Last week I wrote about how we’ve exported Aloha Fridays all over the world in the form of Casual Fridays.
Another Hawaii export is the ukulele, invented here (or possibly on a boat coming here from Portugal) about 1880.
The ukulele has become popular around the world, but one of the finest ukulele groups I’ve had the pleasure to hear is the Langley Ukulele Ensemble, which has visited the islands each summer for 25 years.
Langley is a city 15 miles southeast of Vancouver, British Columbia. It calls itself the “Ukulele Capital of Canada.”
The best performers were formed into an ensemble 39 years ago, under the direction of Peter Luongo.
The ukulele was a popular musical instrument in Langley in the 1980s and, at one time, was being taught at almost every elementary school in the district.
Luongo says the group plays songs such as “Beyond the Sea,” “Hawaiian Wedding Song,” “Hawaii Five-O” and such pop tunes as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “In the Mood” and “La Bamba.”
They will perform a free concert from 8 to 9 p.m. July 15-19 at the Sheraton Waikiki.
Many schools in Hawaii have had ukulele groups. My friend Darryl Loo conducted the Kaimuki High School Ohana Mele, which put on annual Kanikapila concerts.
My wife recalls Hilo’s Waikea Waena elementary school students put on ukulele performances in the 1950s. In 1975 Waikea Intermediate had a 101-student ukulele group — the largest in the world at the time.
We also had ukulele groups at Kapaa, Mokapu Elementary, Kalanianaole Elementary, Honaunau Elementary, Highlands Intermediate and, I’m sure, many other schools.
This week I’ll also open my mailbag and respond to some reader inquiries.
Sharon Shak asked about the building near the intersection of Pua Lane and North King Street. The word “Zamboanga” is barely visible on this Chinese-inspired building with its curved tile roof and Chinese motif. Was this a theater?
Yes. It was originally the Palama Theatre. Consolidated opened it in 1930 following the widening of North King Street with the silent film “Navy Blues,” starring screen idol William Haines, followed by several newsreels and shorts.
The Palama sat 1,400, third largest in the islands at the time and huge by today’s multiplex standards.
It became the Zamboanga Theatre in 1970 with an all-Filipino focus but closed in 1975.
Zamboanga is the name of a city in the Philippines. Its name can mean “mooring place.”
Carole Ichiyama asked me why the building at Hotel and Bishop streets says “Oregon Building.” I wrote about this in my column on April 12.
Originally erected in 1901, it was to be called Hibernia (the Roman name of Ireland). Two-thirds of the building occupied property that had to be demolished to extend Bishop Street mauka of Hotel Street in 1926, so what is left is just one-third of the original building.
Historian Wendy Tolleson told me that “there were two buildings built side by side at the corner of Bishop and Hotel: the Portland and the Oregon.”
“If you stand at the intersection of Hotel and Bishop and look at the Hotel Street side of the Portland building, you can see a brick seam that separated the two.
“The buildings were named after ships, as was Pensacola Avenue.”
JoAnne Yamamoto asked me about “Televi Digest,” with a hostess named Barbara (she couldn’t remember her last name).
Barbara’s stage name was Lee. She was the hostess of the Sunday variety TV show “Televi Digest,” but her real last name was Kim. She was 25 years old in 1956, when she joined the show, and lived in Wahiawa with her mom.
“Televi Digest” producer George Tanaka selected her when his original emcee, Violet Niimi Oishi, quit, and it was he who engineered the Kim-to-Lee switch.
Her weekend was a whirl of rehearsals, trips to the hairdressers and fittings of gowns for the show — a new one every week, she said.
She had stage fright and described the situation as a sort of controlled panic, which helps her do her best on TV.
Her mail usually brings in a few proposals of marriage each week, she said.
Her guests included Martin Denny, Ed Kenney, Sterling Mossman, Danny Kaleikini, Kini Popo and Hawaii’s top magician, Jimmy Kane. It aired from 5 to 6 p.m. opposite the “Aku Show.” Lucky Luck was on afterward.
“Televi Digest” went off the air in 1965 but was revived in 1983 by Nanci and Teddy Tanaka, who had been on it many times.
Do any readers have fond memories of kid- or family- friendly TV shows from the 1950s and 1960s?
Pomai Souza, who writes the “Tasty Island” food blog, asked me about restaurants atop the Ala Moana Hotel. It has Peter Kim’s Signature Prime Steak and Seafood today. In the past it was, the Summit, 1970-85; Nicholas Nickolas, 1986-99; and Aaron’s, 1999-2009.
Souza also asked about Alioto’s restaurant, a branch of the San Francisco eatery. It was at 1580 Makaloa St., 12th-floor penthouse, from 1977 to 1980. Unfortunately, it never caught on.
Tracy Tangonan asked me about tunnels under Chinatown, so I asked my Rearview Mirror Insider subscribers.
Alan Anami wrote that during the years he was a police officer assigned to Chinatown, the original HPD substation was on the corner of Nuuanu Avenue and Hotel Street in what had once been Bill Lederer’s Bar.
“When it was being remodeled for police use, the contractor who was doing the flooring discovered underground tunnels. I don’t know what the tunnels were used for, but they looked pretty old.
“I don’t know if the city built them or previous contractors had. There were no utility lines or drainage in the tunnels. The tunnels looked like they ran the length of Hotel Street, under the mauka- side buildings.
“A couple of police officers climbed down using a ladder and allegedly walked the length using flashlights,” Anami continued. “The tunnels ran to just short of River Street.
“The contractor covered up the opening with a plywood hatch, but you could still see the outline of the hatch via the carpet cuts. That’s how we found it.”
Karen Motosue, vice president of the Hawaii Heritage Center, said there were tunnels in Chinatown leading to opium dens in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“Over the last 40 years I have heard many stories from Chinese about these dens. I was able to view a tunnel opening about 10 years ago when the Hawaii Heritage Center was viewing a building for potential purchase.”
There is one building where drunken World War II soldiers hid in underground tunnels from the military police who were looking for them, Motosue said.
Alvin Yee asked me whether I knew a song about statehood that he learned in elementary school.
“I recall parts of a song we learned said, ‘Old Glory boasts of 50 stars, Within her field of blue, Alaska and Hawaii, welcome to the USA.’”
Do any readers know more about this song?