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To a large extent, the story of Hawaii’s past 50 years is a story of confrontation over land.
It makes sense, then, that in 1961 Hawaii enacted the first statewide zoning law in the U.S., with a land use commission that classified property as urban, agricultural or conservation, and left detailed permitting decisions to the counties.
In the 1970s, the commission became relatively restrictive, moving to a quasi-judicial format that made each zone change application a contested case. The result has made developers and businesspeople chafe at the bit.
As economist Paul Brewbaker puts it, “We went from this wide-open frontier, knock-yourself-out, build-whatever-you-want-as fast-as-you-can economy after statehood and then put the brakes on. Since then we’ve sort of wallowed through 25 years in boom and bust cycles that, at the end of the day, haven’t really gotten us anywhere.”
When the first Merrie Monarch Festival took place in 1964, hula was almost an afterthought. The first four-day festival in honor of King Kalakaua included a coronation pageant, a barbershop quartet contest, a grog shop and even a King Kalakaua mustache-and-sideburn lookalike contest.
It wasn’t until 1971 that the festival was transformed into the rigorous hula competition we know today. “At the time, it was mostly performed for tourists,” says Luana Kawelu, festival assistant director. “Just a few kumu kept that traditional, ancient knowledge of the hula. But now there’s so much research being done on the mele and the dance. It’s done wonders for the art of hula.”
In the 1950s and ’60s, Hawaii’s residential home market still operated with a largely plantation-era mentality: almost half of all home lots were not sold, but leased to tenants. The Land Reform Act of 1967 aimed to change this, by compelling large landowners who leased tracts of lands to sell fee-simple parcels to their tenants.
UH history professor John Rosa says the law was a natural extension of the Democratic revolution in 1954. “The push for the Land Reform Act came from the Democratic Party, which was trying to appeal to the common man and woman who wanted to be able to own land and not pay a monthly mortgage to a large land trust forever,” he says. “But it’s questionable as to exactly how much the land reform act actually did that.”
Although the state legislature passed the Act in 1967, Gov. Burns refused to put his signature on it, and in fact did not make use of the law during his administration. It wasn’t until Gov. George Ariyoshi took office in 1974 that mandatory leasehold conversions were actually carried out.
Today, the majority of Hawaii’s private land is still held by a handful of entities, Kamehameha Schools being the largest among them, but the Land Reform Act nevertheless allowed many families in Hawaii to finally own their own property.
Photos: Michael Keany
In 1967, Hawaii set a national precedent. The state enacted the Art in Public Places Program, which required state buildings to set aside 1 percent of their total construction cost to acquire works of art. The Art in Public Places Program commissioned its first artwork in 1970: “Pili Pu” (Hawaiian for “to unite” or “to join”) for the newly erected Hilo State Office Building. The weathering steel sculpture, created by local artist Edward Brownlee, marked the first of many prominent works of art throughout the state. On Oahu, the program commissioned the state Capitol’s Queen Liliuokolani statue, the Waikiki Aquarium’s “Tropical Sounds” (a group of abstract ceramic structures) and the Hawaii Convention Center’s bronze statue “Gift of Water.” Since 1967, this law has commissioned more than 500 works of art, acquired an approximate 5,000 pieces, and has been imitated by 24 other states.