Writing this column is a joy to me. I love learning about Hawaii history and the amazing people, places and organizations that make us so much more than a tiny speck in the vast Pacific Ocean.
This week and next, I’ll review the year and share with you some of the most interesting things I learned in the year.
Hawai‘i Pacific University
As many of you know, I taught business at Hawai‘i Pacific University for 15 years, and my books and this column are a direct result of that. So I was surprised to learn that HPU’s history went much further back that I had imagined.
HPU traces its roots to 1965, when Hawaii Pacific College was founded. But I found that the earliest root of HPU was Jackson College in 1949!
Sgt. Dewey Jackson, a Pearl Harbor Marine, wanted to do “something for the Territory” with $8,000 he had saved (over $85,000 in today’s dollars) and donated it to start the school in Manoa.
The school didn’t make it financially, but several administrators and students then founded Hawaii Pacific College on the same site.
Aloha Friday gave rise to Casual Fridays on the mainland.
The Hawaii Fashion Guild and Aloha Week committee got together in 1965 and promoted a revolutionary idea: Every summer Friday from Kamehameha Day in June through Aloha Week in October would be “Aloha Friday,” and tropical print shirts and muumuus could be worn to work.
By 1967 it expanded to year-round. Newspapers across the country reported on this fashion trend. In the 1980s Casual Fridays took hold on the mainland, starting with technology companies.
Soon newspapers there began discussion what “business casual” was and wasn’t, and now it’s part of the corporate landscape.
A 1925 Honolulu Star- Bulletin article asked for reader input on a University of Hawaii mascot and nickname. Some suggestions: Mongoose, Mynahs, Warriors, Tigers, Chiefs, Giants, Wolves, Bears, “but none of them were suitable,” the article said.
The first nickname — “Deans” — developed “on its own accord,” it said. I’m not sure what that means. Maybe it came into common use, and not from UH or a specific person’s suggestion.
A dean is a person who directs 10 men. Since a football team has 11 players, that makes some sense.
I wrote about my old friend Shiro Matsuo earlier this year. His Saimin Haven turned 50 in 2019.
I discovered his older brother, Fred, was known as “Mr. Show Business of the Pacific.” He brought such notables as Frank Sinatra, Liberace and Xavier Cugat to Hawaii.
Shiro was an instructor at Kapiolani Community College in the 1960s and helped the Higa brothers found Zippy’s, I learned, and Robert Taira open his King’s Bakery and Coffee Shop.
Elton John on Maui
In 1977 Elton John put on a free, impromptu acoustic concert at a nightclub named The Blue Max, on Front Street in Lahaina.
John was vacationing on Maui. He performed alone on a white baby grand piano that was carried up the double staircase of the club.
Another discovery for me was finding that Judy Garland got into a fight with her agent/boyfriend, Mark Herron, in Hawaii in 1965 and set his clothes on fire. He split, leaving her and her two younger children with no money to get back to the mainland.
Jack Cione let her perform two sold-out shows at his Dunes nightclub near the airport, and it gave her $4,000 to pay for her Diamond Head vacation rental and fly back to California.
I wrote about Security Diamond & Conrad Jewelers this summer. I learned that the company’s second store was in the center of Chinatown’s red-light district during World War II.
During the war, basics were rationed and luxuries were scarce. The only thing the ladies of the evening could spend money on was jewelry.
The women could not easily leave their “houses,” so Connie Conrad took a small suitcase of jewelry to the brothels so the women could do their shopping.
The 1946 tsunami that badly damaged Hilo hit all the islands to a lesser extent, and damaged the McCully bridge!
That’s pretty far inland, about three-quarters of a mile. It wasn’t a wave so much as the water in the Ala Wai Canal dropped and rose 2-3 feet. Four piers holding up the bridge were damaged, and many boats were “thrown against the makai wall and then dropped back.”
It took six weeks to repair and reopen the bridge.
‘Hawaii Five-O’ stories
I heard from “Hawaii Five-O” writer Jerome Coopersmith this year. Coopersmith told me where he got his story ideas for the original series, which ran from 1968 to 1980.
“Some were suggested by the producers, but for the most part the ideas came from reading the newspapers.
“A fabulous variety of crimes are committed every day. All I had to do was figure out how to transplant them to Hawaii and how to make the criminals smarter than they are in real life so that it would take “Five-O” an hour to catch up with them and not just five minutes. In real life most criminals are stupid.”
I wrote about vehicular tunnels in 2009. Maui and Kauai had the first two, and surprisingly, every valley from Halawa to Hawaii Kai was, at one time or another, considered for a trans-Koolau tunnel.
Tunnels under Punchbowl, Honolulu Harbor and Pearl Harbor were proposed, as well as one through the Waianae range.
Columnist from jail
I read Sammy Amalu’s wacky columns in The Honolulu Advertiser when I was going to the University of Hawaii. In researching him, I learned he began his column from jail!
Amalu was Hawaii’s greatest con man. He spent years in five different prisons.
A letter from one prison to his former Punahou classmate, Honolulu Advertiser Publisher Thurston Twigg-Smith, describing his life behind bars, was so funny and interesting that the Advertiser ran an edited version of it in the paper. Readers ate it up.
That led to his being offered a column, “The World of Sammy Amalu.” It was probably the only one in the U.S. written from jail.
When he was paroled in 1971, a large crowd greeted him at Honolulu Airport like a returning hero. He said he’d continue his column and maybe run for governor, or king. He couldn’t decide.
The Advertiser said his column had “grace, verve, old world propriety and new world humor.” His column generated more letters to the editor than any other.
Don Chapman wrote a book about Larry Mehau this year titled “The Goodfather.” Chapman is convinced that the idea that Mehau was the godfather of organized crime in Hawaii is a bad rap.
I was surprised to read that Mehau was a local sumo champion and even went to Japan , where he won several sumo tournaments there.
Chapman said Mehau often placed two chairs 5 feet apart. He placed his heels on one and shoulders on the other, holding himself in the air with his abs.
A 400-pound rock was placed on his stomach. Another policeman would split the rock with a blow from a sledgehammer. Through blow after blow, Mehau’s torso never bent.
Next week I’ll wrap up my review of the year with Part 2 of “Things I Learned in 2019.” On Dec. 27 I’ll pass out my annual Rearview Mirror awards.
Bob Sigall is the author of the five “The Companies We Keep” books, full of amazing stories of Hawaii people, places and companies. Contact him at Sigall@Yahoo.com.