‘Honolulu’s celebration of the new year, culminating at the stroke of midnight, took most of the vociferous energy out of the city’s population, with the result that yesterday was a very quiet and subdued holiday,” The Honolulu Advertiser wrote.
“The snap of firecrackers and the occasional dull boom of larger explosives punctuated an almost Sabbath calm which contrasted greatly with the noise and exuberance of the night before.”
Family gatherings were taking place all over. The beach was a magnet for sport lovers, and the water was full of swimmers, the article said. Several thousand people were drawn to Kapiolani Park. A football game drew a big crowd.
Another Jan. 1 article encouraged the city to build more homes. There are almost no desirable houses or apartments for rent in Honolulu, it said. Some islanders were moving to the mainland due to high housing costs here. Others urged planners to produce more of the food we consume, rather than depend, as we do, on imports.
Sounds like a typical New Year’s Day in Hawaii, but this article wasn’t from last week. It was from 1920.
In some ways Hawaii is not much different from 100 years ago. But in some ways it is almost unrecognizable. Let’s take a look in the rearview mirror.
Imagine Honolulu without Aloha Tower, the Neal Blaisdell Center complex or Aloha Stadium. Imagine only about five major hotels in Waikiki: the Moana, Seaside, Halekulani, Pierpoint and Waikiki Inn.
Only a few thousand tourists stayed there or downtown at the Alexander Young or Royal Hawaiian hotels.
In 1920 Honolulu Stadium and the Civic Auditorium had not yet been built, let alone torn down. The Natatorium property was William Irwin’s estate. There were a few theaters showing silent films, but no radio or TV stations.
Many companies (or their predecessors) that are around today were active 100 years ago, such as Love’s Bakery, E.K. Fernandez, the YMCA, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Young Brothers, Maui News, Kuakini Health System, Alexander & Baldwin, Kapiolani Health, Matson, Hawaiian Electric and Parker Ranch.
You could shop at C.S. Wo, City Mill, Eki Cyclery or Hasegawa General Store and bank at Bank of Hawaii, First Hawaiian Bank, or Pioneer Federal Savings.
Musa-Shiya the Shirtmaker was the first I know of to advertise using pidgin, beginning in May 1920. Locals clipped and mailed Koichiro Miyamoto’s ads to friends all over the country. Many were reprinted in mainland papers, making him famous.
Orders arrived from faraway lands, such as the Pampas of Argentina and Africa.
In 1920 there were many nickelodeons operating downtown featuring movies and vaudeville acts, theater historian Lowell Angell says.
“Most were storefronts, open air or ‘semi-open air,’ basically plain boxes. But plans were in the works for several new large ‘modern’ theatres.”
The Hawaii Theatre was a hole in the wall on Hotel Street. But in 1922 the new Hawaii Theatre opened on Bethel Street. Other theaters included the Liberty and Empire, and Bijou.
The College of Hawaii, founded in 1907, became the University of Hawaii in 1920.
The Fort Shafter Hospital on King Street, makai of the fort’s entrance, was renamed in 1920 in honor of Brig. Gen. Charles Stuart Tripler, who had been medical director of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War.
Central Union Church offered Sunday sermons on interesting topics: “How radical was Jesus?” “Will capitalism survive?” “Is socialism the solution?” I doubt that 2020 sermons are on those topics.
Japanese teahouses were popular. Most began as bathhouses and added sake and later food for relaxing patrons.
There were only two public high schools on Oahu: McKinley and Leilehua. McKinley was still at Victoria and Beretania streets. Leilehua was on Schofield Barracks.
Roosevelt, Waipahu, Farrington, Kaimuki and other secondary schools had not been built. Saint Louis was near Aala Park. Punahou was 79 years old at that point.
Maui High and Lahainaluna served the Valley Isle. Kauai High School had opened in 1914. It had five teachers and graduated seven in 1920. Hilo High served Hawaii island.
Kamehameha Schools was still in Kalihi. Its first interclass song contest was held in 1920 — outdoors. The stage was lit with car headlights.
The Ala Wai Canal was four years from opening, so Waikiki was still mostly a swamp.
One of the high points of the year was the Antwerp Olympics, where Duke Kahanamoku, Warren Kealoha and Pua Kealoha (no relation) set world records in the pool and brought home gold medals.
Francis I‘i Brown won his first Manoa Cup in 1920. He then went on to win it the following three years, and then five of the next 10 years.
Baseball was the major sporting event in 1920, but football was growing in popularity. Most of the teams were organized along racial lines.
England’s Prince Edward came to Hawaii twice in 1920. He enjoyed surfing with Duke Kahanamoku and splashed around in the ocean for a few days. This was years before he met Wallis Simpson and abdicated the British throne.
Employers for the first time had to limit workdays to eight hours and weeks to 40 hours. Before that it was common to work nine hours for five days plus three hours on Saturdays.
The Bank of Bishop & Co. (now First Hawaiian Bank) offered a plan to buy a $4,000 home. It took a $600 down payment and $23 a month.
A real estate ad for Palolo Valley called it the “Switzerland of Oahu” because it was “surrounded by the most beautiful mountain scenery.”
Prince Kuhio served in Congress from 1903 until his death in 1922. In 1919 he introduced the first Hawaii Statehood Act.
Women in Hawaii (and the U.S.) could vote for the first time. The Star-Bulletin said it was a chance for women to get even, by voting against the men who relentlessly fought against women’s suffrage. They called it the “Rolling Pin Offensive.”
Prohibition went into effect.
Temperatures were cooler then. On Aug. 9, 1920, Honolulu temperatures set a record of 88 degrees, the hottest day of the year. Summer temperatures typically hit highs of 85.
Gov. Charles McCarthy proposed building a road makai of King Street to cut traffic congestion. With one car in Honolulu for every 18 people, our narrow roads were jammed. He suggested it be called Missionary Boulevard, but the Board of Supervisors changed it to Kapiolani Boulevard.
Bishop Street began at the waterfront and ended at Hotel Street. You could ride over the Pali, but there were no vehicular tunnels on any island. Kamehameha Highway was dedicated on Oahu in 1920.
The area of Honolulu from Punchbowl Street all the way to Punahou was a dry, dusty wasteland called “The Plains.” There “was not a blade of grass nor a shrub of any kind,” a Hawaiian Historical Society report said.
The first commercial interisland flight occurred in 1920. You might be thinking of airports, but the flight took off from Kapiolani Park, refueled in a Molokai field and landed at the Kahului Fair Grounds on Maui.
On the mainland, Babe Ruth demanded his salary of $10,000 a year (about $125,000 in today’s dollars) be doubled.
The Navy prohibited sailors from keeping pet parrots aboard ships.
OK. Back to 2020. There’s no time like the present. Like Will Rogers said, “Things ain’t what they used to be, and probably never was.”
The Rearview Mirror Insider is Bob Sigall’s weekly email that gives readers behind-the-scenes background, stories that wouldn’t fit in the column, and lots of interesting details. My Insider “posse” gives me ideas for stories and provides personal experiences that enrich the column. I invite you to join in and be an Insider at RearviewMirrorInsider.com. Mahalo!