Every now and then I look around Oahu and write about what occupied a particular location at different periods in time. I call it What Was There Before.
I’ve been developing a master list, and it now has well over 300 Oahu locations on it. Here are three and their interlocking stories:
100 Holomoana St., Prince Waikiki Hotel
The Prince Waikiki Hotel has been on this site since 1987. It was the culmination of a 15-year search for the right place in Waikiki, said parent company Seibu’s Koji Hayashi. Every room has unobstructed ocean views, developer Jack Myers said of the 28-story towers.
Recently, the hotel installed a beautiful Kaili Chun-designed sculpture on its lobby ceiling that represents the belly fin of the hinana fish, which used to inhabit the former Piinaio Stream, which ran nearby 100 years ago.
The 800 pieces of shimmering copper were individually hammered by employees, their families and longtime guests of the hotel.
From 1958 to 1986 the Pacific Insurance building and Kaiser Hospital, Ala Moana occupied the site. Henry Kaiser wanted the 143-bed hospital to be the most beautiful in the world. All the rooms had ocean views.
Kaiser Hospital opened a few years before the Ilikai was built, and patients could see all the way to Diamond Head. Thousands of islanders were born there.
Before that the House of P.Y. Chong was at that location from 1942 to 1950. Chong was famous for his Waikiki Lau Yee Chai restaurant, which could seat over 1,200.
Chong said in his ads that the House of P.Y. Chong was “just over blidge,” referring to the Ala Moana bridge over the Ala Wai. During World War II, Chong said he had to “limit menu now because no can get this, no can get that.”
The restaurant closed, and in 1950 the state considered building a freeway along the coast — a “makai arterial.” Taking the Chong property would give drivers great ocean views, planners believed.
The Miyoshino Hotel opened on the same site in 1934 promising “Tasty Japanese Food and Geisha Girls.” It was owned by Mrs. Natsuyo Yoshioka until around 1940.
Before that, from 1925 to 1931, Ikesu Villa and Tea House was on the property. Ikesu had previously been where the Hawai‘i Convention Center is now, and was displaced by the building of the Ala Wai Canal in the mid-1920s.
Ikesu was famous for its sukiyaki, chicken dinners, as well as steaks and seafood.
1010 Pensacola St., Kaiser Permanente Honolulu Medical Office
When Kaiser Hospital left the Ala Moana location, it moved some of its facilities to Moanalua Road and some to the corner of King and Pensacola streets.
Michael Hamm told me he delivered newspapers when he was a boy and remembers a private estate next to the First Chinese Church on King Street, which had cottages and bungalows. Peacocks roamed the grounds.
On the Pensacola and Young streets side was the home of E.K. Fernandez, Hamm recalls. An artesian well in the yard provided water.
“He had a two-story home. Retired circus performers lived in the upper level. When business was slow, he would have a Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round on his lot for the neighborhood to ride (10 cents) so his workers would have income.”
Edwin Kaneikawaiola Fernandez was born on the property in 1883. King David Kalakaua, a close friend of the family, put on a weeklong birthday luau for him when he was a year old. The king sent fish, pigs, opihi, salmon, poi and cases of his favorite drink, champagne.
For entertainment he provided fireworks, hula dancers and the Royal Hawaiian Band, led by Henry Berger. It was an auspicious beginning for the boy who would become Hawaii’s top entertainer.
The king gave the house a name: Ka Hale Lau Ohiohi, meaning “the house of a plant which always throws out new shoots,” implying many children would grow up there.
Kalakaua also placed a capsule under the house marking the center of Honolulu, wrote Honolulu Star-Bulletin columnist Clarice Taylor.
“The happiness provided by the king’s luau bound the family and the king together as one big family,” Taylor penned.
1801 Kalakaua Ave., Hawai‘i Convention Center
Since I mentioned Ikesu Villa and Tea House was on the site of the Hawai‘i Convention Center in 1915, let’s explore that important location here as well.
Building a convention center was a contentious issue in Hawaii for over a decade. Possible locations considered included the former Aloha Motors site, the Ala Wai Golf Course, the International Market Place, Thomas Jefferson School, Fort DeRussy and the Waikiki Gateway superblock.
The Aloha Motors site was finally selected, and in July 1998 the $350 million facility opened there with over 336,000 square feet of meeting, exhibit and ballroom space.
It offered meeting rooms with multilanguage translation capabilities, allowing 12 languages to be simultaneously translated. It has a 465-seat theatre and another that can hold 332 people.
One unusual aspect of the center that I recall is that some adjacent men’s and women’s restrooms have a wall between them that could be moved to expand one side to meet demand. It’s “gender fluid,” let’s say.
Aloha Motors was the name of a well-known car dealership on that location from 1950 to 1982.
Motorists at the time called Atkinson and Kapiolani the “busiest corner in Honolulu.”
Aloha Motors had begun in 1927 at 732 S. Beretania St., where C.S. Wo is today. It was purchased by George Murphy, who had begun Murphy Motors in 1939.
The new location at Atkinson and Kalakaua cost $1 million ($10 million today) and occupied 400,000 square feet of space.
Murphy also owned car dealerships in Omaha, Neb., and Seattle. In 1980 Aloha Motors claimed to be the largest Chevrolet and Oldsmobile dealership in the world.
Also on that site, from 1953 to 1987, was Kapiolani Coffee Shop, which served the best oxtail soup in town, many thought.
Wataru Teruya owned Kapiolani Coffee Shop from 1960 to 1986. He said some of the car dealer employees came to work in the morning with hangovers and wanted soup for breakfast. A bowl was 90 cents and hit the spot, they said.
Its oxtail soup took three years to catch on with the public, Teruya recalled, but pretty soon the coffee shop was selling 1,000 pounds of oxtail meat a week.
While the original is long gone, it gave rise to a few spinoffs including the Kapiolani Coffee Shop in Aiea, Asahi Grill on Ward Avenue and on Keeaumoku Street, and Kam Bowl restaurant at Kamehameha Shopping Center.
After Aloha Motors closed in 1982, the Honolulu Flea Mart ran a swap meet on the site.
William Mau purchased the business in 1972 and planned a twin-tower residential-commercial complex called Aloha Plaza. Mau had previously developed the Waikiki Business Plaza.
Aloha Motors took over the building previously occupied by Mutual Telephone, which opened the Hawaii Radio & Appliance store on that corner in 1947.
Mutual had teamed with the Star-Bulletin to launch KGU — Hawaii’s first radio station – on May 11, 1922. Hawaii Radio & Appliance sold receivers so islanders could listen to broadcasts.
Before that the Navy had a warehouse on the property during World War II, and before the Ala Wai Canal was dredged, the Ikesu Villa and Tea House with a pond and beautiful gardens could be found there as far back as 1915.
So that’s a look back at three historic Honolulu locations. Hopefully, when you pass by these places again, you’ll see something in your rearview mirror you hadn’t noticed before.