Wai‘alae on the Rise: Queen Theater

Photo: Michael Keany

The Queen Theatre is looking extra sad these days, but, hey, let’s remember the good times, shall we? When the 850-seat theater opened on June 29, 1936, “Every lady attending that evening was given a statuette bust of Queen Lili‘uokalani as a souvenir,” says local theater historian Lowell Angell. Before a flick began, vaudeville shows often took place on its small stage, and throughout the years, first- and second-run films appeared on its big screen. Regular screenings ended in 1973, and somewhere along the line, the once neighborhood theater started showing adult films. Gasp! “In November 1985, Honolulu Police raided the Queen, seized 400 adult films, and arrested two employees for promotion of pornography,” says Carroll.


For years, the building has been noticeably deteriorating, yet the current owner, Narciso Yu, doesn’t seem to be making any moves. Ginny Meade, Kaimukī resident and community activist, says, “Ciso told me that his dream was for the Queen to once again house some sort of theater—either live or film. He entertained several offers, I believe, from parties interested in developing the site for that purpose, but none of the deals materialized.”


Nancy Wilcox, who has a certificate from the University of Hawai‘i in historical preservation, is forming a Queen Theatre foundation to help restore the site. She hopes to have the first meeting for the group in August or September. 


The owner of Queen Theatre, Narciso Yu, has always wanted to restore the theatre, explains Wilcox, but he is lacking the finances to do so. After losing the 1930s-built Varsity Theatre and the Waikiki Theatre, the Queen Theatre is our last vintage movie house, and Wilcox hopes to have it put on the National Register for Historic Places. To place Queen Theatre on the register, one must submit a proposal, which includes the history of the site and why it is important for the community. If this is successfully accomplished, the formation of a Queen Theatre nonprofit foundation would allow Wilcox and others to apply for grants, the first of which would undertake a study to determine what steps needed to be taken to restore the site. Then, there would need to be much fundraising by the nonprofit foundation to raise the money to restore the theater.


If you are interested in helping the crusade for Queen Theatre, contact Nancy Wilcox at (808) 373-4193, or ryanohana@aol.com. For more on the theater, visit the 9 Most Endangered Historic Sites in Hawai‘i.


3588 Wai‘alae Ave.



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Honolulu Magazine September 2020
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