from one of taro fields and duck ponds, home-operated laundries, and bungalow-type hotels to one of nightclubs, curio shops, and hotel skyscrapers.

“Because my dad didn’t have no money, (my mother) have to do laundry work. Laundry work is the hard uniform, which the hotel workers wear. That one for five cents. She always tell me, ‘Only five cents, those days.’ Ho, that hard job for five cents. She had about a dozen or so uniforms to launder, I guess.” —Harold Aoki

“Where the Ala Wai (Canal) is (today) was all swamp. All that area was swamp down to Kalakaua (Avenue). . . . There were no houses, just a few houses here and there, but was all swamp with those tall weedy things and ducks. . . . Just get off the streetcar and go through the bulrushes and find, (chuckles) and come home holding our blouses full of duck eggs.” —Adelaide Ka‘ai McKinzie

“The (Halekulani Hotel) grounds were nice. . . . There was a traveler’s palm there that was lovely. And some hibiscus and a nice big lau hala (pandanus) tree right by the main building that looked pretty against it. . . . Well, I guess there were probably eight rooms in the main building and about eight cottages, fair-sized, would take up to three, four, five people. Probably you could have a capacity of about forty people, the hotel could have.” —Richard “Kingie” Kimball

The 1920s reclamation project; the construction of the Ala Wai Canal; childhood play on the beach, at the zoo, and in the area called ‘Ainahau; the antics of the Stonewall Gang; the work days of hotel bellboys and Japanese laundresses; beach boy activities; World War II and soldiers in Waikiki; the visits of tourists; and sites and businesses that no longer exist in Waikiki are discussed in these interviews.

“That’s where we used to swim all the time, at Pierpoint. . . . This pier extended 1,000 feet out into the ocean into a (shallow) sandy area just before you hit the reef. . . . They had a beautiful little pool there where we all went for a swim. And Sunday nights, our group of boys would go down there and a couple of our girls, and play music and pass that hat around. . . . We did that all the time.” —Earle “Liko” Vida

“After we had those interviews, the first time I had to go out to Waikiki . . . I got off the bus, and I was walking around. And you know, there was a bit of resentment (toward the changes in Waikiki). . . . But, I think generally speaking, I don’t mind the change all that much really. In a sense, it’s just like, ‘Oh, I remember Waikiki when, and it’s part of me. It’s too bad that’s not a part of you.’” —Emma Kaawakauo


Link to audioJoe Akana sings, “Down by the Waikiki Stream” (.au sound file, 165K).





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