Fashion designer Nake‘u Awai asked me about Christian’s Hut, a restaurant/lounge at Ward Avenue and Ala Moana Boulevard, where Ward Warehouse later was located. He worked there briefly in the 1950s before going to the University of Washington.
His first day at work, someone called him while he was carrying a big tray of glasses. Awai turned, and they fell and crashed all over the floor.
“I thought I’d be fired, but they just told me to clean it up. I became their most popular lunch waiter,” the Kamehameha Schools grad told me.
Christian’s Hut opened in 1957, taking over the Kewalo Inn’s location.
Kewalo Inn began at 1016 Ala Moana Blvd. in March 1930. Harry Seigi Uehara (1902-1990) was its proprietor. Uehara had left Okinawa for the Waipahu sugar cane fields, where he was paid 65 cents a day. He felt he was getting nowhere, so he put himself through ‘Iolani School by working as a restaurant dishwasher.
He opened Kewalo Inn when he was just 27 years old, but when World War II broke out when he was 38, he was interned on the mainland for four years and lost his restaurant. When he returned to Honolulu, he opened three popular Evergreen restaurants.
Uehara mentored a few other Okinawans who went on to greatness.
Albert and Wallace Teruya, who had worked for him for six years, left in 1939 to found the Times Grill, and later Times Supermarket.
Steven Nagamine left his position as head waiter at Kewalo Inn to launch Flamingo restaurants in 1950.
Kewalo Inn had dining rooms on two levels, a dance floor and a Japanese garden.
Don McDiarmid’s orchestra often performed with some of Hawaii’s top entertainers, such as Alfred Apaka and Lei Becker.
It featured fresh seafood, such as a six-course meal with half a broiled lobster for 75 cents; oysters, clams or a half a broiled chicken with bacon for 50 cents. At Thanksgiving a full turkey dinner was 75 cents.
If that was too much, they also featured a fried fish sandwich with a special sauce, potato chips, olives, pickles and radishes — for 10 cents!
After 26 years Kewalo Inn had run out of steam and was sold. The site took on a new name and theme in 1957: Christian’s Hut.
Art LaShelle (1903-1985) had started the first Christian’s Hut on Catalina Island off Los Angeles in 1936. It began in the movie set for the film “Mutiny on the Bounty,” filmed partially on Catalina. Charles Laughton played Capt. Bligh and Clark Gable played Fletcher Christian.
Catalina Island was often used by movies needing tropical settings, such as “Treasure Island,” “King of Kings,” “Count of Monte Cristo,” “Captains Courageous” and “The Ten Commandments.” Island kids were cast as extras.
LaShelle had Christian’s Hut restaurants in the California cities of Catalina, Laguna Beach, San Diego and Corona Del Mar, as well as in Hawaii and Bangladesh.
LaShelle’s partners included John Wayne, Fred MacMurray and Johnny Weissmuller. They put $50,000 into their two-story Honolulu “Hut,” which was open seven days a week from noon to midnight.
Its specialties were prime rib, seafood, chops and Cantonese food. Upstairs for lunch was the Kane Club, which served men only. The main restaurant could seat 200, and a pianist and other entertainers performed in the evenings.
LaShelle spent winters in Honolulu and summers managing his California “Huts,” which is possibly why they didn’t last long.
The Honolulu restaurant changed hands in 1958 and became a Sportsman’s Inn and then Forbidden City.
Jack Cione, 93, moved to Hawaii that year and visited the Forbidden City, he told me. “My wife and I went there one night after dinner just to see the show, and we were shocked to find that there were only about six people in the audience.
“They had a show with 10 beautiful girls doing kabuki. The owner-manager, Francis Tom, came and sat at our table, and we talked with him.
“I asked him how he could keep his doors open with so few patrons in the house, and he said, ‘Well, we have a sponsor.’
“I said who’s that, and he said, ‘John Wayne, the actor. That’s his mistress over there,’ pointing to the Japanese hostess, Genny. He had bought the club for her, and kept a boat across the street in Kewalo Basin for their get-togethers.
John Wayne’s wife — Peruvian actress Pilar Pallete — found out about her, and she was coming to town to confront her husband, Cione continued. “John Wayne said, ‘You two guys are doing fine here. I’m gonna give you the club.’”
“I don’t want any money,” Wayne told Cione and Tom. “I’m just giving it to you. I’ve got to get out of town.”
“So John Wayne gave us the club and moved his mistress to Las Vegas.” Forbidden City was the first of 14 nightclubs in Honolulu that Cione would own.
He put on a show called “Nudes on Ice,” with ice skaters on a 10-by-10-foot rink in the buff. Sounds dangerous … and cold, to me. “It filled the restaurant every night,” Cione said. “I couldn’t believe how successful it was. There was a line around the block waiting to get in.”
Forbidden City’s lease ran out in 1962, and it moved to Kalakaua Avenue and Kapiolani Boulevard, where Century Center is today.
The Ala Moana Boulevard and Ward Avenue location became a used-car lot until Ward Warehouse opened in 1975, and the Old Spaghetti Factory opened there in 1978.
The Old Spaghetti Factory was a fun-for-the-family, inexpensive restaurant on the second floor of Ward Warehouse.
Company owner Sally and Guss Dussin founded the chain in 1969 in Portland, Ore. They said the antique furnishings for the Honolulu branch came from all over the world.
The telephone booth outside came from a London bank; the exterior light fixtures were old London gas street lights; and the hostess check station was once a pulpit in a London church.
The stair-landing mirror was from a Viennese castle. A 14-foot-diameter stained-glass window, thought to be a genuine Tiffany, and other stained-glass pieces, were from an Ohio church.
Children especially liked the authentic “Birney Streetcar,” No. 327, built in Tacoma, Wash., in 1917, where it was in service until 1938. You could dine inside it.
Dinners ran from $3 to $5 and came with a green salad, a loaf of sourdough bread on a cutting board, the spaghetti entree, spumoni ice cream and coffee, tea, milk or fruit punch.
In 2017 it sold many of its antiques and moved to Aloha Tower Marketplace before Ward Warehouse was torn down to await its redevelopment.
Now you know some of the interesting history of that now empty corner.
The Rearview Mirror Insider is Bob Sigall’s now twice-weekly free email newsletter that gives readers behind-the-scenes background, stories that wouldn’t fit in the column, and lots of interesting details. Join in and be an Insider at Rearview MirrorInsider.com. Mahalo!
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