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Lee Cataluna

Modest Niu Valley is home to many local celebrities

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For such an unpretentious little community, Niu Valley has been home to quite a number of local celebrities. So many, actually, that there could be a "map to the stars’ homes" like in Hollywood.

Except in Niu Valley, no one would think to do something so intrusive.

Jeannine Johnson, secretary of the Niu Valley Community Association, sends out neighborhood-wide e-mails on crime reports and pertinent legislative measures. She started a Facebook page for Niu Valley residents to share old photos and memories of the community, which was built in the 1960s on agricultural land.

One of the discussions she launched was "Know a celebrity from Niu Valley?" Over the last month, the list has grown quite long. Some of them everybody knew: Dave Shoji was Johnson’s neighbor when they were kids. Nainoa Thompson’s family has a long history in the ahupua’a of Niu Valley. Jim Leahey is often spotted riding his bicycle around the Halemaumau streets on afternoons when he’s not broadcasting a University of Hawaii game.

But then there were some surprises: Broadcasters Ed Michelman, Bob Seavey and Cec Heftel; actress Kelly Preston; model Kathy Ireland; and even, for a time, Imelda Marcos called the East Honolulu neighborhood home.

A number of big names in the world of surfing also have ties to the valley, including Gerry Lopez, Mark Cunningham, Mark Foo, Randy Rarick and Buzzy Trent. Renowned photographer Monte Costa lives in the valley, as do fashion designer Anne Namba, graphic artist and community leader Momi Cazimero, and Society of Seven musician Richard Natto. "Dancing with the Stars" judge Carrie Ann Inaba grew up in the neighborhood, as did PBS Hawaii president and CEO Leslie Wilcox, who remembers going "moss sliding" in the concrete drainage ditches as a kid.

Niu Valley is one of the smallest valleys on Oahu, tucked between Aina Haina and Kuliouou. There are two schools, a 7-Eleven, rows of three- and four-bedroom houses, and pink shower trees that bloom in profusion during the summer. There aren’t stucco mansions with mermaid sculptures like in Kahala or guards and gates like at Hawaii Loa Ridge, which rises above the west side of Niu Valley. It’s much more neighborhoody than that.

Sports anchor Kanoa Leahey has fond memories of his Niu Valley childhood, "from scabbing up my knees trying to skateboard with friends at the top of the storm drain, to moss sliding with my boogie board down the storm drain, to playing basketball on the 9-foot rims at Waldorf school because we could dunk!"

Dave Shoji’s childhood adventures were even more daring than moss sliding.

"Best memory is climbing up on the Ewa side of the valley with Cal Lee and other buddies and finding a lava tube that went deep into the side of the mountain," he said. "We got flashlights and crawled in and it opened into a cavern where we found bones. Apparently, it was an ancient burial ground. We never went back!"

DJ and television producer Kutmaster Spaz moved his family into the neighborhood last year. "I love living in the valley because it’s like living on the countryside, with the convenience of town, everything five minutes away," he said. Spaz is my neighbor, but none of us on the street would ever think to bug him. "The neighbors are older and really nice, so they are not star-struck or try to get up all in your business," he said.

The Niu who’s who list is growing, and there’s talk of compiling a book of Niu memories (there’s a book publisher who lives in the valley). But as far as Star Tours of famous people’s homes, probably not. That’s not Niu Valley’s style.

Lee Cataluna can be reached at


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