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Editor's Page: Time Travel

100 years ago, Honolulu seemed more 19th century than 20th. Amazing things were coming.


Photo: Linny Morris

Our cover story, “How We Lived,” takes you on a photographic tour of Honolulu in the past century. There are some things you won’t see: photos from the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, or the famous photo of the little girl holding the statehood edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. You won’t see many celebrities, and no politicians, hardly anyone famous, in fact. What we wanted to focus on instead was the ordinary, everyday details of life. If you lived in these decades, what would your clothes have looked like? Your car? Your workplace?

We spent hours at Bishop Museum and the state archives, poring over hundreds of photos. The older the image, the more jarring it can be. That busy street scene on the opening spread? It’s in downtown Honolulu, obviously, but, until I read the back of the photo, I didn’t realize it was a block of King Street I walk every day, which looks nothing like this now. The shot looks Ewa, from Fort Street, which is today a brick-paved pedestrian mall. Those lively old buildings have been replaced by a parking garage on the makai side, and Macy’s on the mauka side. It looks lifeless now, in comparison.

Still, it’s King Street, and, further down the road, most of the buildings would be familiar to most of us. If we travelled back to 1911, we could find our way around on streets with familiar names, if not familiar buildings. We could read newspapers with familiar mastheads, even pick up a copy of this magazine’s predecessor, Paradise of the Pacific, make a phone call, turn on electric lights. But there’d be no Internet, television, or even radio. You might drive a car, if you were well to do, but most likely walked or took the streetcar. If you had any serious traveling to do, you’d get on a boat, though everyone would probably still have been talking about the first airplane flight in Hawaii, a biplane that took off from the Moanalua Polo Field in December 1910. Maybe someday, people would fly from island to island, maybe even to the Mainland.

Technology, demography, social structures—once cities change, they change permanently, the way they look, the way they work. I’ve lived my entire adult life in high-rise condos in Honolulu. Tens of thousands of other people do as well. But there was a time when no one did, until the first condo went on sale at 3019 Kalakaua Ave. in 1961. The technology to build concrete high-rises came about in the 1950s and, with them, the first laws establishing co-op and condominium ownership. I’ve gone to shopping centers my entire life here, but there was a time when no one did. Aloha Shopping Center was Oahu’s first, opening in Waipahu in 1947, followed by the Aina Haina Shopping Center in 1950.

Over Honolulu’s next 100 years, the unimaginable will become ordinary, then old hat. Buildings we haven’t even imagined yet will end up on future lists of endangered historic places. We certainly hope you enjoy this Holiday Annual, with its look back. What I wouldn’t give for a glimpse of the 2111 edition.


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Honolulu Magazine March 2019
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