Lighting up the Hawai‘i Theatre

Yes, it really says, “The 117th Holiday Annual” on the marquee


John Heckathorn
When we fired up the generator, its racket grabbing the attention of the Hawai'i Theatre crowd across Bethel Street, my pulse started racing. "Oh, this is why I became a photographer," said Jimmy Forrest. "Lights! Camera! Action!"

The generator powered 4,000 watts of strobe lights aimed at the top of the theatre, near the new blade sign, which, just as it did in 1937, spells out HAWAI'I in 230-feet of red neon.

We were shooting the theatre's new look for the cover of this issue. The crowd had gathered for a performance by Hälau Na Wainohia. But on one panel of the 75,000-light, 138-foot-wide LED marquee, theatre general manager Burton White had spelled out the main cover line of this issue: The 117th Holiday Annual.

It was the perfect place for it.

Built in 1922, for decades the premiere movie theatre in Hawai'i, almost torn down in 1984, saved by a community outcry and stunningly restored in 1996-the Hawai'i Theatre is now the jewel of downtown. Over the past decade, more than a million Hawai'i residents have attended performances there, everything from the Hana Hou! Hawaiian Music Series to The Vagina Monologues.

For some of those people, finding the theatre may have been a problem. Inside it was all Beaux Arts elegance, not to mention updated acoustics and technical facilities. The outside was spalling plaster and no signage. From the street, the theatre still looked derelict.

Now, with the completion of the $4 million exterior renovation, the theatre lights up Bethel Street again, just as it did in the '20s and '30s.

That makes a fitting cover subject for this, our 117th Holiday Annual issue. The theatre is both historic and as modern as the four new computers that drive its exterior lighting.

Since 1888, this magazine has, especially in its November Holiday Annual issue, celebrated Hawai'i and Hawaiiana. It's even a quirk of Island history that we publish our Holiday Number, as it used to be called, in November. November publication allowed it to be steamshipped to the Mainland by Christmas.

Photographer Jimmy Forrest, right, and his assistant, Moses Shirai, preparing this month’s cover shoot. Photo: John Heckathorn

However, our Holiday Annual was never about Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. It was about the Islands, their history and their culture.

Like the Hawai'i Theatre, we try to be both historic and cutting edge. In this issue, you'll find Ed Greevy's stunning black-and-white photo essay, documenting a generation's worth of social protest in the Islands.

Connie Hale, who won awards for last year's profile of Royal Hawaiian Band leader Aaron Mahi, returns with an in-depth look at kahu and kumu hula John Keola Lake.

James Houston, whose books include Farewell to Manzanar and Snow Mountain Passage, recounts the meeting of Eddie Kamae and Gabby Pahinui in a Waimänalo backyard-a jam session that led to the formation of the Sons of Hawai'i and the birth of the Hawaiian Renaissance.

Our contributing editor, Guy Sibilla, has taken readers places they're unlikely to go, from Kilimanjaro to East Timor. This year, he trekked 12 days across a glacier and up the slopes of K2, to bring a tale of conquering the world's deadliest mountain.

There's also Ronna Bolante's report on how Hawaiians are transforming the charter-school movement, Kam Napier's account of a mysteriously romantic Mänoa home-and more surprises you can find on your own.

Speaking of surprises, Hawai'i Theatre president Sarah Richards was on vacation when we shot our cover. Theatre manager White and director of development Elaine Evans set up the shoot. When Richards sees this issue, it will be the first she knows of it. Congratulations, Sarah.

“Light Up the
Hawai‘i Theatre”

The official lighting of the Hawai‘i Theatre marquee, featuring the Royal Hawaiian Band, Nina Keali‘iwahamana, Tony Conjugacion and Cathy Foy.

•Nov. 5., 7:30 p.m. Free.
•Box office: 528-0506

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