Walking Honolulu's Queen Street

Where Honolulu’s urban past and future meet.


Published:

It’s easy to overlook Queen Street. Unlike King Street, Ala Moana Boulevard and the other crosstown thoroughfares, Queen Street is simply a back street. It’s just 1.4 miles long, and, while it’s useful for zipping between Ala Moana Center and downtown, it won’t get you anyplace by car that you couldn’t also walk to if you set your mind to it. Unless you have specific business on Queen Street, it might be a stranger to you. But it’s worth getting to know. In 12 blocks it runs from the glass canyons of downtown, through the attorney-saturated Capitol District, along Kakaako’s somewhat seedy automotive corridor, and ends amid the high-rise condos and fresh concrete curbsides of urban renewal. Queen Street is rich in both character and characters. Join us as we explore some of its variety.


A rusting reminder of Old Honolulu.

photo: david croxford

Site of Kekuanohu, The Old Fort

In 1816, following a delusional Russian doctor’s attempt to claim Hawaii for the tsar, the Hawaiians built a fort heavily armed with cannons to keep unwanted visitors out of Honolulu Harbor. The fort’s massive, 12-foot walls were torn apart in 1857 and used to fill the harbor to accommodate an expanding downtown. Today, in a small park at the corner of Queen and Fort streets, a single cannon can be found where the fort once stood, still aimed at the mouth of the harbor, but not deterring anyone. Fort Street Mall and Queen Street.

 

Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR)

At the corner of Queen and Richards streets, on the cusp of the downtown financial and government districts, stands a 10-story, modernist office building with a mix of law offices and state-government agencies. DOBOR is among the latter. When long-time swimmers at Ala Moana Beach Park objected to the appearance of stand-up paddle boarders, it was DOBOR that set up lanes to separate the two. In addition to refereeing such cases, the agency regulates fishing tournaments, surf contests and other ocean events. It manages public boat ramps, moorings and other marine facilities. It registers vessels, promotes water safety and—when it has the chance—advocates sharing. “The pie isn’t getting any bigger, and slices are getting smaller,” says agency official Clifford Inn. “Today it’s paddle boards, tomorrow, who knows? Jetpacks? Hovercraft?” 333 Queen St., Room 300, 587-1972.

 


photo: courtesy levin matsukawa

Family Drug Court

The actual courtroom moved from downtown to the new Kapolei Courthouse in 2010, but the program’s offices—where the case workers and stuffed-animal toys are found—stayed behind. Through a combination of treatment, sanctions and relentless drug testing, the Family Drug Court helps parents hobbled by substance abuse regain custody of their children. “We try to help parents get their heads out of their butts, so to speak, so they can raise their own kids,” says Jim Lutte, Family Drug Court coordinator. 345 Queen St., No. 302, 534-6600.

 


Hale Auhau: The DA’s WPA digs.

photo: david croxford

Hale Auhau

The name literally translates as “tax house,” which is precisely the purpose for which the Works Project Administration built this beautiful Spanish-style government building in 1939—a rather meta instance of New Deal stimulus spending going toward the construction of a place where revenue for stimulus spending was collected. The Department of Taxation moved out 20 years ago, and the Department of  the Attorney General got the keys. The attorney general’s office is the largest law firm in Hawai‘i, with 180 lawyers on staff. Not all of them work at Hale Auhau, though. 425 Queen St., 586-1500.

 

 

Did you know?

Queen Street was named in 1850 in honor of Queen Kalama, wife of Kamehameha III.
 

 


photo: david croxford

Lex Brodie’s Tire, Brake and Service Co.

Four decades before Geico put cavemen to work selling insurance, Lex Brodie employed one to help sell tires. His landmark sign—which features a caveman with an articulated arm chiseling away at a stone wheel—has stood at the original Honolulu location of Lex Brodie’s tire store since around 1968 (nobody now working there remembers for sure). The chiseling arm creaks these days, but it still works. City code no longer permits signs with moving parts, but the caveman was grandfathered in. 701 Queen St., 529-9432.

 


Owners Jim Doyle and Marco Khim with “the girls.”

photo: elyse butler and matt mallams


Caffe Grazie

Caffe Grazie is owner Jim Doyle and Marco Khim’s ode to Italian-American cuisine and that city brimming with red-sauced joints: New York. Sixteen flamboyant mannequins (with four more debuting this year) represent New York neighborhoods and landmarks. One figure, a tribute to now-shuttered Asti restaurant in New York, carries a skirt made of more than 50 pounds of dried spaghetti. Previously a window designer for 16 years in New York, Khim captures the chaos of Manhattan with Miss Madison Ave’s rotating headpiece featuring Elvis and MC Hammer figurines, while two TVs simultaneously play old-school action movies and musicals. Escape with your panini and pasta to the pleasant, shaded courtyard outside if you need peace from Chorus Line. 345 Queen St., 521-8820, graziehawaii.com.

 


photo: david croxford

 

Kawaiahao Church Cemetery

During a 1986 Queen Street widening project, 102 unmarked graves were unearthed just outside the cemetery fence at Kawaiahao Church. Archaeologists determined that the burials were not from ancient times, but beyond that nobody knows the circumstances surrounding them. The bones were placed in 102 lauhala boxes, stacked neatly in a brand-new burial vault and recommited unto the Almighty in 1988 – this time inside the cemetery. At the corner of Queen and Punchbowl streets.

 


photo: courtesy historic hawaii foundation

 

 

Where the Sidewalk Begins

Hawaii’s first concrete sidewalk (it already had a brick sidewalk) was poured in front of the Waterhouse store on Queen Street in 1886, according to Robert Schmitt, author of Firsts and Almost Firsts in Hawaii.

 

 

This building was built with brick and beer.

photo: david croxford

 

 

Honolulu Brewing and Malting Co.

Primo beer was brewed here, from 1901 to Prohibition. When the Hawaii Community Development Authority renovated the building in 1996, the termite treatment to the exposed wood was so noxious that it precluded people from moving in. HCDA sued the suppliers, and the building has been empty ever since. According to HCDA executive director Anthony Ching, the case should be resolved soon, and he hopes to reopen the building as a commercial space within two years. 533 Queen St.

 

 

 


photos: david croxford

Word of Life Christian Center

The nondescript exterior—which suggests medical offices or a public library—belies the spiritual fire that burns within. During an average weekend, 2,000 people or more might attend services here, making this nondenominational, neo-Pentecostal house of worship a bona fide “megachurch.” Services are raucous affairs, with plenty of singing, dancing, speaking in tongues and even an occasional Polynesian fire dancer. Giant video monitors allow those in the back of the cavernous interior to get a good look at what’s happening on stage. The monitors can also display lyrics so the congregation can accompany the choir, megachurch karaoke style. 544 Queen St., 528-4044.

 

Interested in living on Queen Street? Check out Melissa Chang’s real estate blog this month on honolulumagazine.com, where she’ll be covering Queen Street condos on the market now.

 

Security Alarm Shop

When this place opened in the 1980s, a cutting-edge car alarm featured a siren or bell armed via key or toggle switch. That was it. Nowadays, car alarms can be controlled by smartphone, which can also be used to start and stop the engine, lock and unlock the doors, geolocate the vehicle’s whereabouts and travel history, and spy on your daughter to see if she really did drive to the mall like she said. 705 Queen St., 523-0121.

 


Utta Hendrick and partner Nick Jones.

East Asian Basket Co.

It smells like a barn inside, but that’s not the fragrance of hay you detect. It’s the earthy aroma of tens of thousands of hand-woven baskets, mostly from the Philippines. This is where Waikiki hotels, ABC Stores and other big basket buyers go to replenish their basket stockpiles. It’s a wholesaler, but you don’t have to buy in bulk. “We don’t send anybody away,” says Utta Hendrick, who’s been importing baskets for 30-some years. “Even if you want just one little basket, we’ll sell it to you.” 742 Queen St., 596-8076.

 

Panya Bistro

The Dickey-designed, former Consolidated’s Kewalo movie theater now houses Panya Group’s central baking and catering operations for its other outposts, as well as a little café. The faded façade belies a sophisticated menu: seafood laksa, a house salad with crab and shrimp, a pork chop with black-pepper sauce. The self-serve bakery case tantalizes with soft Hokkaido buns, curry doughnuts and potato-bacon Danishes, to name a few. 711 Queen St., 597-8880, panyagroup.com.
 

 

A Sept. 11 relic (below) resides at the fire department’s $12.7 million headquarters complex.

photos: david croxford

Fire Department Headquarters

A piece of the World Trade Center lives on Queen Street. In the memorial courtyard of the Honolulu Fire Department headquarters, a steel fragment from the twin towers serves as a Sept. 11 tribute to New York City firefighters and other victims. It’s mounted next to a memorial for the 1,000 smallpox victims buried in Honuakaha Smallpox Cemetery from 1853 to 1854, where the current HFD headquarters stands. The HFD complex is full of history (and ghost stories); south of the courtyard is the old Kakaako fire station, which was in use from 1929 to 1973, and is now a museum housing a fire truck strafed by the Imperial Japanese Navy’s planes while responding to the Pearl Harbor attack. Since the headquarters’ completion in 2006, HFD has been promising to open the museum to the public, but, at the moment, it’s still “opening soon.” 636 South St., 723-7139, www1.honolulu.gov/hfd.

 


Spencer doesn’t look like the happiest camper here, but Dr. Pauline Koreyasu says acupuncture can help ailing animals.

 

 

Kakaako Pet Hospital

Western medicine is the only way to go for certain pets in need of medical attention. For them, this brand-new veterinary center (built on the site of an old Portuguese church) offers a spectrum of modern care, including surgery, dentistry and digital imaging. Pet owners interested in more holistic approaches can pursue alternative therapies here for their ailing animals, such as acupuncture or Chinese herbs. When all else fails, there are pet hospice and pet palliative care. 815 Queen St., 592-9999.

 

 


Sailmaking: a lofty pursuit.

 

North Sails

What do the Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokulea and the yachts of Roy E. Disney, former head of the Walt Disney Co., have in common? Both have had sails that were sewn in the third-floor loft of North Sails. The Queen Street sailmaker produces about 150 brand-new nylon or Dacron sails per year, and repairs far more than that. The main reason for repairs? “The sun,” says North Sails Hawaii president Fuzz Foster. “UV works pretty hard on the material.” 742 Queen St., 591-9192.

 

 

The warehouse-like gallery behind Fresh Café.

photos: david croxford


Soup, sandwiches, art and free Wi-Fi—Fresh Café has it all. Left to right: Shawntell Tan, Kalen Asato,
Ashley Suzuki-Aquino and Herman Albinda.

Fresh Café

The food isn’t why people come to Fresh Café, though its sandwiches and salads can certainly hold their own. On any given weekday, people set up their mobile offices here, computers tapped into the free wifi. But the evenings and weekends are when it gets interesting: In the warehouse-like space behind the café, there might be a slam poetry session, author readings, an art and flea market, concerts or an urban art opening. The warehouse walls showcase different artists monthly, both local and international, the aesthetic leaning toward street art, befitting the gallery’s industrial location. “It was originally just a small coffee shop as a gathering space for the creative community,” owner Tiffany Tanaka says. Now, it’s also become a place for creating.  831 Queen St., 688-8055, freshcafehi.com, loftinspacehi.com.

 

Did you know?

King Kamehameha I lived on Queen Street. This was after Kamehameha conquered Oahu, and before Queen Street was actually a street. Initially Kamehameha settled in Waikiki, but in 1809 he relocated to a royal compound with a good canoe landing along Honolulu Harbor, where he resided in a thatched palace called Halehui. The book Sketches and Maps of Old Honolulu shows the royal compound located right at the site where Queen Street and Nimitz Highway now meet.

 


photo: courtesy liquid planet studios

Liquid Planet

Liquid Planet, a film and video production house, offers studio space for a range of creatives, from filmmakers shooting an Eddie Aikau documentary to a photographer composing Christmas cards. The studio offers a 2,000-square-foot green screen, HD editing bays and equipment rentals, including a Red Digital Cinema camera (the brand used to film such movies as The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). 762 Queen St., 585-7700, liquidplanetstudios.com.

 

Magnum Firearms & Range

Originally this shop was called Magnum Motor Sports and it sold chrome wheels, dual manifold exhausts and other aftermarket auto accessories. When online sales started chipping away at the business, and auto manufacturers seized a larger slice of the car-parts pie, Magnum’s owner, Art Ong, saw the writing on the wall. So he got a new sign and reinvented his inventory. Now Magnum deals in guns and gun accessories, and it runs an indoor firing range where you can try some of them out. It may seem like a radically different business plan, but Ong says his clientele hasn’t really changed much. “A lot the same people who are into cars are also interested in guns,” he says. 940 Queen Street, 597-1911.
 

 

The assortment of action figures at Kakaako Kool.

photos: david croxford


Taking a break with some Kool shave-ice, Fynn is a lucky boy.

 

 

Kakaako Kool

This is where the neighborhood’s workers go for snacks, shave ice, Star Wars action figures and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys. The marquee snack is a spicy papaya Spam musubi. The shave ice comes with a scoop of premium ice cream and fresh-made azuki beans. The toys—which include an impressive selection of Hot Wheels in their original packaging—reflect the interests of Keith Tanaka, the swap-meet junky who owns the place. 831 Queen St., 589-2488.

 

 

Transit Line on Queen

The planned 20-mile route of Honolulu’s rail system includes a fragment of Queen Street. The elevated train will meet Queen Street near Office Depot and run about a quarter of a mile to Waimanu Street.


Father Anatole heads a church named for the Mother of God (Theotokos) as depicted in an 11th-century Russian icon from a monastery in Iveron, Greece.

 

 

Holy Theotokos of Iveron Russian Orthodox Church

Hawaii’s only Russian Orthodox Church shares a building with a noodle factory, a licensed massage therapist and a music instructor. The church has just two assigned parking spots for its small congregation of Russian Orthodox faithful, who have to hunt for parking along Queen Street, which is never easy. “You know this area, it’s all the car fixer-upper places, and they take up the whole street with cars,” says the rector, Father Anatole Lyovin. 845 Queen St., 947-9093.

 


 

Magnum Firearms & Range

Originally this shop was called Magnum Motor Sports and it sold chrome wheels, dual manifold exhausts and other aftermarket auto accessories. When online sales started chipping away at the business, and auto manufacturers seized a larger slice of the car-parts pie, Magnum’s owner, Art Ong, saw the writing on the wall. So he got a new sign and reinvented his inventory. Now Magnum deals in guns and gun accessories, and it runs an indoor firing range where you can try some of them out. It may seem like a radically different business plan, but Ong says his clientele hasn’t really changed much. “A lot the same people who are into cars are also interested in guns,” he says. 940 Queen Street, 597-1911.
 

 

Retired speed demon Chuck Garner and his sweet ride.

photos: david croxford

Chuck’s Corvette Clinic

Inside one of Queen Street’s many Quonset huts, Chuck Garner keeps his last race car, unmoved in the six years since Campbell Industrial Park raceway closed. Termite-chewed trophies cram the shop walls, testifying to Garner’s 50 years of car, motorcycle and boat racing. He’s wrecked a lot of vehicles in his life—it’s how he got into this business in the first place, by teaching himself to fix his ride. These days, though, he’s about rebuilding, operating as a full-service auto-body paint shop for all car brands. “Up until the late ’80s, I probably had 10, 12, 15 Corvettes in here, 365 days a year,” Garner says. Now, among the Camaros, BMWs and Fords, he’ll restore the occasional vintage Corvette—mostly for parades and Sunday drivers—and refresh newer models for daily drivers. “They’re still the American dream,” he says. 505 Kamani St., 597-8147, chuckscorvetteclinic.com.

 

Queen Street’s Course Through Time

The earliest traffic along Queen Street was probably the foot traffic along a crescent beach that once fronted Honolulu Harbor, near the mouth of Nuuanu Stream.

As Honolulu grew into a city, Queen Street emerged along the beach as an unpaved roadway, with wharves and sailing ships on one side, warehouses, saloons and other critical waterfront facilities on the other. Near the rocky point where the beach ended, the gently curving street straightened, aimed for the most prominent landmark to the east, Diamond Head, and grew to become one of Old Honolulu’s major commercial thoroughfares.

Over time, Queen Street extended further and further toward Diamond Head. It ran through a working-class neighborhood that sprung up in Kakaako then evolved into an industrial district. Queen settled into its current downtown role as a side street. It lost its quarter-mile-long waterfront stretch to Nimitz Highway at its Ewa end and, in 2004, gained 750 feet on the Diamond Head end. This so-called Queen Street Extension opened a direct connection along Queen Street between downtown and Ala Moana Center at Piikoi Street.

What many motorists using this route probably don’t realize is that Queen Street has a surprise ending. It doesn’t actually reach Ala Moana Center. Instead, it quietly merges with Waimanu Street for the final two-block run to Ala Moana. But Queen Street doesn’t actually “end” at Waimanu. A detached, 300-foot segment dashes past the old IBM Building and terminates at Ala Moana Boulevard. See for yourself on the map.

 


Honolulu meets The Bronx: Mike Capone’s slice of home.

 

Capone’s Ultimate Detail

Mike Capone may not be his real name, but if you want him to detail your car it might be best if you just enjoyed the gangster-movie memorabilia in the waiting room and didn’t ask too many questions. Capone does say, however, that his father owned an “Italian Social club” back in the Bronx, and that his father “exited” him from the family business for, um, health reasons. In any case, Capone is blinging out cars on Queen Street now. And that’s all you really need to know. “I’m a very successful businessman,” he says in his thick Bronx accent. “Well connected and well respected.” 844 Queen St., 593-7784.

 

 

Lin’s Hawaiian Snacks

Lin’s Hawaiian Snacks contains one of the largest selections of crack seed, dried snacks and candies on the island, perfect for a movie snack at Ward Theaters nearby. Seafood lines an entire wall: wasabi dried crab, cuttlefish rings, baby scallop, dried shrimp, marlin taegu, smoked tako. There are 26 varieties of plum, plus sweetened olives, ginger, lemon peel and pickled mango. Oh, and don’t forget the bubble milk tea and “snow ice,” flavored ice shaved into thin sheets like phyllo. 401 Kamakee St., 593-8611, linsmarkethawaii.com.
 

 

Bali Hai may call you.

photos: david croxford

 

Worldwide Furnishings

Many years ago, Mike Meccariello discovered that he could fund his surf trips to Bali by bringing home shipping containers packed with Indonesian furnishings and knickknacks to sell in Honolulu. Then he decided to import only stuff that he actually liked, and, since he hated knickknacks, that made him a furniture importer. His two-story showroom is packed form ceiling to floor with gorgeous, exotic furniture, and no knickknacks whatsoever. 970 Queen St., 593-2127.

 

An Area in Flux

At either end, Queen Street has the amenties of a modern street, including sidewalks and good drainage. But along the five blocks between Cooke and Kamakee streets, the sidewalks vanish and standing puddles of water appear when it rains. The reason for this—believe it or not—isn’t municipal neglect.

Most of Queen Street runs through Kakaako, and so falls under the domain of the Hawaii Community Redevelopement Authority (HCDA), the state agency charged with upgrading the area. While Kakaako’s large landowners have generally been receptive to HCDA’s infrastructure advances, small-property owners have spurned them and the higher taxes they bring.

The mom-and-pop auto shops and other light-industrial business between Cooke and Kamakee have repelled the HCDA every time it’s gotten too close to widening their road, burying their utility cables and modernizing their sewer. On either side of this strip of resistance, Queen Street has four lanes, parking meters and towering condos. But in between it remains a two-lane street with no sidewalks, overhead power lines, occasional flooding and dozens of stubborn old-timers who like things as they are. The natural forces of gentrification are gradually transforming the business mix along these blocks, but HCDA isn’t getting any traction there.

 


Hanging around the aerial fitness class at the Still & Moving Center.

photo: elyse butler and matt mallams


Still & Moving Center and Honolulu Dance Studio

You know that a light-industrial neighborhood is changing when a dance studio moves in, then a “comprehensive wellness center” next door.  Honolulu Dance Studio, which opened here in 2008, offers classes that range from traditional ballet to hip-hop dancing in high-heeled shoes. Last year, the Still & Moving Center opened, offering yoga, meditation, massage, tai chi, nia (Google it) and three spacious studios appointed with original artwork and equipped with sprung flooring made with mango wood. Moving Center, 1024 Queen St., 397-7678; Dance Studio, 1030 Queen St., 524-8455.

 

 


photo: david croxford

The Nalu Lani Mural

Artist John Pugh claims that when his mural was nearing completion, firemen tried to save the children on the ledge before realizing they were part of the painting. HFD says that sounds like a tall tale. Other people in the painting who don’t need saving: Queen Liliuokalani, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole. 401 Kamakee St.

 

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