Field Guide: Aiea
The freeway may run right through it, but Aiea—with its local eateries, small businesses and a bowling alley that lures celebs—makes it worth taking the off-ramp.
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It might be hard to visualize Aiea as a laid-back sugar town, with its now busy intersections, corners cluttered with gas stations and the urban icon Starbucks. But this sleepy town between Pearl City and Halawa boasted acres of sugar cane and rows of plantation homes up until 1946, when the Honolulu Plantation Co. went out of business. The following year the land went fee simple and people bought homes in the area. In 1961, Aiea High School opened with eight buildings, including the cafeteria and library. Three years later, after much lobbying by the community, the Aiea Public Library was built to serve the growing population. Then the freeway was built in the late 1960s, cutting through the small town. People now pass through rather than stop by. “It chopped Aiea right in half,” says Jean Fujinaga, 69, a retired lawyer and English teacher and longtime resident. “We were separated geographically and psychologically … We became a blip on the suburban sprawl.” But there have been steps toward revitalization, with the opening of new businesses and plans to restore historic landmarks in the area. “There’s something special about this place,” says dance studio owner Rosalie Woodson. “You could hear the roosters crowing all the time. It was just a pleasant place … And I haven’t left since.”
It may seem impossible to do anything new with shave ice, but Ice Garden, in the Aiea Shopping Center, has mastered the unusual, offering such out-of-the-ordinary toppings as chocolate syrup, salted peanuts, custard-style flan and oatmeal. Just don’t ask the owners any questions about the menu; they don’t speak much English. Aiea Shopping Center, 99-080 Kauhale St. 488-5154.
Aiea Public Library
Photo: David Croxford
It’s hard to believe that in 1964, when the Aiea Public Library opened, the community squawked about the state spending $8,500 for two murals for the library by local artist Tadashi Sato. (He created the “Aquarius” mosaic on the floor of the State Capitol atrium.) Now they’ve become a source of pride for the hexagonal library, designed by Stephen Oyakawa, an associate of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The building itself is its own work of art, shaped like a shield volcano, with sand-colored linoleum floors, coral tables, stone walls and chairs the color of the ocean. It’s not on Hawaii’s historical register, says library branch manager Arlene Ching, but it very well could be. 99-143 Moanalua Road, 483-7333, www.librarieshawaii.org.
Photo: David Croxford
Four years ago, brothers Gregg and Glenn Uyeda transformed Aiea Bowl, their childhood hangout, into a state-of-the-art, 24-lane bowling alley that boasts a full bar, a live deejay on weekends, drink specials and clublike events that have lured such celebs as R&B artist Chris Brown, Miami Dolphins wide-out Davone Bess and dancers from MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. Its restaurant, The Alley, can stand on its own with a menu that features grilled Pūlehu steak, oxtail soup and a lemon crunch cake to die for. 99-115 Aiea Heights Drive, Suite 310. 488-6854 (alley), 486-3499 (restaurant), www.aieabowl.com.