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Waikiki '73

A book of photographs in black and white shows a district's colorful characters

By Steven Mark

LAST UPDATED: 01:14 a.m. HST, Aug 19, 2012

In 1973, Eric Yanagi was a 22-year-old commercial photographer struggling to get his career started. It was also a time of change for Waikiki, when accelerated commercial and high-rise development began its final encroachment on the few remaining modest, single-family homes in the neighborhood.

So Yanagi, with time on his hands and change happening before his eyes, did what any photographer would do: He started taking photographs.

"At the time, I knew it would be important eventually," said Yanagi.

Even though he wasn't sure the significance of the work would be recognized until decades later or even after his death, "I knew it would be an important thing to do."


If you can identify anyone in these photos, email waikiki73@staradvertiser.com

PICS: Waikiki '73, Part 1

PICS: Waikiki '73, Part 2

PICS: Waikiki '73, Part 3

Yanagi, now 60, went on to establish his photography business, taking pictures of buildings, business people and products. He submitted his Waikiki portfolio to various publishers, whose interest ranged from "mild" to "disinterested."

Now Yanagi has self-published his book, which he titled "Waikiki 73." In stark black-and-white images, the book captures the life and times of the people and a place in transition.

Star-Advertiser photo editor George F. Lee said Yanagi's photos capture Waikiki in a time of transition when "streams of visitors and transients from the mainland, hippies, military personnel and the occasional oddball looking for a place to land would be succeeded by a newer breed of visitor attracted by the tourist mecca we would come to know in the 1980s and beyond."

Lee said Yanagi's imagery of "that fleeting time branches out to a much larger picture."

Yanagi considers the book to be an unfinished project, and is seeking help in completing his venture. Most of the people in his photographs are unidentified, so he's appealing to the community for help in matching names with faces, as well as some of his subjects' personal stories.

"Some of these photographs are of local people that I didn't document in the sense of writing down their names," he said.

Pointing to a photograph of some children, he added: "Some of these kids probably still live here. They're 40, 50 years old now. It would be great to find out who they are, if they could remember anything from their time in Hawaii."

Yanagi believes some of the people in the photos should be easy to identify, such as the elderly man playing the mandolin in the cover photo. "This guy was a well-known local figure," Yanagi said. "Every day he was out there on the street playing his mandolin. Someone must know his name, what he did, what his life was like."

Some people in his photographs are already well known: actor Jack Lord, in his dapper "Hawaii Five-0" suit and tie, interacting with a crowd; entertainer Al Harrington, getting ready for a Polynesian theater show; musician Nephi Hannemann (Mufi's brother). But most of his pictures are anonymous portraits, like a Waikiki adaptation of Grant Wood's "American Gothic" — kids hanging out on a front stoop, a family sitting on a couch. Relatively few show the famous beach.

Yanagi remembers taking one of the more popular images ­— an African-American man carrying a blond toddler in a baby carrier on his back. He happened on the pair in a parking lot and snapped the photo immediately. "Usually you try to engage the guy in some kind of conversation to maybe get a different shot," he said, "but this time the guy just turned and looked right through me and kept on going."

Other images show the architectural transformation of Waikiki: single-wall-construction, island-style homes juxtaposed against small apartment buildings and high-rise condos.

Yanagi remembers that era as a time of "massive bulldozing," when American and Japa­nese investment fueled the transformation of Waikiki. He had seen the work of photographers documenting urban life in cities such as New York and Paris and decided to do the same in Waikiki, roaming from the Ala Wai Canal to Diamond Head taking pictures.

"It was something I'd never done before," he said. "I was used to working in the studio or doing commercial jobs where you go to a hotel and photograph setups and arrange things. This was, literally, you don't know what's around the corner. You just go with the flow.

"I'd literally pound on strangers' doors up and down the little side streets near the Ala Wai Canal and say, ‘Can I come in and photograph you in your living room or your bedroom? And people would say, ‘Come on in.'"

He plans to update the book with any new information that surfaces and send copies to various national libraries and archival institutions.

"These people deserve to be remembered," he said.

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allie wrote:
nice story
on August 12,2012 | 08:24AM
atilter wrote:
I remember many single family homes with quaint and interesting designs that, if genuinely studied, could be most useful to budding young architects in forming the basis of unique "HAWAII MODERN" style.
on August 12,2012 | 09:56AM
Ptr92 wrote:
Such a wonderful piece! Good to go back in time.
on August 12,2012 | 11:11AM
kiheilocal wrote:
Great pictures, good times. Too bad, I didnt recognize anyone though. Those were the days when the state bird was the "crane" cause there were so many construction cranes around Waikiki as it really started to be built skyward.
on August 12,2012 | 12:15PM
igrinds wrote:
I was born in 1971 in the original Kaiser Hospital next to the Ilikai Hotel. My grandmothers home was where Kuhio feeds into Kapahulu and my parents rented a small apartment close by. My very first memories of life were in Waikiki. Kuhio beach, the zoo and Kapiolani park all make up fond memories of a simple time. In fact my first T.V. memories are of the intro of Hawaii Five-O at my grandmothers place in Waikiki! Will be purchasing this book for sure.
on August 12,2012 | 02:39PM
DarkEnergy wrote:
Those photos are very very good. I am an amateur photographer and I would definitely buy Mr. Yanagi's book. It is worthy of any collection. I remember all the bungalows and single-family homes in Waikiki around that time. A few relatives lived in different areas of Waikiki before the massive development of high-rise hotels. It was a different kind of living with all kinds of characters from all walks of life. Many were artists, bohemians, hippies, transgender, musicians, etc. which made the vibe of Waikiki very different from what it is today. That era is now gone but Mr. Yanagi's photos have captured it beautifully.
on August 12,2012 | 03:51PM
ffejhonolulu wrote:
So few people looked happy in those pictures !!!
on August 12,2012 | 06:10PM
frapawhack wrote:
that's really interesting to notice. people do smile a lot more these days..
on August 16,2012 | 01:06PM
chstephie wrote:
would love to get this book if it's published...we have done the same thing since 1999 and 11 visits to Oahu and have literally thousands of photo's...Oahu has changed so much in that 13 years alone :>
on August 12,2012 | 09:25PM
HDoug wrote:
Wow, these are some great photos. I only "kinda" recognized some people. Used to hang out there around '73 but don't remember. You know what? You should publish a photo of Eric Yanagi at that time and see if people recognize HIM. That might help.
on August 12,2012 | 11:31PM
Jochang wrote:
my dad owned a small photo business in Waikiki, taking photos of sailors in dinner clubs, (hula dancing girls in tinsel skirts) while my mom worked at the Blue Ocean restaurant where Hyatt now stands. He took many photos of downtown rather than Waikiki of many buildings, there is even a photo of Shirley Temple in front of a surfboard.
on August 13,2012 | 07:15AM
Forever_Grateful wrote:
I'd buy the book too! Look forward to seeing more pictures. Love that era! So simplistic and somewhat stress free.
on August 18,2012 | 04:14PM
Oahusurfer82 wrote:
I remember 1973 quite well. I was 9 years old. The poster on my dentist's office wall in Kapahulu said "PLAQUE-FREE IN '73." Brady Bunch Hawaii episode was aired. Jonny Matias Sr. was playing for the Islanders. Hilo Hattie, Don Ho, Lucky Luck, Dick Jensen, Carole Kai, Lippy Espinda. Spencecliff Restaurants. Farrell's Ice Cream Birthdays. Sky Slides. Checkers and Pogo.
on August 19,2012 | 05:51PM
pegbethany wrote:
Don't recognize any of the people - but the images so bring back the days when was young and poor and living somewhere on Lewers St. I'll be in line for the book.
on August 20,2012 | 02:47PM
dptla wrote:
that was a magical era in Waikiki...just before commercial tourism and all the newcomers to Hawaii..thank you for capturing the images for us old time kamaaina...Aloha.
on August 29,2012 | 11:25AM
Tony96822 wrote:
Use to know his sister- Faith
on September 3,2012 | 08:39AM
Compassionate_Cat wrote:
I first came here in 1980 and Kaiser hospital was still there in Waikiki until 1987ish. I moved out of Waikiki when things really changed after that time. It was so simple to walk through Waikiki, drive anywhere, no traffic! Bus was 25 cents all day same direction. So much has changed. We used to be so behind the times in everything. Music took 6 months to catch on here sometimes longer. I could go to the mainland and buy stuff there long before the same stuff would come here to be sold. Not like that anymore. Aloha would come and go. Don't see Hawaiians wearing "hawaiian clothes" no more...photographs are great time catchers!!!
on September 4,2012 | 02:59PM
hanoz808 wrote:
i know someone from the photo!
on September 12,2012 | 10:21AM
wright wrote:
I just heard from my travel agent that the International Market place along with the Miramar Hotel is being torn down sometime next year. This is ashame. The Market Place is central gathering place for tourist and the Miramar is a charming hotel that has just been newly renivated and updated. This will displace a huge amount of merchants and loyal workers (Miramar). The Miramar has been our home away from home for 11 years and will miss the lovely worker there from the awesome bell staff to the desk attendants, Sammy's restaurant etc. Will it be rebuilt?
on October 5,2012 | 10:26AM
bobjones wrote:
Gottfried Seitz once walked into the Advertiser newsroom at night, two hands behind his back, and up to Gerry Lopez on the copy desk. "THIS," he said, brandishing a knife and plunging it into the desk in front of Gerry, "is what I'm sure many people have for you. But THIS," -- and he brought out the other hand with a flower bouquet," is what I have for you!" Gerry, of course, damn near had a heart attack!!!!
on October 6,2012 | 09:15PM